Good Reading : December January 2009
biography / memoir word of mouth The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the business of life Alice Schroeder H onoré de Balzac is alleged to have said ‘behind every great fortune lies a great crime’. It’s unlikely that this epigram could be used against Warren Buffett for the time he and his friends stole some golf balls from a department store when they were 15 years old. We learn of this petty crime perpetrated by the world’s richest man in The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the business of life. This gigantic book offers the reader an insight into Buffett’s life. For example, his triangular marriage with his wife of 52 years, Susie, and Astrid – the woman Susie asked to move in with Buffett when she departed to be a lounge singer in San Francisco (their Christmas cards from then on were signed ‘Warren, Susie and Astrid’). Manning Clark: A life Brian Matthews I n every biography the question is implicit: why this life? For some biographers the answer lies in the historical, artistic or scientific significance of the protagonist; for others it lies in some quality or character in the life itself. Occasionally it is simply the accident of survival of primary material. After enough time passes even a relatively undistinguished life, provided it is well documented, can reward detailed examination. Manning Clark, however, is an awkward customer. Not entirely forgotten, but I suspect little read these days; I certainly got through four years of university history without being required to read him. And yet if you do read any of his work and especially the History of Australia there is no doubt that you are in the presence of a very gifted writer whose style can bear comparison (and Brian Matthews does compare it) with Schroeder has achieved a triumph of research into Buffett’s honourable and commonsense approach to investing, showing how he has always seemed to stay ahead of the downturn, which may be of particular interest considering the current financial crisis. Buffett termed credit derivatives ‘weapons of mass destruction’ years before they went awry, he stayed away from technology stock and therefore missed the tech tumble and always invests in what he terms his ‘circle of competence’, that is, businesses he understands. The Snowball’s drawback is its size, at 960 pages, it might (but shouldn’t) put off the casual reader who may well be interested in a self-made capitalist who thinks his taxes are too low, votes Democrat, still lives in the house he bought for $31 000 and will give all but a small amount of his money to charity upon his death. ??? Bloomsbury $49.95 Reviewed by Christopher Minns the likes of Dickens, Dostoyevsky and, in reviewing Meeting Soviet Man (Manning’s account of a 1958 trip to Russia) with Orwell and Bruce Chatwin. In Manning Clark Brian Matthews makes a determined effort to get to the bottom of his subject, tracing his seemingly idyllic childhood through his Melbourne Grammar schooldays and on to Oxford University and his distinguished academic career in Australia. The result, it has to be said, is not particularly flattering. Clark had great gifts, especially as a teacher, but a corrosive sense of inadequacy which made him defensive, depressive and at times gave him a tremendous thirst. His sensitivities heavily influenced his work and while his ability to relate to his characters gives his writing much of its force it also led him, all too often, into an ambivalent relationship to historical accuracy. A fascinating portrait of a brilliant and flawed man. ??? Allen & Unwin $59.95 Reviewed by Grant Hansen An upbeat series of musings and anecdotes highlighting a South African woman’s 11-year sojourn as a migrant wife, mother and friend living in Australia. This candid and humorous memoir will deeply touch anyone who’s ever left all that’s familiar to embark on a new life. $19.95 Impact Unlimited ISBN 9780980486803 DECEMBER 2008 / JANUARY 2009 i goodreading 39 gr promotion For a FREE sampler of new audio book titles, email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org gr new book guide A Fortunate Life A B Facey Australia’s most popular classic NOW AVAILABLE AS AN AUDIO BOOK from ABC Shops, ABC Centres and selected independent bookstores 10CD $69.95 Aussie, Actually Lois Nicholls OVER 750,000 COPIES SOLD!