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What It Takes: The Way to the White House

4.37  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,402 Ratings  ·  157 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
Paperback, 1072 pages
Published June 1st 1993 by Vintage (first published 1992)
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The Making of the President 1960 by Theodore H. WhiteThe Making of the President 1968 by Theodore H. WhiteGame Change by John HeilemannThe Making of the President 1964 by Theodore H. WhiteWhat It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer
Books about U.S. Presidential Elections
5th out of 55 books — 28 voters
All the President's Men by Carl BernsteinMaster of the Senate by Robert A. CaroMy Country 'Tis of Thee by Keith EllisonMeans of Ascent by Robert A. CaroThe Path to Power by Robert A. Caro
American Politics
22nd out of 130 books — 71 voters

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Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing
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
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 16, 2013 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
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
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
Feb 25, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it
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
Nov 05, 2015 James rated it really liked it
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
Jun 04, 2014 Cullen rated it really liked it
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
Jan 29, 2013 Lynn rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 07, 2012 Pinky rated it it was amazing
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....
Apr 27, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it
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.
Wesley Roth
Apr 06, 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
Aaron Arnold
Apr 29, 2014 Aaron Arnold rated it really liked it
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
Jul 16, 2015 Kevin rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 20, 2016 AC rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
A masterpiece of its genre, let's hope that the 2016 election finds its Richard Ben Cramer
Jan 08, 2013 Michael rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 12, 2014 Todd rated it did not like it
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
Frank Stein
Apr 24, 2016 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 28, 2016 Joe rated it it was amazing
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
Adam Dalva
Jan 30, 2016 Adam Dalva rated it it was amazing
Gigantic work of political reporting and a huge accomplishment. In the midst of this election cycle, it's a comfort to read Cramer's close examination of the 1988 primaries and remember that campaigns are always nutty. The overriding thesis of the book is smart: a deep look at 6 very different figures (Bush/Dole; Dukakis/Biden/Gephardt/Hart) that examines the moments that made them want to be president, paired with a beat-by-beat walk-through of the challenges to those identities during their ru ...more
Jan 06, 2015 Jeff rated it did not like it
I had really high hopes for this book. I was hoping for something along the lines of a Game Change or a Double Down.

The material is certainly there. The author extensively interviewed everyone involved (seemingly) and as a reporter on the scene was certain there to see some of the events he described.

However, I give it 1 star because the writing is HORRIBLE. Cramer writes in what he thinks is a breathless, exciting style, but is actually just annoying. And there are so many literary conceits in
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
Steve M.
Mar 21, 2014 Steve M. rated it liked it
I lie. I only read the first 373 tiny-fonted pages of this 1047-page tome. When the author died two or three years ago, many of the political blogger-types I read cited this book as the pinnacle of political writing. And I can see why -- it's exhaustive, well-written, insightful. But too much so. This book covers the 1988 US presidential primaries and elections, and the run-up to them, and provides biographical portraits of each of the legit contenders on both the Democratic and Republican sides ...more
Jan 01, 2009 Trish rated it it was amazing
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.
What it takes to finish this book Hailed as one of THE best books written about US politics, What It Takes explores the 1988 Presidential Election, with its cast of characters and the drama that obviously surrounds US politics, especially during a Presidential Election. It was recommended to me as a must read and was heavily referenced in Matt Bai's introduction toAll the Truth is Out. It probably is a precursor of sorts to books people are more familiar with,Game Change andGame Change: Double D ...more
Feb 09, 2015 Tom rated it really liked it
Numerous times over the past few years, I've come across references to this book as being the gold standard in political reporting. Having read it at last, I understand why - and I concur. It's prodigious in size (130 chapters plus epilogue, 1047 pages!), but the author's intention is equally immense. By closely following the campaigns of George H.W. Bush and Robert Dole for the Republican party's 1988 presidential nomination, and the campaigns of four contenders for the Democratic party's nomin ...more
Feb 04, 2008 Andrea rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 29, 2008 Gwen rated it it was amazing
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.
C. Scott
Apr 14, 2015 C. Scott rated it really liked it
Like running for president, it takes a lot to plow through this massive tome about running for president. I shared some of my fellow reviewers' apprehensions about tackling this 1000+ page epic but found it well worth the effort. The prose is lively, very enjoyable, and sails by at a very brisk pace.

Cramer is up front about the biggest piece missing from this book: Jesse Jackson. The absence of both Jackson and Pat Robertson from the narrative are huge gaps in the story of 1988, especially since
Bill Manzi
Dec 12, 2014 Bill Manzi rated it it was amazing
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
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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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