Every four years, when Americans endure what seems like four-year campaigns for president, a hot topic is whether the real person behind the candidate will emerge.

Do we really know these people? Would John F. Kennedy have been elected if his physical ailments and his womanizing had come to light? Would Richard Nixon have occupied the Oval Office if we’d known the depth of his dark paranoia?

With the advent of more timely books on candidates, it’s somewhat easier to peer behind the mask (unless the autobiography in question comes from Barack Obama).

In this absolutely critical run-up to the 2012 presidential election, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman have done a masterful job of revealing the man, Willard Mitt Romney. That the two write for the Boston Globe is important, since they have had a bird’s-eye view of this fascinating politician.

In “The Real Romney,” the two (with acknowledged help from plenty of Globe sources) paint a fascinating picture of the private and public man who offers a far different vision of America than his opponent. I strongly suggest you read this book before Election Day, especially if you are “undecided.”

In the prologue, we find the essence of who his supporters believe Romney to be: He is, as he likes to say in debates, in speeches and on the stump, a turnaround specialist running to lead a nation that desperately needs one.

We learn right away that Romney rejected the subversive counter-culture element of the ’60s, and we also learn a great deal about his Mormon faith, such an obstacle for millions of conservative evangelicals he’ll need to win in November.

We also learn intriguing facts about his foundation – his parents. A self-made success, his father George would also become a force in politics. And his mother, Lenore, was a Hollywood starlet, of all things! That Mitt loved and respected his parents speaks as much for them as it does for him. Romney’s fundamental decency seems to be quite genuine, and one clue for voters that Romney will be a president of integrity is found in his treatment of his parents, who always had his unwavering respect.

There is quite a bit of detail into Romney’s own views of Mormonism and an incredibly fascinating tale of his family’s earliest roots in America – this alone makes “The Real Romney” an absorbing read. Those curious about this aspect of his life will find this section invaluable.

From Romney’s near-fatal car crash in France as a young man to his rise in American politics, “The Real Romney” does succeed in pulling back the curtain and revealing the man who just might change this country for the better.

Chapter 6 (“The Moneymaker”) is equally fascinating, since so much of the public’s fascination about Romney involves his own created wealth. The personal characteristics he brought to the business world scream for a place in history leading his country, now.

“He was, as people had said of him since childhood, mature beyond his years and organized to a fault,” the authors write. “Everything he took on was thought through in advance, down to the smallest detail; he was rarely taken by surprise.”

In the sections that deal with his rise to prominence in politics (his father had been governor of Michigan), we also see why Romney is personal friends with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu. Sharing business success with well-thought-out political inclinations, Romney analyzed the political landscape before running for (and winning) governor of Massachusetts.

There is also plenty of discussion of Romney’s changing views of social issues, such as abortion, and a riveting section about the advice evangelical power broker Richard Land gave the candidate.

And for a man so used to success in every area of life, there is a refreshing analysis of how critical he has been of himself in terms of strategies, especially during his failed 2008 bid for the presidency. In this telling, we see a departure from the egotists who normally run for president, assuming they are right and their aides are wrong … or the American people are wrong.

Not Mitt Romney. By critiquing himself, he is poised to capture the ultimate prize. Let us hope that if he obtains it, those solid and even impressive personal qualities he’s always possessed will turn around a great country.

“The Real Romney” is the real deal and deserves a wide hearing, especially in the coming weeks. You will love this book.

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