After reading The Snowball by Alice Schroeder and going to the Berkshire Hathaway Annual General Meeting in Omaha (see my experience in parts one and part two), I was hooked on Charlie Munger. His comments during the Berkshire Hathaway AGM were succinct, to the point, and he did not waste his words… when Charlie Munger speaks, you listen. He often said “I don’t have anything more to add” but that’s the persona that he displays during the Berkshire Hathaway meetings. His personality is certainly unique and unlike his friend Warren Buffett, he doesn’t really seem to care whether you like him or not. He certainly displayed his personality at the AGM, often looking ahead and tuning out, munching on his See’s peanut brittle or having a sip of Coca Cola.
So when I saw that Charlie Munger had a biography, I was excited to read it. Damn Right! Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charile Munger was written in year 2000 by Janet Lowe, an investment writer and author. He is known as Warren Buffett’s sidekick and right hand man but he is certainly much more than that (and Warren knows it). Warren Buffett wrote a lovely foreword for Damn Right! and it was a great read.
What I Liked about Damn Right!
I had some misconceptions about Charlie Munger before reading this book and it was good to clear these up. I knew Charlie had eight children and was divorced but for some reason thought he was a womanizer (I think I was getting confused with Benjamin Graham, the author of Intelligent Investor). I also thought he was extravagant, but the private jet “Indefensible” was actually Warren’s idea and not suggested by Charlie.
In the book, I learned a lot about Charlie Munger. Charlie Munger certainly had an eventful life so far in his 92 years. Charlie Munger grew up in Omaha Nebraska, in a fortunate household. His father was a lawyer. He worked at the Buffett family grocery store but he did not work with Warren. Warren and Charlie met when he had to return to Omaha for his father’s funeral. He followed in his father’s footsteps and went to Harvard law school. He married young and had children but the marriage did not last. After his marriage ended, he was able to remarry (to another woman named Nancy). Shortly after he remarried, his son died at age eight from leukemia. He had two children, his second wife had two children (yes, kind of like a smaller scale of the Brady Bunch) and together they added a few more children to their blended family. He had a failed cataract surgery operation and hence became blind in one eye and has a glass eye. Charlie Munger has certainly had his fair share of adversity, and many who face these obstacles in life would likely play victim or blame others, but not Charlie! He bounces back from these experiences and grows even stronger.
I did not know that Charlie Munger has been instrumental with North American history and women’s reproductive rights. He is a true Republican but he felt it was important that women choose when they have children and he was involved with changing the existing laws to support this.
What I Didn’t Like about Damn Right!
There wasn’t really much that I didn’t like about Damn Right! Though I did find that there was a bit of repetition with The Snowball, recounting the pivotal events of Berkshire Hathaway, such as the Salomon fiasco and purchase of Geico.
I also would have appreciated if there was a bit more personalization like The Snowball had. You could really get a sense of who Warren Buffett was (and the essence of who he was) with the Snowball but it wasn’t as apparent with Damn Right. Like after reading The Snowball, you feel like you know Warren. This wasn’t really the case with Damn Right!
In the back of the book, Janet Lowe includes an appendix which has a time line of Charlie Munger’s life. I found the time line of Charlie Munger’s life so far very helpful to understand the chronological order of big events in his life. This was especially helpful because the book tended to jump around and frankly it was a little hard to follow because of this.
Readers, have you read the biography about Charlie Munger by Janet Lowe? Who do you like more, Charlie or Warren?