The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
by Alice Schroeder
(Bantam, $35)

Warren Buffett buried his darkest adolescent secret at the bottom of his bedroom closet. Somewhere along the line, the geeky Omaha teenager had become obsessed with golf balls and accumulated bags and bags of state-of-the-art specimens. His father would never learn that the opening of a local Sears department store had transformed his mild-mannered son into a shoplifter. But the elder Buffett knew well enough how to stop the nonsense. Quit making trouble, he told Warren, or you’ll be forced to drop all your newspaper routes. The prospect of lost income was more than the budding delinquent could stand. Counting golf balls had been fun, but tracking the growth of his financial assets had always been his greatest passion.

The “richest man in the world” turns out to have lived a quintessentially American life, said James Rosen in The Washington Post. A financial prodigy by age 6, Buffett built an unparalleled investment career from the childhood obsessions that made him a social misfit. Tracking Buffett from his birth in 1930 to the present, former Wall Street insurance analyst Alice Schroeder has delivered the “definitive” biography of the man who transformed ailing textile company Berkshire Hathaway into a global money­making machine. At 960 pages, The Snowball is a “titanic achievement of research and reporting.” Schroeder was granted unprecedented access to Buffett and his papers. But she holds nothing back even when describing his distant parenting style or the romances he engaged in outside marriage.

Unfortunately, Schroeder has trouble with focus, said Felix Salmon in Her profligacy with meaningless detail “doesn’t just make it hard to make out the forest for the trees; it makes it hard to make out the trees for the texture of their bark.” Worse, “whenever we need her to explain” uncharacteristic behavior on Buffett’s part, “she goes AWOL.” To be fair, it’s not easy to write a great biography about a businessman with such a “paucity of outside interests,” said Andrew Bary in Barron’s. As we’ve long known, the “Great One has no yen for real estate, cars, art, or boats. He likes hanging out in Omaha and playing bridge.” Sure, he lived for more than a quarter-century with a woman who was not his wife. But “his great love,” always and forever, has been Berkshire Hathaway.