Just heard the very sad news this morning that Richard Ben Cramer has passed away. He was the author of one of the best books about politics, What It Takes: The Way to the White House. I don’t really know the particulars of his life. The news said he had lung cancer. As a writer, I suspect he would prefer we focus on his writing, his legacy.
His legacy is that he wrote a masterpiece on American politics. Really. In a world where superlatives are tossed around like confetti, this work is in fact a masterpiece. It also could be a doorstop, with over 1000 pages in the hardcover, which I acquired shortly after it was published. When you combine exhaustive research and beautiful writing, you may have a good book.
But Richard Ben Cramer got each of his subjects. Some of them come off better than others, but you never have a sense that he was playing favorites, or that he was unfair.It is so easy to slide into insults and sarcastic comments when referring to politicians. Not that we shouldn’t, but we know, surely, that there is more to it. Not many books focus on this subject without trivializing the subject and the subjects. He was able to plumb their public persona and reach the person–the Human that we know must be inside all politicians.