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What It Takes: The Way to the White House Paperback – June 1, 1993

4.4 out of 5 stars 159 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cramer's compulsively readable chronicle of the 1988 presidential campaign, a BOMC featured selection and a one-week PW bestseller in cloth, focuses on six contenders--Bush and Dole among the Republicans, and Democrats Hart, Biden, Gephardt and Dukakis--bringing them to life with detailed descriptions and well-crafted interior monologues.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Defying political logic, Cramer has written a non sequitur that succeeds. In the midst of the 1992 campaign, why write such an exhaustive scorecard of the presidential candidates of 1988? By delving into the lives of these men--George Bush, Robert Dole, Gary Hart, Richard Gephardt, Joseph Biden, and Michael Dukakis--Cramer allows the reader to experience palpably what it feels like to run for president in 1992. The extended biographical sketches are among the finest of the current genre, surpassing his choppier but still satisfying transitional sections on the campaign itself. Dole's recovery from having his arm nearly blown off in World War II is a triumph as powerfully retold as Ron Kovic's story in Born on the Fourth of July (McGraw, 1976). This extended metaphor of surviving and prospering on the mean streets of American politics is recommended for public libraries and emphatically so for large collections. BOMC featured selection; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/92, and "On the Campaign Book Trail," LJ 3/15/92, p. 110-112.
- Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, Pa.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1072 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679746498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679746492
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #129,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Wayne A. Smith VINE VOICE on August 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a very good book that delves into the type of personalities that "have what it takes" to climb to the top ranks of presidential contenders.
Focusing on the Democrat and GOP hopefuls in 1988, Cramer paints a devastating portrait of the personalities of the ten or so aspirants. Along the way, he provides a good snapshot of modern presidential politics.
What is revealed are hard driven men, who are willing to sacrifice all other concerns to their political ambitions. Although Bush, Gore, Dukakis, Hart, Biden, Dole and the others have very different life stories and personalities, they are very similar in their focus, drive and ego. This book provides biographical sketches of each as well as an insiders view of their 1988 campaigns. Knowing Delaware's Biden a little, I would say that he captures at least that character fairly accurately.
The only complaint with this book is that Cramer takes great liberties with his characters in telling their stories. He can not know what they were thinking exactly during all the vignettes he paints, yet he writes as if he were the central character and he had intimate knowledge of conversations, feelings and dialogue. Cramer also draws many conclusions from the life portraits of his characters. This style is not unenjoyable, but one should be forwarned that the author writes in the "gonzo" journalism style that sounds more authoritative than it could possibly be. This is the type of writing that makes these types of books difficult to rely on as historical sources, but can present an interesting story.
What it Takes is very readable and enjoyable.
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Format: Paperback
Ben Cramer follows the major candidates in their races to become president in 1988. He reproduces their speaking and thinking styles in such an incredible way that you will never be able to think of any of these people (Bob Dole, GHW Bush, Jesse Jackson) in quite the same way you did before.

His intense focus on how the candidates act differently when in private than they do when they're out giving their stump speech makes for fascinating reading. If you're tired of dry books that are "nothing but the facts, ma'am," you'll love this well-written story.
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Format: Paperback
No study of modern American politics is complete without reading this book. At the center of the political universe is the presidency. What kind of people seek this office, and all of the attendant scrutiny and hardship that even the most fortunate candidates endure? What personal attributes set one candidate above the rest?
Essentially, one of these men will be the most powerful man in the world, and have a chance at shaping history. This book answers the questions "why" and "how."
Cramer understands his subjects, and the profiles of each candidate would be excellent stand-alone biographies. Extremely readable and well written, without sacrificing substance.
A truly unique and indespensible work. To find out what it takes, read this book.
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Format: Paperback
Think about the best dessert you've ever eaten. Remember how delicious it was? How it melted in your mouth and how you never wanted the experience of eating it to end? Remember that experience when you pick up Richard Ben Cramer's 'What It Takes". This is the literary desert that feels like it melts in your mouth as your read: a beautiful, lyrical tale about the lives of six candidates for President in 1988.
It is hard to describe Cramer's writing style. He seems to have an uncanny knack for getting into his subject's mind and giving you a vision of the world from their perspective. He seems to find what makes his subject unique and showcase it to the world. His Sports Illustrated piece on Cal Ripken, Jr.'s consecutive games streak in September of 1995 remains the finest article I have ever read in SI since I began subscribing back in 1989. Cramer's style of writing is a joy to read. You simply never want him to stop writing, even if it is about something as mundane as observing Bush traveling to a speech.
Needless to say Bob Dole emerges as the hero of Cramer's work. (During the '96 campaign Cramer later released a separate book with just the Dole chapters.) The wounded veteran comes across as a man of stunning drive, courage and loneliness. You can't help but think of the horrific pain and suffering he endured during those years rehabilitating himself and attending law school. The Dole of Cramer's book is easy to admire and quite likeable, despite his gruff demeanor and occasionally cold treatment of people around him.
Gary Hart, in contrast, comes across poorly. (Surprise, surprise.) So much of his portion of the book is devoted to attacking the media and refuting his public persona as either an odd loner or a serial adulterer.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Another reviewer calls this book "ponderous and tedious." At 1051 pages, there's no disputing that it's ponderous. I wondered more than once when I'd see the end and it's hardly a quick or an easy read. Nonetheless, I wouldn't call it tedious; "wordy" is the worst I'd say. But it's informative and entertaining in its own slangy, psycho-analytical style.

I have to credit the author with keeping his own politics out of the story. I can't guess how (or even whether) he voted in 1988. And he seems to achieve his goal of showing what it's like to be a candidate for President: what the stresses and strains are for the candidates themselves as they endure the process. At the end, he concludes that the successful candidate must give up any hope of having a private life.

Most of the book is focused on the 1988 primary contests between four Democrats (Biden, Dukakis, Gephardt and Hart) and between two Republicans (Bush and Dole). There's a little, but not very much, description of and comment on the final, inter-party contest between Dukakis and Bush.

I'm tempted to say that the book felt gossipy - except that I don't think the author is peddling gossip. I think that's just the way the book reads in places. The book certainly talks a lot *about gossip* and its role in the primary races. But the author's treatment of his subjects is very even-handed, I think. All of the six candidates have mistakes revealed and character quirks exposed. The reader is left to form his own judgment of which combination of mistakes & quirks is the worst - or best. (See some of the other reviews, where such judgments are expressed.)

The author covers the six contenders from their early childhoods, focusing on their political development.
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