Friday, May 22, 2009

Michael Lewis Likes Snowball. I Don't.

The title says it all: the author of Liar's Poker and a long, critical article about Warren Buffett, likes The Snowball. And he wrote a lot about why for The New Republic. The article ends with a look back at his critical piece, along with the main reason that Lewis enjoyed the book:

Even then I thought that his virtues far outweighed his vices, and felt a bit like the guy who, having grown weary of hearing others drone on about the physical perfection of some supermodel, went to the beach with a camera and snapped a photo of her cellulite.

Now Schroeder's brave book offers a close-up of the same cellulite, but more fairly, in the context of a genuinely delightful character.

Buffett might not like it, but this book has done him a very Buffett-like service. Twenty years from now, when the financial markets have forgotten our current trauma, and finance is once again fashionable, some young person will pick it up and discover that history's most legendary investor was not a cartoon but a real live human being. And still, somehow, deeply admirable.

Despite being a fan of some of the books Lewis has written, I'm glad his review ended when it did. Because I am no fan of The Snowball and was more than a bit eager for a rambling Lewis to get to the point as to why he was.

(As an aside, my view on the book is not that it is without merit. In fact, I transcribed some long excerpts that I think are particularly valuable in two of my favorite posts Buffett: The Sleuth Investor and Buffett Author Explains Derivatives.)

My main criticism of the book was stated previously like this: "Buffett achieved success because he was focused and frugal; this biography fails because it is unfocused and verbose." That was true, and still is, but I was being too nice.

This positive (and philosophically-revealing) review has actually motivated me to write more on why I don't like The Snowball. And why other books are better for the person who would like to learn how he accumulated a portfolio of wonderful businesses and friends. To be posted soon...

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