Book review: Tap Dancing to Work

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2012, 1:28pm

Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012

by Carol Loomis


You know you've made it when Fortune magazine has a "chief writer" devoted to covering your every move. That applies to master investor Warren Buffett, whose career plays out in the debut book by journalist Carol Loomis.

Tap Dancing to Work - an anthology of articles by and about Buffett - plugs a gap in Loomis' career. Before, she was routinely urged to write a straight biography of the financier who is worth more than US$50 billion.

"I have always said no, sure beyond a doubt that a writer who is a good friend of the subject does not make a good biographer," Loomis writes. She adds that she has been a close friend of Buffett for more than 40 years, and a shareholder in his company - Berkshire Hathaway - for almost that long, and the "pro bono" editor of his annual letter to shareholders for 35.

"But," Loomis adds, "then it dawned on me that the scores of Buffett articles we have published in Fortune are in themselves a business biography - and a perfect one for a book."

Loomis' 368-page compilation includes the 1966 article in which Fortune first mentioned Buffett. Another highlight is the 1983 article "Letters from Chairman Buffett" - the first review of his cannily affable Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters. The compilation also contains a dozen essays written by the Oracle of Omaha himself: his prophetic 2003 article about derivatives, "Avoiding a Mega-Catastrophe", wins an airing, as do his Democratic views on philanthropy. Buffett's billionaire buddy, Bill Gates, graces the anthology's pages, too. In a 1996 article titled "Gates on Buffett", the Microsoft founder recounts his initial impressions of the fiscal sage. Gates pops up again in an enthralling three-way 2005 Q&A interview headlined "The $91 Billion Conversation".

Buffett can be wordy but, thanks to his heft, all he writes has curiosity value at the very least. Tap Dancing to Work will doubtless be a hit, fuelled by Buffett's American dream optimism powerfully evident in one essay with an unrepeatable, rambling title.

"Our country has consistently made fools of those who were sceptical about either our economic potential or our resiliency. Many pessimistic seers simply underestimated the dynamism that has allowed us to overcome problems that once seemed ominous," Buffett writes.