Customer Reviews: What It Takes: The Way to the White House
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on January 27, 2013
Absolutely phenomenal look at the cast of candidates in the memorable 1988 Presidential race. Relives Biden's plagiary, Gary Hart and Monkey Business, George HW Bush and Deep Doo Doo, Dukakis in the (literally) Tank, and more.

The thing that is incredible about Richard Ben Cramer is how he brings these guys to life. He writes about each of them differently. Funny thing, as brilliant and savage as Cramer's wit is, for the most part, you really like these guys.

Understandable why this is frequently called the greatest book ever about presidential politics. A magnificent book.
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on January 11, 2013
There are only 2 books on politics that I have read over and over. This one and Truman by David McCullough.

This is essentially 6 biographies interwoven with the story of the 1988 presidential primaries and election.

Cramer did a masterful job of getting into the essence and character of the 6 candidates that he wrote about letting you see who they are warts and all.

Also a good story of a presidential campaign from beginning to end. A book that I was happy to read again. The length is not overwhelming as it is a great read and look into the psyche of the American politician.

Overall just a masterful work that you will enjoy reading.
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on February 3, 2013
I bought this book after hearing it universally praised after Cramer's death. It deserves every word of praise I heard/read. It is one of the all-time great political campaign books. It takes the major candidates in the 1988 primary season and provides insightful biographical detail and key moments in their campaigns and combines them to provide extremely complete portraits of each. The book is long-- nearly 1,000 pages-- but, by the time I had finished it, I not only felt I knew these men and their families better than before (and, all are major public figures who have been in the public eye for years), but, amazingly, I found myself liking each one as a human being in ways I had never considered before. The incredible effort Cramer put into crafting this book resulted in a wonderful reminder that even politicians with whom we might disagree are human beings-- something we seem to have been forgetting lately.
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on February 3, 2013
This book has been called the gold standard of political journalism; it reports not just the campaigns but the early childhood experiences of the main candidates of the 1988 presidential race: George H.W. Bush, Michaael Dukakis, Gary Hart, Bob Dole, and Richard Gephardt: very very American stories. The drive and brilliance of all these men is unmistakable; particularly moving are the chapters about Dole's comeback from debilitating war wounds. The reporting is a bit Tom Wolfe/Hunter Thompson-ish that can devolve against itself as a sameness of tone rather than diversity of voices. Good good fun, though.

The reader carries away the sad realization of how the electoral process has destroyed candidates. Even Bush the winner was destroyed in that he sank to scurrilous tactics to gain the prize.
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on May 25, 2013
It definitely takes a special individual to go into politics, and yet the candidates biographed are entirely different in family background, talents, and their introductions to their careers. The successful enjoy fantastic perks and lifestyles but have so little privacy. The "also rans" suffer depression, failed marriages, self-doubt, and many still pick up the pieces and continue to try for comebacks. Given the near universal distrust of politicians today, I was encouraged to see that most of the candidates profiled were very intelligent individuals. This is a very long book, but it certainly holds your interest. The pages almost turn themselves.
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on April 9, 2013
While the author puts the spotlight on various candidates I really am not interested in how a candidates uncle or cousin conducts his/her life. If the author concentrated on the candidates themselves the book would be far more interesting.
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on January 27, 2013
I saw the flood of recommendations from pundits on twitter that this was a must read in the wake of Richard Ben Kramer's death. Listen to them - utterly awesome book. Captivating, cannot put it down. Kramer got to know each of the subjects and spent time deeply with family, friends and confidants.

He rewarded each with an interesting, fair, and complex description of their character, interests, personalities and values. You feel like you intimately know each of the candidates internally as opposed to the surface gloss that poses for analysis today. What emerges is a clear and genuine admiration for the public service of each candidate that is not partisan, not point scoring and decidedly different from today's election stories and books. This is a MUST READ.
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on March 25, 2013
Whether you are a political junky or like biographies, you won't be disappointed with this magnus opus. No question, at 1000+ pages it is a long read, but every second was a joy. For the (few) uninitiated, the book is about the 1988 presidential election campaign, but that is really only a part of the story. Cramer weaves a complicated tale, back and forth in time, and from one candidate to the next (and back), in the process revealing for the reader each of the remarkable people who is running, their personal stories of triumph, and failure, their tragedies, their renewal and their hopes for the future. Surprisingly there is little in the way of policy in the book, and perhaps that is the take-away: That election (and many since) have been less about the parties and their platforms and almost all about the people vying for a place on the ticket. Of all the characters (and they truly are 'characters' in the best sense of the word) Bob Dole stands out as my favorite; utterly dedicated, smart, funny, and all too human. I'll ever remember the words Cramer put in the Bobster's mouth, "Argg, guy's gotta lot a moneeey." In summary, this book's a great read.
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on February 17, 2013
Do you crave behind the scenes presidential horse race bio's? A real feel for the candidates who put all of their lives & hubris on the line? This is the book that started &, likely, will finish any watcher or professional's list on this subject. A lovely, exhaustive read
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on July 24, 2012
I love reading political books, and remember the 1988 election well, but this book was too much for me--it was a struggle to finish it.

This book is a collection of scenes from the lives and campaigns of the six candidates covered (everyone in the race except Jesse Jackson, Paul Simon, and a few minor candidates). It is liberally sprinkled with the impressions of the author, and even the supposed thoughts of the candidates. The book attempts to mimic the speaking of the candidates, which gets really, really tiresome (especially for Bob Dole, Arrgh! The book makes him sound like Long John Silver, without the parrot on his shoulder). There are no references of documentation of any sort--presumably everything in the book came from interviews done by the author, plus unspecified documents or readings.

The book gives a depressing impression of six men driven to be president, with little insight into or respect for any underlying goals or purposes they would want to pursue once they achieved the office. All of them emerge as somewhat unlikable, as do the members of the press. This book makes George HW Bush seem like an empty headed, socially-driven preppie, but he actually made a number of thoughtful decisions during his presidency that put the welfare of the country above personal political considerations. All 6 have more substance that what is revealed in this book. I think all these men have an inner intellectual core that they don't share with reporters during a primary horserace. This book gives little insight into that inner core.

Being that I read this as a kindle book, I didn't realize that it was a 1,000 pages, and that most of the 1,000 pages would only take us up to the New Hampshire primary. At that point, the author must have run out of steam, and the rest of the primaries and the election itself is skimmed over--otherwise, the book would be 2,000 pages.

This book does give you a lot of details about the personal and professional life of these six men. In terms of information per page, it's low in density. It's a lazy, unedited mess.
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