In my personal literary pantheon there is no more important work than Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes: The Way to the White House.
I first read it in 2002 when I was quitting my job to go work a presidential primary campaign, and I’ve read every last one of its 1,047 pages during each presidential election cycle since, meaning I’ve spent the better part of the last decade getting lost in its magisterial depth—and seeing as this last decade was particularly rough I have a very special fondness for it.
It’s the one book that perfectly captures all the reasons I give a shit about policy and government and political journalism, and it’s the book I return to whenever I need to be reminded that we can always do better, whether as journalists or as citizens or as a nation. And considering that this “American Iliad”, as it was billed, emerged from an election cycle so marred by the likes of Lee Atwater and the Monkey Business and Willie Horton—an election cycle that in many ways set the tone for those we continue to endure today—that such a gem emerged from all that mess gives me hope.
Which is why I found it so shocking to learn in this Politico profile of Cramer that What It Takes was panned when it was released (by Maureen Dowd, no less!) and that to this day Cramer still owes Random House $200,000 of his advance.
Now this isn’t an election year (thank god) and I’ve got no beleaguered Wisconsin democrats to give my money to, so I’ve decided to start off 2011 with a much more meaningful political donation: the wonderful Bookavore at WORD got in touch with her Random House rep to order me a pile of books, and I’m giving away free copies of What It Takes to the first ten people to email me their addresses (mainland US only, kthx).
One caveat: I don’t ask that you love it, only that you finish it.
So hit me up: matt dot langer at gmail.
LATE UPDATE: All out guys. Thanks!
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- nabeel said: We’ve already had a conversation about our mutual love for Richard Ben Cramer, so I will go one further — I’m simply ordering a copy on my own. :)
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- inky said: Please sign every copy with “h8u, MoDo!”
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