Getting Behind the Scenes with Charlie Munger

A look at Janet Lowe’s terribly under-appreciated book about the life of Charlie Munger: Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger

A deep, profound and far-reaching insight into the incredible life of the Oracle of Omaha’s right hand man, Charlie Munger. Before reading this book I had always been a close follower of Munger — his investing advice, philosophy, jokes and stoic nature — but little did I know just how much the man has done in his life; his (very significant) role in Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway’s quite astonishing success over the years is something, but his contributions outside of that are equally, or perhaps even more admirable.

Because Charlie dislikes the limelight, avoids smalltalk and likes to keep himself to himself, interviews come once every blue moon. His only guaranteed appearance is at the Berkshire annual meeting, where Warren and Charlie sit down with all their shareholders and take questions — sometimes for up to 6 hours. Whilst they address the odd personal question, give advice here and there, and share a few personal stories and anecdotes, the talking point rarely deviates from investing, the market and the economy — and Warren does 90% of the talking; therefore rarely does the world hear about Charlie’s life away from his involvement with Berkshire. Little do we know how ignorant we are.

Only when one takes the time to dive deep into his past; spends several days, doing interview after interview, holidaying, and bonding with him in his favourite activities such as hiking, boating and fishing; attends several Berkshire meetings; interviews almost 40 more people, including Otis Booth, Warren Buffet, and other friends and family members; analyses transcriptions of his speeches and lectures; and devotes more than 3 years of one’s life in the process, can one start to fathom the magnitude of his contribution, and the profundity and erudition of our generations very own (and Charlie’s hero) Ben Franklin. Well — Janet Lowe did just that, and luckily for us, she documented every bit of it and made it into this darling of a book. Even more luckily for us, Janet’s style is very readable — precise, coherent, clear-cut and for those who like the details, very meticulous when called for.

There have been a few books written on Charlie, and no doubt there’ll be many, many more written in the future; but in comparison to this, none come close to doing the man and his life story justice — not in the faintest. This was published in 2000, and almost two decades later he and Warren are still both going strong; in fact, it seems they’re actually getting smarter. Despite its age, this book is as relevant as it ever has been; and I suspect as the years roll on, it will become even more so. That said, since its publishing there has probably been enough happen in Charlie’s life to warrant the writing of another book; and for that there can only be one author — Janet Lowe.

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