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Richard Ben Cramer
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What it Takes: The Way to the White House

4.38  ·  Rating Details ·  1,659 Ratings  ·  171 Reviews
An American Iliad in the guise of contemporary political reportage, What It Takes penetrates the mystery at the heart of all presidential campaigns: How do presumably ordinary people acquire that mixture of ambition, stamina, and pure shamelessness that makes a true candidate? As he recounts the frenzied course of the 1988 presidential race -- and scours the psyches of con ...more
Published May 31st 1994 by Random House, Inc. (first published 1992)
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A.J. Howard
I'm reposting this review today because the e-book version of this is on sale at Amazon for $2, or a .0005¢ per page. Tempting me to buy an electronic copy of a long book I've already read, that I probably won't ever read again.But if you haven't read this one, I really recommend it. Re-reading my review I found a handful of pretty bad grammatical mistakes, leading me to question my long-held disbelief in proof reading. Hopefully, corrected the most glaring one's and I apologize for not catching ...more
May 27, 2012 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
"One of the things you realize fairly quickly in this job is that there is a character people see out there called Barack Obama. That’s not you. Whether it is good or bad, it is not you. I learned that on the campaign.” - President Barack Obama, speaking to Michael Lewis in October 2012

What It Takes is widely considered a classic among hardcore political buffs, campaign reporters and political scientists, on the level of Robert Caro's LBJ trilogy. Richard Ben Cramer has the less earth-shaking su
Nov 18, 2010 Noah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is the opposite of a light read. It's not something you can just have on the nightstand and casually dip in and out of every once in a while. It's a book that you wrestle with and try not to get bucked off. That being said, it's probably one of my favorite books of all time. Even though the book is twenty years old, it feels totally relevant. Cramer does more than anyone else I've ever read to actually make sense of the absurd machine of modern American politics, to diagram how all the ...more
Susan Bigelow
Aug 25, 2013 Susan Bigelow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book. This incredible, huge, infuriating, impossible, gorgeous and utterly mind-bending book.

I've been reading this book at night now for what has to be months and months. I picked it up because the guy who runs Political Wire recommended it. It's 1400 pages long, or so the Nook tells me, but it's worth it. The story Richard Ben Cramer has to tell is so vast and expansive that it merits the length.

This is the story of the 1988 presidential campaign, but it's also much more than that. It's
Mar 29, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: journalism, politics
What better time than now to read Richard Ben Cramer’s What it Takes? We’re in the midst of one of the longest, most deplorable political campaigns in history. What it Takes is an excellent way to get your political fix without having to pay attention to what’s currently unfolding before your eyes. It takes you back to the 1988 presidential campaign, and even though it wasn’t necessarily clean – Lee Atwater was involved, after all – at least none of the candidates felt the need to talk about the ...more
Feb 12, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Is there such a thing as being too definitive?

The late Richard Ben Cramer's titanic deep dive into the 1987-88 presidential primary season is rightly regarded as the last word on the crazy-making rigors of electoral politics in this country. Hard to argue: books like Game Change, and similar attempts to go behind the scenes with the insiders, are but superficial imitators to the throne in comparison.

The level of commitment from Cramer is awe-inspiring, likely rivaled only by Robert A. Caro's mul
Jan 08, 2013 Cullen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars

I picked this up because it is supposed to be a must-read for political junkies. Aaron Sorkin required that cast members read it during the production of The West Wing.

It is very readable and effective in humanizing the six chosen characters of the 1988 election, so from that standpoint the book was a great success.

However, many reviews describe this book as "exhaustive", and at nearly 1100 pages it certainly should be. I found it frustratingly sketchy on many details. The first votes
Aug 08, 2007 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the two best books ever writen about the US presidential campaign, and the finest book on politicians ever made. Don't confuse that thin gruel produced by pundits & reporters today with what's possible; this book shows how inane that self-important snot Mark Halperin is, how thuddingly dull Chuck Todd's analysis can be, how cartoonish Chris Matthews' color commentary comes off. This is an amazingly FUN and smart read.

And on sale today for you Amazon ereaders....
Jul 12, 2015 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed this book, which came in handy given the 1000 pages of dense script. On the surface the book covers the republican and democratic primaries for the 1988 presidential elections, really though the underlying theme is the level of almost delusional self belief and obsessiveness you need to enter and survive the marathon from hell also known as the US presidential elections. Watching them unfold is exhausting enough with the frenzy of reporting on every single day as a multi dimensional ma ...more
Jan 12, 2013 Lynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, political
I am an election junkie. Every election year, I get passionate about the issues, and read up on the different candidates and fervently espouse my choices. So it was probably a given that I would love this book. However, I suspect many people less passionate about politics may love it as well.

WHAT IT TAKES is THE RIGHT STUFF of political tomes, an in-depth look at six candidates--George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis, Dick Gephardt and Joe Biden--and their quest for the Presiden
Aaron Arnold
By far the most detailed book about presidential campaigns I've ever read, in fact so detailed it's almost exhausting over its thousand-odd pages of tiny, close-set type, What It Takes is an extremely entertaining read that also raises profoundly troubling questions about the whole venture. Out of all the people contesting the 1988 presidential campaign, Cramer selects Democrats Joe Biden, Michael Dukakis, Dick Gephardt, and Gary Hart, Republicans George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole, and asks some se ...more
Wesley Roth
Jan 31, 2015 Wesley Roth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"What it Takes" is the GOLD STANDARD for presidential political reporting. 5 stars. Richard Ben Cramer had unbelievable (by today's standards) access to six presidential candidates for the 1988 election: George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Dick Gephardt, Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis and Joe Biden. This tome, which clocks in at 1,047 pages took over two years to write! But as all political junkies know, THIS is the book that all other campaign books are measured against. Printed in about 9 point font with ...more
Nov 09, 2010 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Well, it's pretty amazing (1,047 pages of amazing, though). It's highly readable and does a fantastic job of depicting the interplay between presidential candidates, the media, and the public. The book covers 2 republican contenders and 4 democrats during the 1988 presidential primary season (from nomination to general is barely covered). Cramer, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, goes into the candidates upbringing and family backgrounds, political histories, claims-to-fame, and personalities ...more
Jan 08, 2013 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A commitment (over 1000 pages!) that is well rewarded. I don't know what Cramer's book has to say about our political era which seems so much more mean and angry than they one he wrote about in 1988, but I do know if you care about American history or American politics you must read this book at some point in your adult life. It's that brilliantly written. (and reported)

On a sadder note, Richard died just yesterday. He was a giant in my eyes. A man who change the room just by walking into it. I
Apr 11, 2014 Todd rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
According to Rob Lowe's Reddit AMA, "West Wing fans should all pick up the book What It takes by Richard Ben Cramer, it was source material we all had to read for the show."

So I did.

You failed me, Rob.

To be fair, Cramer probably wrote a fantastic book, but holy nuts did it need an editor. I hate putting books down without finishing, but I only made it a third of the way through before I gave up. At times it was like slogging through a pool full of warm tar. Interesting, but 1072 pages was way to
Jan 01, 2009 Trish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was inspired to pick this book up again during the 2008 presidential elections, and I had a hard time putting it down. GREAT book for a political junkie. This book is rich and vivid with details, so you understand what a marathon a campaign really is. Although it is long, it is well worth your time. This book shows the influence of the political consultant/campaign staff.
Feb 04, 2008 Andrea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: political junkies
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
This is the book that converted me from someone interested in the political process into a certified political junkie. It's a long, slow read, but fascinating. You'll never look at Bob Dole or Dick Gephart, not to mention Joe Biden, the same way again.
Massive book about the kinds of people who have the unusual drive to enter politics on a national scale. Not about campaign strategy so much as personal motivations and biographies. Very interesting for anybody interested in politicking.
Jan 29, 2008 Gwen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A friend gave me this book in college, and I quickly put it on the shelf and forgot about it. During some downtime, I read it. It's not a quick read by any means, but is a great one for anyone who loves the political process and presidential politics.
Feb 20, 2016 AC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
A masterpiece of its genre, let's hope that the 2016 election finds its Richard Ben Cramer
Mar 28, 2016 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For years, I’ve been bombarded with the message that given my interest in politics, I HAVE TO READ WHAT IT TAKES. Truth be told, I was prepared to be disappointed given all the hype. Turns out this book is just as striking and illuminating as advertised.

Richard Ben Cramer put immense effort into digging into the lives and characters of six contenders for the presidency in 1988, how their experiences led them to conclude they were capable of running for, winning and being the president of the Uni
Mike Thiac
Feb 15, 2017 Mike Thiac rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spoiler: George H. W. Bush won the 1988 election! :<)

In all seriousness, if you want insight to what is required to obtain the highest office in the land, read this book. It looks into motives, actions, history and downfalls of 6 of the (if memory serves) 12 men who ran for the presidency in 1988:
The Republicans: VP George HW Bush and Senator Bob Dole
The Democrats: Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Senator Joe Biden, Congressman Dick Gephardt, Senator Gary Hart.

It starts off with the pl
Sarah Kelaita
Nov 01, 2016 Sarah Kelaita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly thorough review of what it takes to become a president in terms of background, experience, and personality, as well as what it's like to be on the campaign trail
Apr 19, 2011 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed and would recommend What It Takes, even as someone who is primarily a reader of fiction and - more pertinently - as someone who really has difficulty taking interest in politics (for all the myriad reasons one can presume). In that regard, the fact that I enjoyed this book is a pretty significant compliment to the Cramer's work.

I began this book with high expectations. I hoped it might address that problem of my not understanding politics: how could anyone take interest in a system whe
Frank Stein
Apr 24, 2016 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For the foreseeable future, this book will remain the best depiction of the brutal process of becoming the President of the United States. Its author, Richard Ben Cramer, not only tries to convey the sheer insanity of the struggle, with all its intricate details and turns, he also tries to convey two profound and contradictory truths about it. One is the real and raw humanity of the candidates, people otherwise so swaddled in press and handlers and polls that they can seem like distant automaton ...more
Bill Manzi
Oct 25, 2014 Bill Manzi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A tour de force by Richard Ben Cramer. At over a thousand pages this look at the 1988 Presidential campaign may seem daunting but if you are a fan of politics it is a must read. Even though the book was written some time ago I had not run across it until I started to look at the new Matt Bai book "All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid". Bai heaped high praise on Cramer and the book, and highlighted a visit he had made to Cramer (now deceased) to talk about the subject matter for h ...more
Neil Pierson
Jul 01, 2016 Neil Pierson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I picked up this book, two things happened: (1) I strained my back--it's 1047 pages. (2) I gave myself permission not to finish it--it's 1047 pages of pretty small print!)

But no problem--I enjoyed reading every page, and my back... is getting better.

This book reminds us that 2016 isn't the first time the national electoral process has failed us. The worst campaign I can remember was 1988--George H.W. Bush v. Michael Dukakis. This was the election that brought us Gary Hart, Donna Rice, and t
Matthew Ryan
Jul 21, 2014 Matthew Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Richard Ben Cramer’s WHAT IT TAKES is a mammoth achievement in political nonfiction. Set with the lofty ambition portrayed within the title of chronicling what individual characteristics and events can drive a person to think they have what it takes to become President of the United States of America, Cramer dives into a plethora of related tales and unrelated tangents to chronicle everything anybody would want to possibly know about this particular election year’s primary cycle.

Cramer sets the
William Cuthbertson
A magnificent, mammoth book of the 1988 presidential election that is as exhausting as it feels exhaustive. Following two of the race's Republicans (Bush and Dole) and four of its Democrats (Biden, Dukakis, Hart, and Gephardt), Cramer's book moves like a living beast from elections and events both past and present, from defining tragedy to personal triumph back down to popular failure. Evoking the accessible, stylistic journalism of Tom Wolfe, "What It Takes" removes any shine on the truths defi ...more
Alex MacMillan
Mar 13, 2013 Alex MacMillan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"What It Takes is easily the most magnificent campaign book that I've ever read and people should be required to read it before they even try talking about politics, and especially campaigns. Mr. Cramer's central thesis is that presidential campaigns are little more than endurance contests. If you could survive a year on the road saying and doing incredibly empty things without looking like an abject moron, your chances of living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are pretty good." - Skippy Stalin

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Richard Ben Cramer was an American journalist and writer. He won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 1979 for his coverage of the Middle East. His work as a political reporter culminated in What It Takes: The Way to the White House, an account of the 1988 presidential election that is considered one of the seminal journalistic studies of presidential electoral politics.
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