1. What It Takes

    The Way to the White House

    Richard Ben Cramer

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    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).

  2. Pub Date
    Open Road Integrated Media

Editorial Reviews

  • “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

  • “A hopped-up amalgam of Teddy White, Tom Wolfe, and Norman Mailer . . . Presidential elections are the White Whale of American journalism—a work of great skill, tenacity, and empathy." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

  • “A pit bull with a generous heart. An energy field with soul. A tireless explorer of people, events, and great ideas. This is a workable definition of the complete reporter, which is why it fits Richard Ben Cramer so well.” —Vanity Fair

  • “I just cannot stop reading.” —Russell Baker, The New York Times


  • “Meticulous reporting and compelling, at times soaringly lyrical, prose.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer


  • “An unparalleled source book on the 1988 candidates.” —San Francisco Chronicle


  • “A lifetime’s political education in one volume.” —Cosmopolitan


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About the author

Richard Ben Cramer

Richard Ben Cramer (1950–2013) was an award-winning journalist and author of five books, including the bestselling classic What It Takes (1992). His work appeared in Time, Newsweek, the New York Times MagazineRolling Stone, and Esquire.