Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Buffett (but Were Afraid to Ask)
New biography sheds more light on the Oracle's personal life
I've always liked Warren Buffett, with his unpretentious lifestyle (this gazillionaire lives in the same house he bought in 1958, drives his own car, unapologetically eats lots of steaks and burgers—hold the veggies—and has a thing for Cherry Cokes.) And you've got to love his candid observations. This morning, he told CNBC: "It's nice to have a lot of money, but you know, you don't want to keep it around forever...I prefer buying things. Otherwise, it's a little like saving sex for your old age."
Yes, he's a brilliant investor. But a soon-to-be released biography, The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, makes me like him even more as a person. The book, written by former insurance analyst Alice Schroeder, will be the first biography in which Buffett has taken part. "Whenever my version is different than somebody else's, Alice, use the less flattering version," Buffett told Schroeder, according to the book (the Associated Press obtained an audio version). Judging from the handful of snippets that have been released, the book reveals an even more endearing side of Buffett, and a very sad one.
Here are a few details cobbled together from the AP story, along with BusinessWeek and Time:Buffett had a complex relationship with his mother. Says Time: "A model housewife to the outside world, his mother would "verbally lash" the young Buffett and his older sister for hours, until the children wept. Buffett says that when his mother died he cried not because he was sad but "because of the waste. She had her good parts, but the bad parts kept me from having a relationship with her."The AP writes: "When Buffett was a newlywed in his early 20s, he relied on his wife Susan to help cut his hair, stock the pantry and help him deal with other people. 'In every area of life except business, Susie was discovering her husband was riddled with self-doubt,' Schroeder wrote. 'He had never felt love, and she saw, he did not feel lovable.' "The book says Susan Buffett thought she and Warren had an understanding that he would quit investing once he amassed $8 million to $10 million, according to BusinessWeek.Says Time, "In public, people noticed how affectionate the two were—Warren liked to hold Susie in his lap—but in private, his wife kept hoping that once they had enough money...Buffett would cut back on work and finally pay attention to his family. What she didn't realize was that the mission Buffett had embarked upon when he was 6 years old and selling gum and Coke to his neighbors would never stop. The quest to amass wealth—but not to spend it, as his license plate, THRIFTY, suggested—would take him all the way to being the richest man in the world."The book explains how Susan left Warren in 1977 and moved to San Francisco (although the couple lived apart for 27 years, they never divorced). "While they still talked extensively by phone, he was crushed by what he considered the biggest mistake of his life. 'He wandered aimlessly around the house, barely able to feed and clothe himself,' writes Schroeder. For a while, Susie thought she'd have to go back, but in the end she asked Astrid Menks, a restaurant hostess and sommelier she knew, to check up on her husband. Eventually, Astrid moved in. 'Susie put me together, and Astrid keeps me together,' was how Buffett came to explain things. After Susie's death in 2004, Warren and Astrid got married," writes Time.Buffett reeled when Susan was diagnosed with oral cancer in 2003. "He is terrified of losing her and cries for hours," Time says. "Buffett had always avoided hospitals and was squeamish about all things medical...and yet with his wife undergoing radiation after facial surgery, he overcomes his limitations, learns everything he can about oncology and sits by her bedside weekend after weekend in San Francisco, watching with her nearly 100 episodes of Frasier. When Susie can eat only a liquid diet, Warren cuts his own intake to 1,000 calories a day. 'That can't be a lot of fun,' he says, 'so I won't have any fun either.' "When Buffett's daughter—also named Susie—is planning the funeral after his wife's death, "she tells him he doesn't have to attend. 'Warren was overcome with relief,' Schroeder writes. 'I can't,' he said. To sit there, overwhelmed with thoughts of Susie, in front of everyone, was too much. 'I can't go,' " writes Time.
The book comes out Monday, September 29.