January 8, 2013

Goodbye to Richard Ben Cramer.

The author of the great book "What It Takes," died yesterday at the age of 62.

Here's Throwing Things:
If you've never read Cramer's What It Takes, buckle down for 1000+ pages (and that's why we have e-readers) of the most masterful, insightful writing about politics you'll ever have the joy of reading — and it regards a presidential campaign (1988) which you wouldn't think merited such attention. But Cramer uses old-school research and access, combined with New Journalism vividness, to reveal the character of six men who seek the Presidency (Bush, Dole, Dukakis, Gephart, Hart, Biden) in such a compelling way as to make the tactics and daily tick-tock of the campaign almost secondary. Dole the recovering war hero; Dukakis the insufferable prig; Biden the exuberant climber devastated by tragedy and then undermined by his own actions... it's all there.
ADDED: I don't know why Adam at Throwing Things says "that's why we have e-readers" and then complains (in a part I didn't quote) that he can't find any good quotes on line to copy to the blog. If you have the book in Kindle, you can cut and paste.

30 comments:

ricpic said...

It's all there. IT'S ALL THERE! IT'S ALL THERE!!!....meh.

traditionalguy said...

Ben Cramer had what it takes in brains and in communications language skills. But he ran into the age of TLDR.

Patrick said...

I thought his book about Dimaggio was a hatchet job. There was a lot of hate underlying that book.

RIP.

Expat(ish) said...

I just got fourth in line for a copy from the library.

Which is good as I'm still reading "It is bliss here" and "Montaigne's travel journal" (Frame transalation). @Ann, you would like the latter a lot, I think.

-XC

Mitchell the Bat said...

It is a strange literary convention to say goodbye to someone who is already dead and yet Bokonon tells us that it is never a mistake to say goodbye.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

I'll have to ponder that one a bit.

ndspinelli said...

A great writer. Mr. Cramer wrote the difinitive bio of Joe DiMaggio. It showed all the greatness and all the flaws. The author expressed w/ knowledge and compassion how Joe was ashamed of being a poor Sicilian fisherman and a "greaseball." That's why Joe always conducted himself w/ dignity in public and dressed like a banker. You see, the "accepted" Italians in SF where he grew up were bankers. The founder of the Bank of America was an Italian. I have seen Cramer interviewed several times, he had the whiskey/cigarette sound and look. RIP.

ndspinelli said...

Patrick, My family worshipped JoeD. My younger brother was named after him. We'll have to disagree. Cramer had the unenviable job of unpeeling the myth of JoeD. A myth the compliant press and Joe constructed. I think he did it righteously. We'll have to simply disagree on this one.

Andy Freeman said...

> Cramer had the unenviable job of unpeeling the myth of JoeD.

Not so fast. He chose that job.

And don't give crap about an obligation to tell the truth. There are plenty of truths that he didn't tell.

He wrote about DiMaggio because the combination of interest and money was big enough. He gets to make that decision but no one is obligated to respect it.

dreams said...

I read it when it came out, he made it interesting.

gadfly said...

Somehow, I cannot imagine feeling sorry for Joe DiMaggio - all of the talent, fame and Marilyn.

Where have you gone, Joe? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

dreams said...

I read the DiMaggio book too and after reading it I didn't have as high opinion of Joltin Joe.

virgil xenophon said...

Trad guy@9:05

Yes, and Althouse is swimming upstream here at her place because of TLDR also. Just as Tumblr (mini-blog) caused the demise of many blogs, Twitter, instagram, et al in the "social media" is slowly killing both off..

NIG-CBB--Need instant gratification--can't be bothered..

Mitchell the Bat said...

Were it not for Joe DiMaggio I would have a different coffee maker.

virgil xenophon said...

*"are" viz "is"--damn..

Patrick said...

We'll have to simply disagree on this one.

Yeah, I suppose so. When I read that book, years ago now, it seemed that whenever there was a decision to portray something that DiMaggio did as good or bad, and both interpretations were plausible, Ben Cramer chose the negative interpretation. I recall this was most notable when Cramer asserted that DiMaggio only financed a hospital wing built to assuage his own ego. Really? DiMaggio didn't need any hagiography written, but this book struck me as unfair.

creeley23 said...

DiMaggio aside, is Cramer good? I confess I haven't read him. Checking his Amazon listing, I see books on baseball and politics including "How Israel Lost: The Four Questions" (2005), which Amazon summarizes:

Cramer illustrates how Israel is losing her soul by maintaining her occupation of the lands conquered in the Six Day War. Israel has become a victim of that occupation no less than the Palestinians, who must have a nation of their own.

Both his observations and argument are drawn with startling clarity, informed by the fierce and fearless reporting that won him the Pulitzer Prize for Middle East coverage.


For me this puts Cramer in the classic dumb, dangerous liberal category.

Patrick said...

DiMaggio aside? Never! I'm sure Spinelli would agree with me there.

Bob Ellison said...

I don't mind the TLDR trend. It repels rats and roaches so that the rest of us can feast.

I've probably written "TLDR" (originally "TL;DR") once or twice, but only (I think) in response to a direct question. Why do people think TLDR is of general interest? It's part of the FaceBook thing, I guess.

Al Franken wrote Why Not Me? around 1999. It's a personal diary of a fictional presidential campaign, and really hilarious. Anyway, at one point, he writes about having shat a perfect question mark (?) into a toilet, complete with the point, mind you. He runs around trying to get the other campaign members to look at it, but nobody's interested.

Franken was a visionary.

Guimo said...

What is "TLDR"?

Guimo said...

What is "TLDR"?

Bob Ellison said...

Guimo: look here.

creeley23 said...

"Too Long; Didn't Read."

There are quite a few people online who throw long rambling things, often without paragraph breaks, that I don't bother with.

I have one of my own:
WCL - "Won't Click Link."

Unless I have a reasonable idea of what's being linked and where, I won't touch hyperlinks.

ndspinelli said...

Patrick, Never put JoeD aside..total agreement. And Patrick, if you have time click on his Esquire piece on Ted Williams from the NYT obit. I had read it years back and reread it today. Having read the Leigh Montville bio on The Kid I think it's consistent w/ the more indepth writing of a bio. Finally, I don't disagree that Cramer was tough, the question is was he fair. Being Italian, I can tell you he NAILED the Italian culture and psyche. That gave Cramer a lot of cred right off the bat..as it were!

Ann Althouse said...

"Which is good as I'm still reading "It is bliss here" and "Montaigne's travel journal" (Frame transalation). @Ann, you would like the latter a lot, I think."

Thanks. I was very affected by reading his essays. The personal essay. Circa 2000 there was a personal essays craze... just before blogging broke out and I wanted to find a way to merge that kind of writing with law. Ultimately, that's something I brought to this blogging project.

Baron Zemo said...

For once NoDickSpinelli is exactly right. Cramer nailed the real Joe D.

He was always above reproach because everyone was afraid of dissing him. He was respected but disliked by almost everyone who had contact with him.

And he was an extremely mean and cheap fuck.

He had a real hard time buying shoes because nothing could handle that clay if you know what I mean.

Patrick said...

David Maraniss wrote about St. Vincent of Green Bay. When I read the book, at first I was disappointed that the book mentioned, even highlighted the fact that Lombardi was less than perfect. After consideration, it made the book better, and Lombardi a far more interesting character. So too with Maraniss' book about Bill Clinton. I suppose when I read the book, I was really primed for a book detailing the evils of the President. But a fair book, showing the good an d the bad makes far more interesting reading.

But I didn't find the Ben Cramer book on DiMaggio to be like that. Although a book that dared to mention that DiMaggio wasn't a saint was likely long past due, I think a fair accounting would have been better.

And Nick, I'm not well versed in the American Italian culture, in my defense I recognize a good thing. When I dated an Italian girl, I delayed breaking up with her because I'd been invited to her house for dinner, and her mom made fantastic lasagne. Her mom was the first generation to be born in the US.

ndspinelli said...

Patrick, Mama must of liked you if she made lasagna.

Kansas City said...

Great book. Showed how ambitious and phony people had to be in order to run for president.

I remember Gephardt (who actually was not awful as far as democratic politicians go) changing his family story [I think swiching his father from a union hating Dewey man to a union loving FDR man) simmply because consultants told him to do so.

I read the Ted Williams story and did not think it was that good. It showed Williams was weird, but to me, not much more.

Patrick said...

I think she liked me more than the girl!

Kev said...

(the other kev)

I remember when Cramer showed up on C-Span's Book Talk to talk about 'What It Takes.' Brian Lamb asked him how he was able to glean such detail about one of the candidates (I think it was Gephardt) and Cramer answered "I talked to his brother. No one had ever interviewed him before."