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Customer Review

on 16 November 2008
Understanding Buffett has become a modern Holy Grail, the pot of gold at the end of a seventy eight year rainbow. How does he do it? How can ordinary people even come close? Having met him first in 2001, Alice Schroeder was first allowed in to the inner sanctum, then granted unfettered access to the man himself "You'll do a better job than I would, Alice. I'm glad you're writing this book, not me". He adds "Whenever my version is different from somebody else's, use the less flattering version".

Five years, 960 pages, 62 chapters, 90 pages of notes, 32 pages of photos, 23 pages of index later, Schroeder has brought us The Snowball, Warren Buffett and the Business of Life. Berkshire Hathaway put on over $50 billion of market capitalisation whilst she was writing it. That's over $50 million for each page. No wonder Buffett was happy to entrust the book to Schroeder. Writing books doesn't usually add value that fast.

Schroeder demonstrates that, after all this detailed research, much from the man himself and other primary sources, there is no silver bullet. This may disappoint critiques of other works on Buffett who seemed to be seeking one and were rather hoping that the official biography would, at last, provide it. Rather, what emerges is a combination of old fashioned focus, discipline, common sense, the ability to get with people, to push them just beyond their comfort zone but keep them onside, to drive hard bargains but still remain popular, to calculate business risks and probabilities with consummate ease, accuracy and success, and to continue to seek great businesses at affordable prices. A complex approach from a deeply complex, old-fashioned yet fully at ease in the moment, extremely well-connected and quite remarkable man who has defied the odds and, in the process, conclusively disproved and outlived the Efficient Markets Hypothesis.

Having read The Snowball, the Shareholder Letters and a number of other books on Buffett, the author of this review is still left wondering how he really managed it. There is plenty of inspiration in The Snowball for would-be investors. Many mistakes are also profiled - and the lessons to be learned from them. The book was worth the wait, but don't expect it to reveal all the answers. Otherwise we would all be billionaires.
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