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The Snowball

Warren Buffett and the Business of Life

By Alice Schroeder
  • Read in 24 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 15 key ideas
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The Snowball by Alice Schroeder

"By age eleven he’d saved up $120, which was a whole lot of money in 1941. He used that money to make his first investment. He bought six shares of the company Cities Service Preferred – three for him and three for his sister Doris."

The Snowball (2008) offers a revealing look at the life and times of one of modern America’s most fascinating men: Warren Buffett. Find out how this shy and awkward man earned his first million dollars and how following a few fundamental rules enabled him to become the world’s wealthiest man.

This is a Blinkist staff pick

“Warren Buffet is one of those people who seems to have a magic touch. It’s almost as if he’s aware of certain universal secrets that nobody else is privy to! I love learning more about what made him so successful (he memorized textbooks?!) and trying to figure out what makes him tick.” – Ben S., Head of Audio at Blinkist

Key idea 1 of 15

As a child, Warren Buffett found comfort and joy in statistics and numbers.

Warren Buffett was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on August 20, 1930 – a mere ten months after Black Tuesday, the stock market crash that sent the country plummeting into the Great Depression.

His father, Howard, was a well-liked stockbroker who managed to sell reliable securities and bonds during this bleak period. As a result, unlike many other families, the Buffetts were able to bounce back from the crash and live comfortably during the 1930s.

However, this didn’t mean things were easy for the young Warren.

His mother, Leila, was an overbearing parent, quick to fly into a rage, an unfortunate tendency that resulted in her needlessly shaming and blaming her children.

Stuck at home with this abrasive and unpredictable parent, Warren was eager to find an escape. More often than not, his older sister Doris was the target of their mother’s rage, but Warren also sought ways to avoid his mother’s temper, and he found it in numbers, odds and percentages.

One of the reasons he loved school was that it got him away from home and taught him more about mathematics.

After his first-grade classes let out, Warren and his friend Russ would sit on Russ’s front porch and note down the license plates of passing cars. Their parents thought this was so they could calculate the frequencies of each letter and number appearing on the plates, but in reality, the boys secretly believed their notes could help the police catch bank robbers, as the street was the only possible getaway route from the local bank.

Sometimes he was able to get away from home by spending time at his dad’s office on the weekends, where he happily wrote the numbers of stock prices on the office’s big chalkboard.

The young Warren’s interest in numbers, probabilities and statistics was noticed and encouraged by other family members. At the age of eight, Warren received a book on baseball statistics from his grandfather, a gift that delighted Warren. He devoted hours on end to memorizing every page.

He received another gift from his beloved aunt Alice: a book on the complex card game bridge, which sparked a lifelong obsession.

With these wonderful books, Warren could sit happily in his room, away from his erratic mother, and spend time in the company of more comforting and reliable companions: numbers.

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