From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. SignatureReviewed by
Michael BeschlossIn this modest, elegant, appealing and introspective autobiography, Ted Sorensen writes about his service to John Kennedy as senator and president with a candor that, he confesses, would have been inconceivable while writing his glowing 1965 reminiscence, Kennedy,
or while Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was alive. The Nebraska-born Sorensen describes himself as a moralist not unlike his Unitarian father, C.A. Sorensen, a onetime state attorney general (and a Republican). He reproaches himself for still feeling shame and stigma about the emotional illnesses of his Russian-Jewish mother, Annis Chaikin Sorensen, and for his two divorces, which will make him feel embarrassed until my dying day.Sorensen does not spare the man who remains his old hero. He declines to defend or rationalize JFK's carefree misconduct and broken marriage vows, writing, It was wrong, and he knew it was wrong. He criticizes Kennedy's failure while a senator in 1954 to help censure the Wisconsin demagogue Joseph McCarthy. Unlike some of Kennedy's most extreme defenders, he does not insist that JFK would have withdrawn American troops from Vietnam after reelection in 1964. Excluded from Kennedy's glittering social life, Sorensen recalls the president's cool crowd regarded him with thinly veiled patronizing. New sidelights include Jackie's later private observation that her husband was truly frightened that Lyndon Johnson might someday become president. Sorensen knows that history will view him mainly as architect of much of Kennedy's enduring rhetoric—and the collaborator (at least) on JFK's famous 1956 book, Profiles in Courage
. Such prominence unsettled the Kennedys, who wanted JFK's speeches and writings to be taken as his own. Sorensen reveals that after the commercial success of Profiles
, Kennedy privately gave him a large share of the book's substantial royalties, and Sorensen wrote his boss a letter pledging not to push for recognition of my participation in its writing. The faithful Sorensen felt crushed in 1987 when Jackie Onassis wrote him an angry letter implying (unfairly) that Sorensen might be ambitious to seize credit for her husband's speeches. Sorensen says he never knew how much his old frostiness and protectiveness of his relationship with JFK estranged some colleagues. Blessed with a happy third marriage, he has clearly mellowed. But for Sorensen, as this book demonstrates, the 45 years since JFK's assassination—including an important New York legal career, a role advising Robert Kennedy during his presidential race, efforts to win the late Bobby's Senate seat and an aborted nomination to head Jimmy Carter's CIA—have been epilogue. As Sorensen painfully observes, when the Kennedy brothers died, it robbed me of my future. 16 pages of b&w photos. (May)Michael Beschloss is the author, most recently, of
Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789–1989, just published by Simon & Schuster in paperback.
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“This is an important book, and it’s also a poignant one. As Jackie Kennedy once said of a speech that Ted Sorensen gave about her husband, it captures not only the soul of John Kennedy but also the soul of Sorensen. This clear-eyed but loving memoir is fascinating.” (Walter Isaacson)
“Ted Sorensen’s Counselor is that rare gift to history: an account of mighty events by a participant who stood at their heart, and a writer masterful enough to make us understand them as well.” (Robert Caro)
“Ted Sorensen’s words inspired a generation, and his counsel and judgment helped steer our nation through some of its most difficult hours. This gripping, candid memoir illuminates a revered era in American history. Sorensen has written a book that will be cherished for generations.” (Barack Obama)
“Ted Sorensen has given us a very welcome up close and personal view of life and politics at the side of John F. Kennedy. There are fresh insights and enduring lessons for this and future generations to study and embrace. And painful memories of what we lost.” (Tom Brokaw)
“With eloquence and honesty, Sorensen takes us on a tour of many of the most important moments of the second half of the American Century, from who wrote ‘Profiles in Courage’ to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Dallas and its terrible aftermath. This is an illuminating and engaging book.” (Jon Meacham)