Warren Buffett, pro writer

Warren Buffett sings with University of Nebraska cheerleaders during the Berkshire Hathaway Annual shareholders meeting in OmahaI was reading my digitial issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) this morning and found Ben Yagoda’s Warren Buffett Is a Better Writer Than I Am. Damn It. (Yagoda is one of a handful of contributors to CHE’s Lingua Franca blog.) The piece is a terrific analysis of Buffet’s writing ability based on his recent Letter to Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway.

Here’s an excerpt:

My favorite part of the letter, improbably, is where Buffett explains why the listed operating expenses for Berkshire Hathaway’s Manufacturing, Service and Retailing group do not conform to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). I know, right? It’s just that Buffett’s evident belief that such matters can and should be explained lucidly is touching. And he succeeds. At least while reading the letter, even as unreconstructed an English major as I grasped his point about “the disparate nature of intangible assets: Some truly deplete over time while others never lose value.” He closes the section this way:

“And that ends today’s accounting lecture. Why is no one shouting ‘More, more’?”

Here’s a quote from Buffett’s letter that I especially liked:

Berkshire’s yearend employment totaled a record 288,462 (see page 106 for details), up 17,604 from last year. Our headquarters crew, however, remained unchanged at 24. No sense going crazy.

I became aware of Buffett as a pro writer when I read his preface to the SEC’s 1998 publication, A Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents. Reading the plans for the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting in Omaha made me homesick. I’d like to think Buffett and I both profited from a public education in Nebraska — even if our experiences took place 50 years apart.

3 thoughts on “Warren Buffett, pro writer

  1. If anyone is confused (and cares), I used some hyperbole when I claimed that Mr. Buffett’s Nebraska education took place 50 years before my own. A woman has the right to mislead folks about her age, right?

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