Just Read – The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life

Finally, managed to finish the book.  The biggest audio book i have ever listened to or read.  It took more than a month to finish listening to this audio book.  It was like a never ending read and just like the 80 odd year old Warren Buffett, the audio book went on and on and on.

Most surprisingly, it was engaging and i was never bored.  Considering the short attention span that i have and the trouble i have listening to a 5 minute talk without my mind wandering off;  I managed to hold my concentration well to listen to the whole book.

For starters, the book is not exclusively about the investments of Warren Buffett, its just a part of that.  The book is all about Buffett, the man, his family, friends, investors, rivals (if any), his fears, his interests, his integrity, his failings, his winnings.

If you are someone who idolises Warren Buffett, then stay away from this book.  It does present him in a not-so flattering way.  There are constant references to how Buffett shies away from confrontation with people, his little quirks, his almost complete dedication to his work that he almost ignores his wife who loves him unconditionally.  The ignorance leads to separation of Buffett and his wife (but they never divorce).

Its said that when the book released and Warren realised the not too flattering account of him in the book, he distanced himself from the author of this book, Alice Schroeder.

The book starts with a detailed background description of Warren’s parents, Warren’s growing up days. His almost obsessive pursuance of money from a young age.  At a age when youngsters of his age are busy playing, Warren distributes papers, chewing gums, pepsi, works as a caddy etc to earn his pocket money, file income taxes for the first time at the age of 14.  Warren’s interaction and working with his guru, Benjamin Graham is also mentioned in the book and also Graham’s influence on Buffett.

At the age of 11, he buys 3 shares of Cities Service Preferred for himself, and 3 for his sister Doris.  He sells the shares at a small profit and then looks on as the stock price goes up 10 times.  That’s when he learns his first lesson. And that is “If you really believe in the company, then the holding period for the stock is almost forever”

His investments in Coca cola, Geico Insurance, General Re, Borsehims Jewelry, Net Jets, Star Furniture etc is legendary. Not to mention the down to earth and modest nature of the man who stil stays in the same house he bought in 1957 for about $31,500.

Inspite of being the world’s richest person he doesnt indulge in the usual rich people’s intersts like yachts, jewellery, mansions, ranches etc.

For someone who was known as being tight fisted when it came to donating money to his own children, he decided to donate a significant amount of his assets to The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.  The following saying by him highlights his thoughts about wealth

I don’t have a problem with guilt about money. The way I see it is that my money represents an enormous number of claim checks on society. It’s like I have these little pieces of paper that I can turn into consumption. If I wanted to, I could hire 10,000 people to do nothing but paint my picture every day for the rest of my life. And the GDP would go up. But the utility of the product would be zilch, and I would be keeping those 10,000 people from doing AIDS research, or teaching, or nursing. I don’t do that though. I don’t use very many of those claim checks. There’s nothing material I want very much. And I’m going to give virtually all of those claim checks to charity when my wife and I die.

Some more quotes by the man which i have found interesting over the years i have read about him.

  • It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently
  • Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked
  • You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong
  • I always knew I was going to be rich. I don’t think I ever doubted it for a minute.
  • I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.
  • I buy expensive suits. They just look cheap on me.
  • If past history was all there was to the game, the richest people would be librarians.
  • Of the billionaires I have known, money just brings out the basic traits in them. If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.
  • Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.
  • Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.

and my most favourite one….

  • Rule No.1: Never lose money. Rule No.2: Never forget rule No.1.

The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
Author – Alice Schroeder
Pages – 832
Publisher – Bantam

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  • aaron

    Great Book, I listened to it on my way to work every day for 6 weeks…..
    I am going to load it onto my ipod and do it all over again on the road when i run.
    Ps: great review – you hit the nail on its head when you said
    “If you are someone who idolises Warren Buffett, then stay away from this book.”

  • Iman

    I enjoyed to read the Snowball,I like its and Warren Buffett too.
    I think the Snowball is one of the best books that can helps to investors,
    please you suggest this book to another persons that are lover of investment and success.
    My best wishes for you.