Snowball (Buffett)

Alice Schroeder

With countless books devoted to “the Oracle of Omaha”, Warren Buffett, of which I have read several including one 1,500-pager, Snowball is likely the best, because it was written by Alice Schroeder, an accomplished journalist with an exceptional literary talent, who was the only person that Buffett ever asked to write about him, and, after reading only a page or two, one can see that Buffett’s investment-wisdom extends to his choice of Schroeder. Her prose is laced with interesting and original turns of phrases, metaphors and even good syntax. In addition, she seemed to be able to understand Buffett better and apparently had much more access to him than the others. The fact that she had to please Buffett to sustain his cooperation throughout surely diminished her ability to comment too candidly.

She demonstrates writing skills from the outset, for example, when she explains the mileau of Nebraska’s flat plains: “As the winds scorched the parched western sand hills in November 1933, they kicked up vast swirls of topsoil, in towering black cloud that swept eastward to New York City at a clipper speed of 60 miles per hour. The gales shattered plate glass windows and blasted cars off the roads in their wake. The New York Times compared it to volcanic eruptions. In the middle of the worst drought of the 20th Century, Midwesterners took refuge in their homes, as grit sandblasted the paint and pitted the glass on their automobiles. The dust storm years had begun…[and] along with the dust came years of extraordinary heat…the thermometer in Omaha hit 118 degrees…People slept in their backyards to avoid roasting in their own homes. Warren tried in vain to sleep covered in bed sheets soaked with water, but nothing could cool the baked air that steamed up into his bedroom…”

We learn some startling, new facts about Warren. For example, he openly admits, almost proudly, about stealing golf clubs, golf bags, and considerable other sporting gear from Sears, by simply strapping the equipment on and wearing out the door, and he was never caught. He also confesses to having made and used “slugs” (fake coins) to use in vending and gaming machines. Thus, the ethics, for which he has become renowned, were well surpressed in his youth.

Then, of course, the book is laced with the now familiar Buffett wisdom: “Wait for a fat pitch, one around your belly button…In the short run, the Market is a voting machine; in the long run, it’s a weighing machine…Junk bonds were sold by those who didn’t care to those who didn’t think…I never talk to brokers or analysts; you have to think for yourself…Wall Street is the only place where people ride to work in a Rolls Royce to take advice from those who ride the subway to work…Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

Snowball devotes a preponderance of attention to his family and personal relationships. If you are curious about the most intimate details of Buffett’s life (e.g., his childhood, siblings, his three, simultaneous mistresses, his associations with the rich and famous, and yet more details about some of his business dealings), as well written by another devout Buffett-fan, this is the book for you.