I am shocked by the news just now that Richard Ben Cramer has died at age 62, of lung cancer.
His book What It Takes is the first book I tell anyone interested in American politics, American culture, and American journalism to read. It is timeless and yet timely, since its cast of characters -- those competing for the presidency in 1988 -- includes our current vice president, Joe Biden. It is also a remarkably empathetic and humane look at politics and politicians. If you want to understand what keeps these people going, how they can stand it, what they have to endure and why they endure it, this is what you should read.
(The second book on my list is Garry Wills's Nixon Agonistes; Wills, now 78, happily is still in action.)
I never met Richard Ben Cramer but felt as if I knew him from his writing. Sympathies to his family. His work will last.
Here is a revealing look at Cramer two years ago, by Ben Smith in Politico. Also, five years ago from Matt Bai.
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James Fallows is a staff writer for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.