cover image What It Takes: The Way to the White House

What It Takes: The Way to the White House

Richard Ben Cramer. Random House Inc, $28 (1047pp) ISBN 978-0-394-56260-5

``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. (July)