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What It Takes: The Way to the White House Paperback – June 1, 1993
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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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.
Top customer reviews
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It's not. It's unreadable. Stream-of-consciousness. Like the email you didn't proofread. Like the essay you wrote on two hours' sleep. Like this paragraph if it were twelves times longer and contained no periods.
Here's an example passage, plucked from the firs ten pages: "He had learned to accept its cost, as he had its prerequisites, as his destiny, even his due, owed not to him, as he'd sometimes point out, but to the high office he held."
Did you catch all that? Multiply it- that's how the whole book is written. None of that is to say it's not well-researched, or that it doesn't contain some fascinating insights. Cramer just makes it all so much work to get there. Bad oral histories aren't even this messy.
If you've got the time, and are willing to lose a couple hours to backtracking, I say go for it. Otherwise, "What It Takes" is one more letdown whose reality underperforms its Beltway reputation.
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 (Dole and Bush - "Bush 1", of course). 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. In effect, he presents six piecemeal, political mini-biographies in addition to describing them during the 1988 race. This is what makes the book so long and, to some, tedious. Had the time frame been limited to just the primary year, this would have been a much shorter book.
In his biographies, the author tries to give us some idea of the candidates' motives and thoughts. Naturally, the reader wonders how much veracity there is to biographies that seem to be revealing their subjects' thoughts. The author claims in a foreword that everything he quotes can be attributed and that all quotes were read back to the person quoted for verification. He also claims that he interviewed more than 1000 people and that all scenes in the book come from firsthand sources or from published sources that were verified by participants. So presumably his characterizations are reasonably accurate and weren't disputed by the subjects. This book is a phenomenal piece of research if nothing else.
I found the book particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it's been nearly 25 years since the events described, so it's like a Wayback Machine for those interested in politics. But it wasn't like reading old newspaper columns or editorials. It's an entertaining, though long, word picture of the process for each of the six candidates.
Second, and more important to me, it was very descriptive of the press' role, behavior, and motives during the primary campaign. My view is that if anyone comes off poorly in this book (and few are spared), it's the reporters and editors. In fact, one reasonable take on this tale might be that it's a Reporter-in-the-Trenches' complaint about how media competition and ambition manages to screw up candidacies and therefore elections.
The penchant of reporters to try to "bring down" a candidate is discussed at length in the parts about Gary Hart and Donna Rice. To smaller extents, this penchant affected all of the six candidates. They all had to deal with the press' perceptions of them - seemingly as often as they had to deal with the issues of the day. While I'm all about First Amendment freedoms and I don't like *any* attempt to regulate speech (McCain-Feingold, for one example), I had to agree that the feeding-piranhas result the author describes in the press may not always serve the public very well.
Aside from those, one of the things that struck me about this book was the author's slang. Maybe these terms are (or were) current among political reporters but they were news to me. The book is rife with "smart guys" (Issue or Message experts), "wise guys" (reporters who ask smart-ass questions, I think), "diddybops" (TV/radio reporters), "TVs" (television/video crews), "white men" (well-connected political consultants) and "big feet" (well-known print reporters). The most amusing aspect of this usage is that by the end of the book "big feet" had morphed into "triple-E pundits".
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the book is that Cramer seems to like the individuals that he writes about, that he knows that it takes a lot to run for president.