Richard Ben Cramer died on Monday after suffering from lung cancer. Cramer received the Pulitzer Prize in 1979 when he was a foreign correspondent for The Philadelphia Inquirer but if the obituaries about him this week are any indication, Cramer will be remembered for one thing: publishing an account of the 1988 presidential race, What It Takes: The Way to the White House. When the book was published in 1992, our reviewer memorably wrote that What It Takes is “exhaustively researched and written in a hot, jarring, unsentimental prose: the perfect antidote to election-year mythologizing.”
Cramer also published Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life in 2000, among other titles, but no one’s talking much about that book in the appreciations and obituaries about Cramer. Maybe that’s because critics viewed the book as a take-down of DiMaggio and the legend that surrounded him. Cramer was also accused of not attributing his sources in the DiMaggio bio. Whatever the reason people aren’t highlighting the DiMaggio bio, Cramer’s death has produced the odd phenomenon of heavily increased sales of a book that is 1,072 pages long about an election that no one seems to really talk about much anymore. Right now, What It Takes is number 16 in Amazon’s sales and number one among sales of U.S. political books.
“He really had one huge book and all the pieces about him were about how this book is so phenomenal,” says Russell Perreault, the director of publicity for Vintage Books & Anchor Books, whose paperback of What It Takes is doing so well in sales just now. “Every piece was about the book more than about him, in a sense, and all were over the top praising the book. So it was an opportunity to remind everyone to read it. The numbers on Amazon are amazing.”
Photo courtesy Simon & Schuster.