New: Book Report: The Snowball

It's a biography of Warren Buffet. It's pretty long. But there are some good stories in here, the writing is good, and it smells well-researched. It edges around some touchy topics, but it's pretty easy to tell when that's going on; there are plenty of touchy topics it doesn't edge around, but dives right into.

["Jet" Jack Ringwalt's] first break had come when a bank asked him to guarantee that a bootlegger—presumed murdered—would not return to Omaha, because the presumptive widow wanted to withdraw his account without waiting the legally required seven years. Ringwalt figured the alleged murderer's lawyer might have a pretty good idea whether the missing bootlgger's blood no longer pulsed. He had helped the accused murderer beat the rap, but the dead man's widow (and the bank) suspected that was mainly just good lawyering, not exoneration. Still, the lawyer couldn't say whether his client had confessed to him. So Ringwalt got him to put up some of his own money on the guarantee, on the thory that unless the bootlegger had croaked louder than a bullfrog, the lawyer wouldn't take the risk. Sure enough, the cash told all; the bootlegger never reappeared, and the bank never made a claim...

Puzzlehunt fans even get a relevant phrase: Another Ringwalt story illustrates "Only Game Control thinks that's funny" conflict-of-interest:

...then he put up the stakes for radio-station treasure hunts, hiding the clues in lipstick cases, burying them himself, using clues so obscure that only one prize was ever claimed.

A story about Warren Buffet as he cleaned up after an illegal trading scandal at Salomon Bros: he cut loose a P.R. firm that had been newly hired to shape news about the scandal.

"It wasn't that we're misunderstood, for Christ's sake," said Buffet afterward. "We don't have a public relations problem. We have a problem with what we did."

A note about the power of computer games--as of 1991, Buffet still wasn't using a computer to do his research, his writing, etc. He hung out with Bill Gates who tried to convince him to use a computer, but nothing doing. But he finally started using a computer when his bridge partner told him he could practice (and play) bridge by computer. People talk about Visicalc, but once again, computer games are really what got folks to sit down at the monitor... yeah, anyhow. A fun read.

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Posted 2009-12-13