This book offers a surprisingly personal history of Warren Buffett's upbringing, family and key personal relationships, and the development of his political views. It also describes more fully than any account I have seen before the personality, drive and genius behind his extraordinary business success.
To borrow a phrase from his partner, Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett has been a "learning machine" in business and financial affairs from his teen years. While he has generously shared with Berkshire shareholders, business school students and others, the investment precepts that have guided him, there can be no doubt after reading this book that Buffett's success cannot be duplicated by simply following his precepts.
His success is owed in greater part to native intelligence, drive, dedication and hard work.
The book also illustrates why Buffett is so widely admired: it cites numerous examples where Buffett acted with fairness and integrity when he had an opportunity to make more money with a less noble, but perfectly legal, alternative course of action. He exemplifies a life that has placed as much importance on doing things the right way as it has on achieving success in his chosen field.
The reason to buy this book is for the detailed insights you gain as to how Goldman (alone among the major Wall Street banks) actually prospered during the financial crisis of 2007-2008. The author has done a fine job of describing the key events and decisions that started in December 2006: the push by its mortgage trading desk for authority to put on large short positions when it recognized early signs of serious problems ahead; actions by top management to move early and decisively to reduce long exposure in the subprime mortgage market; and the discipline and focus on risk management at top management levels that forced realistic “mark to market” prices for the mortgage backed securities on its books. As one of the people the author interviewed in research for the book put it, had the other Wall Street banks taken actions similar to what Goldman did, we would not have had a financial crisis in 2008. (That comment, by the way, does not in my view absolve Goldman in any way of irresponsibility for being a large marketer and seller of “subprime” mortgage backed securities prior to 2007. Such securities were based on underlying collateral that was frankly ridiculous and a lasting shame to the parties who originated them, the Wall Street banks who sold them, the ratings agencies who gave them absurd “AAA” ratings, and the federal regulators who simply sat back and watched it all happen.)
The rest of the book is not of the same quality, although it does have a good overview of the history and evolution of Goldman Sachs, including a number of the major leadership figures in the firm over its history as well as bumps in the road it has had to navigate over time. He also includes a number of less well documented impressions of Goldman gathered from competitors, the press, and Congress—many of whom are frankly somewhat dubious sources as to the actual facts. Such sources do, however, serve as good illustrations of why Goldman has suffered some major blows to its public reputation over the past few years.