on May 6, 2008
I know Ted Sorensen well, so what I have to say about his extraordinary personal history is obviously being written as a friend and admirer. As a friend, I can say that Ted speaks truth to power; as an admirer, I can say that he speaks truth forcefully and candidly. He was arguably John Kennedy's alter ego. At the very least, Ted was the man who shaped JFK's lyrical, intellectually vigorous speeches. But Ted was also a canny adviser, the lawyer who marshaled his facts well, made the connections between random thoughts and workable ideas, and produced a consistent body of work for the president he loved and trusted. Ted once told me that not a day goes by without him thinking of JFK -- of the man JFK was, and about what might have been. Like his late friend Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Ted occupied an honored place at the table in Camelot. What his memoir makes plain -- in his own special, witty way -- is how much Ted shaped JFK's Camelot itself.
on May 18, 2008
I thoroughly enjoyed Counselor and especially appreciate the way Mr. Sorensen chose to organize his storytelling in a topical way (e.g., My Perspective of JFK's Personal Life, President Johnson's 1963 Transition, etc.). The author's prose is tight and well turned, as anyone familiar with his writing would expect, but at over 500 pages this is rather like the magnum opus of his life. I have a first edition of his excellent 1965 book on Kennedy but, for the most part, this latest and perhaps final work is much more candid. There are some exceptions such as his very touch and go treatment of Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick. He well describes the consequences of the incident but then takes the opportunity to sing the praises of the younger Kennedy's political skills, calling him "the most relaxed campaigner of the three..."
Mr. Sorensen has lived an interesting life apart from his work with the Kennedys and inclusion of that material is a plus. The space he devotes to it is about right; the book remains primarily focused on his long association with JFK and that is what the typical reader wants and expects. Of particular interest to me was how Kennedy reached out to Republicans -- described in a Chapter called "President Kennedy's Ministry of Talent." I knew it to be true (he appointed my uncle to the federal bench upon the recommendation of then Deputy Attorney General Byron "Whizzer" White) but didn't realize the full scope.
It would be easy to give this book the five stars it probably deserves but I went with four only because, from my perspective, the loyalty muzzle is still a little too evident. While I can come up with a few other petty critiques there is just much too much to like about this book to make that worthwhile. Some readers may disagree with Sorensen's politics but it would be the rare iconoclast who cannot appreciate his insights and wonderful storytelling.
The well-written memoirs of a man forever to be identified with John F. Kennedy's political career, especially the White House days. While not telling all, this book is the candid product of a bright, honest, but still politically driven man, a 1960s liberal, who writes in the twilight of his life.
Mr. Sorensen is one of the last living central participants of JFK's Administration and his story would have value for this fact alone. Readers wishing to learn about presidential political campaigning, the art of speech writing, and more on such important historical events as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the presidential transition from JFK to LBJ will profit from reading this book.
While material on his later private law practice is not as interesting as the rest of the text, this is only to be expected. In terms of his post White House career, I did find of value his description of his ill-fated nomination by President Carter as DCI and noted the fact there is little mention of President Clinton's years. (A prominent picture of Senator Obama and Ted Sorensen is in this book. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that the author sees the current junior senator from Illinois as his pick for this year's Democratic Party nominee for president--and the direct and true successor to JFK's legacy.)
on May 9, 2008
I know Ted Sorensen through our common support of Barack Obama and was eager to read this magnificent biography. I bought it on Tuesday, May 6 the first day it was published and I didn't put it down ( with the exception of eating, showering and sleeping about four hours each of the last two nights) until a few hours ago when I finished reading it.
It is a magnificent opus. The writing is superb. Rarely do the heart and head come together so well without sacrificing or compromising either.
Modest without being falsely self effacing, this truly is an indispensable book for any American citizen or world citizen. And its an absolute must for any political junkie from Al Franken to Ann Coulter.
Stop what you're doing. Run out and get it. Its a great gift for anyone's birthday in May (June is too late -- its that good).
Ted Sorensen is a historical figure in his own right. He was indispensable to Kennedy and now to Obama.
There are many reasons to read this book. Not just for its great insights with an unobscured and unobstructed perspective, but because of new information into the life of JFK whose reputation will be enhanced by this near reverential but still candid volume.
A mutual friend of Ted Sorensen's just forwarded me the first reviews including the Wall Street Journal. To say they were raves is to understate them.
on June 9, 2008
Some of the criticism leveled against Theodore Sorensen's new book, "Counselor", has to do with his close relationship to President Kennedy, thereby suggesting a literary hagiography. These sentiments could not be farther from the truth. In "Counselor", Sorensen offers up the good and the bad, the wise and the mediocre and provides what must be the definitive accounting of the Kennedy years. It's a fair and moving tribute to our thirty-fifth president and a terrific look at the man who spent so many years with him.
Sorensen's background, a Danish, Unitarian-Jewish kid from Nebraska, couldn't have been more than the oddest of pairings to John F. Kennedy. But they complemented each other in ways that both men found remarkable. Sorensen was, in many ways, Kennedy's eyes and ears for the eleven years in which they worked together and the author's eyewitness to history is a welcome addition to anyone who remembers that time. Describing in detail the Cuban Missile Crisis, Sorensen is at his best and this chapter is, indeed, the best of the book. He's also candid about what his service to the president meant to his own life....the break-up of his first marriage, his absence from his sons and countless numbers of sleepless nights. Along the way, Sorensen reminds the reader of his liberal roots and his continuing liberalism to this day. It's refreshing to know that one of the last surviving members of the Kennedy inner circle, while recently losing most of his eyesight, has not lost his fervor and passion.
Sorensen saves up some of his harshest comments for the end....a ringing indictment of the Bush administration and it comes precisely at a time when the country is in desperate need of new leadership. It doesn't go unnoticed that the final photo in the book is one of Sorensen and Barack Obama, taken last October. The spark of imagination that President Kennedy left seems to be in the air today.
"Counselor" is a deeply moving and personal work and every page is to be savored. It is particularly reflective for those of us old enough to remember President Kennedy and his times, but also a wonderful introduction to those young enough who might have felt a loss of inspiration because of the past eight years in Washington. I highly recommend "Counselor" for Theodore Sorensen's detailed remembrances of his role in American history and I mirror his hopes that life in America can be so much better.
on September 5, 2008
Ted Sorensen's 2008 Convention Speech
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 at 03:20 PM
"In my more than 50 years of national conventions, this is one of the most important. Our 8 year national nightmare of mendacity, mediocrity and economic misery--with millions of Americans losing their jobs, their savings, their homes and their hopes--will soon end with the election of Barack Obama.
I have long dreamed that our party would produce another president matching John F. Kennedy's intellect and integrity, his capacity to inspire justice at home and peace around the world--and this week my dream is coming true. Once in a lifetime, said the poet, hope and history meet in one extraordinary man and movement--I thank the good Lord that I've lived long enough to meet and help such men twice in my lifetime, John Kennedy and Barack Obama.
Kennedy at 43 proved that age matters in the White House. His energy, appeal to other young world leaders, calm under pressure and openness to new thinking, well served our nation. Denounced as a candidate for lacking executive experience, he displayed sound judgment in leading a successful nationwide campaign, choosing a top-notch team, negotiating with difficult leaders, and out-organizing and out-th inking his adversaries--just as he would as president, particularly when, with prudence and courage, he induced the Soviets to withdraw their nuclear missiles from Cuba without the U.S. firing a shot; and the world gave thanks that the more experienced Richard Nixon had lost that close election.
In 1960, Kennedy, like Obama today, facing a Republican tied to a failed past, looked to a future of new ideas and opportunities. As president, he did not send the Marine Corps to preserve America's oil supplies, he sent the Peace Corps to preserve America's global standing. Confronting a Soviet military advantage in space, he made all Americans proud by literally reaching for the moon.
Today, we need new leadership. We have lost our way, lost the respect of our allies, lost the confidence of our investors and consumers. Are we to be the first generation of Americans to leave to our children a country in worse condition than we received it?
In short: this year, my friends, the fates will try us; erase all trace of fear and bias; we have the man we need at last to embrace the future, not the past, and to dispel eight years of pain and shame. Barack Obama is his name! Call the roll!"
Few would disagree that John F. Kennedy was one of our most inspirational presidents and that it was a tragedy that he was assassinated. Since the 1950s, it was well known that some of the most memorable words that Kennedy inspired us with were drafted if not written in total by Ted Sorensen, Kennedy's dedicated staffer who played many roles in addition to helping write speeches, books, and articles. Speculation about Sorensen's role was fed by Mr. Sorensen's humble deflection of praise that others aimed in his direction.
Imagine what it would have been like to talk to JFK every day and to see him most days. Imagine, even more, if you were walking on history's stage in your role: You weren't just pouring him coffee.
You could re-title this book as "Dream Job" and you wouldn't be far off.
In Counselor, Mr. Sorensen reveals more than in the past about his personal relationship with President Kennedy, who did what and when, his views about Kennedy's decisions and legacy, and what the lessons for historians are from that era. In letting down his hair, Mr. Sorensen is a loyal heir to the Kennedy legend: He doesn't criticize more than an independent observer would who knew the surface facts. Naturally, he also defends where many would not (he's gentle on Kennedy for increasing the number of military advisors in South Vietnam and letting the military leaders there murder the country's political leader). Further, he seems to have amnesia about what any president did before Kennedy who was not a Democrat (he writes as though there was no space program before Kennedy took office).
One of the most interesting episodes in the book comes long after President Kennedy was killed in the description of Mr. Sorensen's nomination to be CIA head by President Carter. The contrast between Kennedy and Carter could not be clearer in reading how this was handled.
I think we should be generous with Mr. Sorensen. It's been many years. He's almost the last of those who served in those years who knows the inside stories. He also suffered a substantial stroke that affected his vision and made writing this book extremely difficult. I commend Mr. Sorensen for making the effort. There are many lessons here that new administrations can learn from.
I also honor him for his service to the nation, to John F. Kennedy, and to my youthful idealistic dreams by inspiring them with his timeless words. Many will always remember him as a speech writer, but he was truly more . . . especially during those potentially deadly days during the Cuban missile crisis.
Thank you, Mr. Sorensen.
on June 24, 2008
Ted Sorensen subtitles his memoir Counselor as "A Life at the Edge of History." It is, in fact, a rarely candid and insightful account of a life at the very center of history.
Sorensen is widely known as JKF's speechwriter, but he was much more. He was JFK's liberal conscience and go-to-guy for everything from the handling of the "Catholic issue" in Kennedy's run for the White House to the writing of the letter to Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis. The combination of keen intellect and inspiring idealism that anchored Sorensen at the center of JFK's political life is crystallized on the pages of a retrospective clearly aimed at bringing both the author and his country closure on the shattering of that brief window of greatness.
Don't come expecting a tell-all from this member of the Kennedy inner-circle (not just JFK, but Robert and Teddy, as well). Surely Sorensen is the faithful keeper of many secrets. He traveled with JFK throughout his campaigns, competed with RFK in the White House, enjoyed a close friendship with Jackie, and jeopardized his own political future by helping the family "handle" Chappaquiddick; but beyond the general and widely known stories, you'll get nothing new from Sorensen. He remains, as he has always been, the loyal keeper of the flame. What Sorensen does provide is a clear-eyed and frank view of his own life and its sizeable impact on political history of our times.
For anyone who still remembers where he or she was when the gunshots rang out in Dallas, this book is a behind-the-scenes revelation of a history we lived, but never really knew. For those too young to remember, the book is, as JFK himself would have wanted, a torch of liberal idealism passed to a new generation. To that end, Sorensen has accomplished with book the goal he set. He has completed his service to the President he loved.
on August 7, 2009
First let me say I am a conservative. That aside, this is a truly great book. His writing skills are obvious. For someone at his age to be as sharp and to produce a work of such value is amazing. I saw him on CSPAN Booktv in an interview and he was as sharp as anyone even at his age. The insights he gives are truly stunning. He is at his best up until the death of JFK where he makes you almost wonder if JFK's presidential election could have happened without Sorenson at his side. He deals openly with the Profiles In Courage Issue and settles that once and for all. That someone from such an obscure background could meld so wonderfully with a person who was virtually an American Prince says something great about America. The book is well written clear and sharp. You will have trouble putting it down and it seems as though your living history when reading this book as you are with someone who created the Camelot Era.
on July 2, 2008
This is the most moving, realistic depiction of JFK I have ever seen. Many will forever rant and rave over his personal peccadillos, but this man was a leader. His speech at American University, which was his way of dealing with Soviet & American feelings about nuclear war included the following. "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet; we all breathe the same air; we all cherish our children's future; and we are all mortal." I heard that speech as a young man. I am now 82 and it still rings in my ears. I was raised an avid republican, but I am proud to have helped vote him into office. His like hasn't been seen since.