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Richard Ben Cramer: The last trusted reporter

The sad news of Richard Ben Cramer’s death has given the political world an occasion to acknowledge his most ambitious work’s status as the best campaign book ever written. It also prompted one of the principal characters in “What It Takes” to make a startling admission to Salon.

“I'm going to tell you something that I've never told anyone before,” Gary Hart said this afternoon. “I never read the book."

Hart was among the six 1988 presidential candidates Cramer profiled in his book, although that’s a completely inadequate description of what Cramer sought to achieve. For two years, he immersed himself with Robert Caro-ish devotion in the lives of his subjects, hoping to understand who they really were as people, and then spent several more years writing the book. When it was released in 1992, “What It Takes” was greeted with ho-hum reviews and meager sales, but it’s become a cult classic in the years since.

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