Before Game Change there was What It Takes, a ride along the 1988 campaign trail and “possibly the best [book] ever written about an American election” (NPR).
Written by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and New York Times–bestselling author Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes is “a perfect-pitch rendering of the emotions, the intensity, the anguish, and the emptiness of what may have been the last normal two-party campaign in American history” (Time).
An up-close, in-depth look at six candidates—George H. W. “Poppy” Bush, Bob Dole, Joe Biden, Michael Dukakis, Richard Gephardt, and Gary Hart—this account of the 1988 US presidential campaign explores a unique moment in history, with details on everything from Bush at the Astrodome to Hart’s Donna Rice scandal. Cramer also addresses the question we find ourselves pondering every four years: How do presumably ordinary people acquire that mixture of ambition, stamina, and pure shamelessness that allows them to throw their hat in the ring as a candidate for leadership of the free world?
Exhaustively researched from thousands of hours of interviews, What It Takes creates powerful portraits of these Republican and Democratic contenders, and the consultants, donors, journalists, handlers, and hangers-on who surround them, as they meet, greet, and strategize their way through primary season chasing the nomination, resulting in “a hipped-up amalgam of Teddy White, Tom Wolfe, and Norman Mailer” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).
With timeless insight that helps us understand the current state of the nation, this “ultimate insider’s book on presidential politics” explores what helps these people survive, what makes them prosper, what drives them, and ultimately, what drives our government—human beings, in all their flawed glory (San Francisco Chronicle).
``Who are these guys? What are they like?'' Cramer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Esquire contributing editor, answers these questions at length in this compulsively readable look at six presidential contenders in 1988: two Republicans (Dole, Bush) and four Democrats (Hart, Biden, Gephardt, Dukakis). He follows each candidate as he makes his way through the primaries, fine-tuning his stand on issues, struggling to retain his individuality while being hounded by rapacious journalists, worked over by his handlers and browbeaten by his image wizards. Cramer's use of interior monologue is brilliant, especially his portrait of Dukakis as a humorless know-it-all and Bush as a compulsive nice guy. Based on more than a thousand interviews and remarkable cooperation from the candidates, the narrative is rich in its accounts of each candidate's family background, marriage, political career and personal ordeals. Delicious quotes and anecdotes abound, such as Bush's ``I deny that I have ever given my opinion to anybody about anything.'' First serial to Esquire; BOMC featured selection.
WHAT IT TAKES
This is an exhaustive look at the 1988 race for the White House, won by George H. W. Bush. I loved the detail. He got into the souls of six men -- Bush, Bob Dole, Gary Hart, Joe Biden, Dick Gephardt, and Michael Dukakis. I understood them, understood why they ran. I learned what their values were. Delightful.
How did I not read this book until 2012 ...
This book is often referred to as "the book" to read about a presidential election and the candidates who fight for "the office." The title is well-deserved. You think you know, but you have no idea until you read this book. Cramer paints a picture so vivid that you can't help but have an appreciation for those willing to subject themselves to a glare so piercing it can destroy a man overnight. I recommend it.