three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
38-Jan-Feb-2009
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A-The SnowballWarren Buffett chose former securities analyst Alice Schroeder to pen his authorized biography. The Snowball is the voluminous result.

The Topic: Sure, Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha and the mastermind behind the success of the nearly mythical Berkshire Hathaway, is the world’s richest man (a reputed $62 billion upon the book’s publication). But what makes him tick? Even as a child, he was fascinated with money and numbers, saving enough from a paper route to buy a farm while still in his teens. He was a millionaire by the time he was 30. Now, despite being a billionaire many times over, Buffett still lives in Omaha in the modest home he bought more than 50 years ago. Alice Schroeder’s warts-and-all biography paints as complete a picture of the obsessive finance titan as readers are likely to get. "Whenever my version [of events] is different from somebody else’s, use the less flattering version," Buffett told Schroeder. And in The Snowball, she obliges.
Bantam. 960 pages. $35. ISBN: 0553805096

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"What [Schroeder] delivers is the portrait of a middle-American Midas with enough anxiety about parents to rival Hamlet’s. Her tendency to psychologize is the one notable flaw in what is otherwise an excellent and highly enjoyable look at the business titan." Edward Nawotka

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Schroeder is as insightful about her subject’s precise anticipation of current financial crises as she is about his quirky personal story. And she is a clear explicator of fiscal issues. This sprawling, colorful biography will mesmerize anyone interested in who Mr. Buffett is or how he got that way." Janet Maslin

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Snowball … is likely to remain the most authoritative portrait of one of the most important American investors of our time. … Unless you are one of those tens of thousands of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders who live on Buffett’s word, there are long stretches of the book that may be of little interest, including his unconventional wife-mistress triangle in which both knew and liked the other, and the endless history of deals." Zachary Karabell

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"To be sure, Schroeder could have used an editor; at 960 pages, her book devotes pages and pages of description, however thoroughly researched, to peripheral characters, family histories and houses that could have been sketched, no less ably or helpfully, in a few sentences. … If the replication of any great achievement first requires knowledge of how it was done, then The Snowball, the most detailed glimpse inside Warren Buffett and his world that we likely will ever get, should become a Bible for capitalists." James Rosen

Kansas City Star 3 of 5 Stars
"This is a fast-paced, precisely drawn profile of a man who, despite his high visibility in the financial world, isn’t someone we’ve known much about. … Good as Schroeder’s writing is, and interesting as Buffett is, a good editor could have trimmed this book to a more manageable length." John Mark Eberhart

Critical Summary

Warren Buffett should be applauded for allowing such open access to his life. Alice Schroeder, who interviewed friends and family, pored over Buffett’s personal archive, and spent thousands of hours with Buffett, comes away with an unprecedented look at the hidden life of an American icon. At more than 900 pages (100 of which are notes), The Snowball—the title is a metaphor for the relentless growth of Buffett’s portfolio—sets the bar high for future efforts. Schroeder’s account is comprehensive and her eye for the telling detail keen; while she explains the financial deals, she also explores Buffett’s childhood quirks and his unconventional marriage. Enough is enough, though, and John Mark Eberhart of the Kansas City Star speaks for several critics when he points out, "I just could have done with a little less bang for my buck."