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Buffett biography reveals flaws, recounts triumphs

Warren Buffett's youthful confidence about his business acumen hid a self-doubt about nearly everything else, yet the son of a Nebraska congressman grew into one of the world's greatest investors.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Warren Buffett's youthful confidence about his business acumen hid a self-doubt about nearly everything else, yet the son of a Nebraska congressman grew into one of the world's greatest investors.

The tale of how the brilliant but needy Buffett built a fortune by investing in undervalued companies is recounted in the first authorized biography of the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The book's author, former insurance analyst Alice Schroeder, writes that 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 new book, "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life," goes on to explain how Susan Buffett left Warren Buffett in 1977 and moved to San Francisco. But the couple never divorced before her death in 2004, even though he lived with another woman most of those years.

Buffett married his longtime companion, Astrid Menks, in a private ceremony on his 76th birthday in 2006.

Some of the information in Schroeder's book is new, but much of it will seem familiar to Buffett's legions of fans.

More than most previous books about Buffett, Schroeder examines the billionaire's flaws as well as his successes.

Buffett declined an interview request through a spokeswoman Friday.

Buffett picked Schroeder in 2003 to write the book after getting to know her while she worked as an insurance analyst at Morgan Stanley and wrote a report about Berkshire.

Schroeder wrote in the book's introduction that Buffett encouraged her to take a hard look at his life.

"Whenever my version is different than somebody else's Alice, use the less flattering version," Buffett told Schroeder, according to the book.

Buffett spent thousands of hours talking to Schroeder, and he gave her access to his files and friends. A spokeswoman for Schroeder's publisher has said Buffett reviewed the book but didn't change anything.

The book details Buffett's life and his investing career, which began to take off in 1956. That's when he gathered $105,000 from four relatives and three close friends to start the Buffett Partnership. Later, the partnership began buying the stock of Berkshire Hathaway, a New England textile firm, for $7 and $8 a share in 1962. After 1969, Berkshire became Buffett's investment vehicle.

In 2006, Buffett announced plans to gradually give away his billions to five foundations, with the biggest share going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Schroeder describes how Buffett and his first wife Susan gradually began to spend more time apart as Susan became more involved in community groups and Warren relentlessly pursued investing.

"Susie understood his work as a sort of holy mission," Schroeder wrote.

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.

But her husband's pace never slowed.

In 1977, Susan Buffett visited a friend in San Francisco and decided she wanted to have an apartment there, to be in an art-friendly city and be closer to friends and their youngest son, who was attending Stanford.

After she moved, Susan Buffett encouraged her friend Menks to check in on her husband, and Menks eventually moved in and became Warren's companion.

In 1984, Susan Buffett returned to Omaha for a birthday party for Warren's mother. At that time, Susan told Warren Buffett that her move to San Francisco was related to a relationship with another man.

Buffett did not tell anyone — even Menks — about the loss of his beautiful image of his marriage. Instead, Schroeder wrote, he focused on running Berkshire and flushed the painful memory from his mind.

Susan and Warren Buffett remained married and were together often and talked frequently when apart over the years.

Berkshire is now a major player in the insurance field and owns more than 60 companies including furniture, clothing, candy, brick, electricity and corporate jet firms. And at last report, Berkshire had total assets of nearly $278 billion, including significant stakes in well-known companies such as Wells Fargo & Co., American Express and the Washington Post Co.

Pre-orders of the book have already pushed it into the top 75 of's best-seller list. The publisher says the first printing is 1 million copies.