Interview with Alice Schroeder, author of “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life”

Here is a link to Jeff Matthews’ insightful and enjoyable to read interview with Alice Schroeder, author of “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life“.

Here is an excerpt of one particular telling Q&A,

JM: You wrote extensively—I’d guess too extensively for most Buffettologists, not to mention for Buffett himself, if the rumors are true—of his personal life. In fact, you named his first wife’s lover. Having been a Wall Street analyst and having written a book about Warren Buffett, I know it is not easy to write something unflattering about a person you both like and admire.

How hard was it to physically put those words down in a book that would be read by WB, not to mention his best friends and family?

Also, where did the worst reaction come from, and do you think you could have or should have done anything differently?

AS: It’s strange that this is a controversy. A biography includes the details of the personal relationships that influenced the breakdown of the subject’s marriage. That goes without saying. You can’t really understand Warren Buffett without this information.

And of course I didn’t want to hurt Warren. I care about him as a human being. It was hard to know that he was going to be hurt and that I would be the instrument of his pain. But let us turn this around a bit.

Warren knew my work as an analyst. He knew that I was dogged about research and that I had a history of writing things that were true even if they upset people. He chose me for this project anyway. He may have thought, who knows what. That in exchange for such complete cooperation, I would owe him the loyalty of writing the version he wanted. As many people would. Nonetheless, he knew what he was getting when he chose me. That was not an accident.

He immediately began shoveling biographical material of an intensely personal nature at me. Until that point I had no idea of the situation I was walking into. Once I started to understand, it became my responsibility to do corroborative research. The choice was to tell the truth, which would hurt Warren, anger other people, and expose me to vindictiveness, or to lie, which would violate the reader’s trust and my integrity. I had to work myself up over and over to find the courage to tell the truth.

From time to time, I talked to Warren, and my agent talked to Warren, to let him know that he wasn’t going to like, or even necessarily agree with, some aspects of the book. He continued to cooperate with me throughout. Warren read the book in July 2008, right before it went to the printer.

Afterwards, we continued to have a perfectly friendly relationship, right up until the week The Snowball was published. It was only then that he stopped speaking to me. Under the circumstances, someone might deduce that other people’s reactions influenced him, although there’s no way to know for sure.

I wouldn’t do anything differently with hindsight. This was an important book that needed to be written. I made a considered judgment based on the readers’ needs, and have tried to set my own feelings aside.

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