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Publisher's Summary

An American Iliad in the guise of contemporary political reportage, What It Takes penetrates the mystery at the heart of all presidential campaigns: How do presumably ordinary people acquire that mixture of ambition, stamina, and pure shamelessness that makes a true candidate? 

As he recounts the frenzied course of the 1988 presidential race - and scours the psyches of contenders from George Bush and Robert Dole to Michael Dukakis and Gary Hart - Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richard Ben Cramer comes up with the answers, in a book that is vast, exhaustively researched, exhilarating, and sometimes appalling in its revelations.

©1992 Richard Ben Cramer (P)2020 Tantor

What listeners say about What It Takes

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great political book

It took more than a month, but I finally finished the longest book I’ve listened to thus far, clocking in at more than 54 hours. This was a detailed account of the primary season for the 1988 presidential election. It followed six candidates: George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, Mike Dukakis, Gary Hart, Joe Biden and Richard Gephardt. The title of the book refers to two things. What it takes to BE President and what it takes to BECOME President. For the second, it is the good and bad of what it takes.

The author at the outset apologized/explained why Jesse Jackson was not one of the featured candidates. He said that Jackson simply wouldn’t slow down enough to grant him the access he needed. He didn’t want to write about these men from simply research. He wanted access so that he could present much of the material from the point of view of each. And in fact, that is a feature of the book. There isn’t really a political bias to the book. The bias is that it is subtly biased toward each man when the discussion is about that man. At least initially. In the extensive biographies of each man it shows that each had what it takes to be President. However, deeper into the book in showing why 5 of the 6 didn’t have what it takes to become President, flaws are explored.

It is a long book, but was of great interest to me. At the time of the events depicted, I was a political science major at NC State. I was fortunate enough by that major and being at a large university to have a small connection with many of the people in the book which made what others may see as excessive detail, interesting trivia to me. I met Dukakis on NC State’s campus during primary season and shook hands with him. That fall, one of my Political Science professors gave me his tickets to a filming of Firing Line. There I was able to see up close and in person: William F. Buckley, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, George McGovern, Jack Kemp and Judge Robert Bork. I’ve always been very thankful for that professor giving me those tickets. It’s doubtful I’ll ever have an opportunity to attend something like that again.

I really enjoyed the book. It was very well done. I only have two small complaints. First, given the detail of the coverage on the primary it was a shame to have just a two hour summary of the general election. Second, I think the book would have been better if Jackson was substituted for Gephardt since Jackson was ultimately in the final two on the Democratic side. Plus, Jackson was historic as the first black candidate to really contend in a Presidential election. However, the author did explain the why on that.

As for the audio, it was excellent. The reader was a very good one for the subject matter. His imitation of Dole was really good, but surprisingly his imitation of Reagan was not given everyone used to “do” Reagan. Overall, he did a very good job with the MANY voices in the book.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • RZ
  • 08-11-20

Great book and an AMAZING performance.

Great book and an AMAZING performance. Truly a Herculean feat to manage this many characters and voices as ably as Sellon-Wright did.

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Not as Insider Look as Expected

Thought it would have more intimate accounts. Seems to cover what would have generally been known in headlines or what campaign teams would have allowed.