The Washington Post
Counselor: A Life at the Edge of Historyby Ted Sorensen
In January 1953 the newly-elected Senator John F. Kennedy hired a young Nebraskan lawyer named Theodore Sorensen as his legislative assistant. Sorensen quickly rose up the ranks in JFK's senate office, from research aide to speechwriter to campaigner and advisor,/b>
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An intimate, deeply revealing memoir from John F. Kennedy's legendary right-hand man.
In January 1953 the newly-elected Senator John F. Kennedy hired a young Nebraskan lawyer named Theodore Sorensen as his legislative assistant. Sorensen quickly rose up the ranks in JFK's senate office, from research aide to speechwriter to campaigner and advisor, eventually working closely with JFK on his speeches and books, including Profiles in Courage, and encouraging JFK's interest in the vice presidential nomination. Though JFK's pursuit of that nomination fell short at the 1956 Democratic Convention, he had emerged as a prominent national figure; and JFK and Sorensen traveled over the next three years to all fifty states exploring his prospects for the presidential nomination in 1960. Upon his election, Kennedy appointed Sorensen as his Special Counsel-a role that allowed him to serve as the President's own lawyer, speechwriter, and trusted confidante.
Sorensen recounts in thrilling detail his experience advising JFK through some of the most dramatic moments in American history, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, when JFK requested that Sorensen draft a letter to Khrushchev at the most critical point of the world's first nuclear confrontation. Sorensen was immersed in everything from civil rights to the decision to go to the moon, and he also had a hand in JFK's most important speeches.
Illuminating, revelatory, and utterly compelling, Counselor is the brilliant long-awaited memoir from a man who shaped the presidency and legacy of JFK as no one else could.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
Sorensen begins this audio sounding like a tired old man, with a gravelly voice and narrow vocal range; but as he becomes livelier and more engaged in his own narrative, listeners do too. A legislative assistant to Senator John F. Kennedy, Sorensen became JFK's speechwriter and closest advisor throughout the Kennedy presidency. Sorensen is most animated describing what he sees as the three major legacies of the Kennedy years: avoiding nuclear war through his handling of the Cuban missile crisis, supporting the civil rights movement, and competing with the Soviets in space. He deplores the Bush administration and ends with the fervent hope for new Democratic leadership to restore America's moral authority in the world and aspirations for a better, more equal life at home. This is a piece of history told by a passionate participant who is a fine writer and most engaging reader. A HarperCollins hardcover. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Read an ExcerptCounselor A Life at the Edge of History
By Ted Sorensen
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2008 Ted Sorensen
All right reserved.
I was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on the morning of May 8, 1928, Harry Truman's forty-fourth birthday. Harry took no notice of my arrival, being a busy county judge in Missouri at the time. More than twenty years later, I would make my way to Washington, D.C., where my first employer was the federal government over which he presided.
I was born in a Catholic hospital, where my Jewish mother, Annis Chaikin Sorensen, valued the loving care of the nuns on the hospital staff. My father, Christian A. Sorensen ("C.A."), an insurgent Republican making his first run for public office that year, wrote to the head of America's "Hoover Booster Clubs": "Our family was increased this morning by another son. I am going to have a Republican club of my own." A journalist friend, referring to my birth as well as my father's campaign, wrote him from Ohio: "That, properly press-agented, ought to be good for a few thousand extra votes."
There was no christening or baptism rite in the Unitarian Church which my parents attended. I was named at birth Theodore Chaikin Sorensen. Theodore Roosevelt, decades earlier, had led the progressive wing of the Republican Party to which my father belonged. When I was three years old I received a letter from Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the result of a chance encounter between him and my father; it noted that he and I had bothbeen named for the same great man. "From the commotion that the letter caused in the Sorensen household," C.A. wrote back, "[little Ted] knew that something unusual had happened which some way or other involved him."
My mother, a pacifist who did not approve of Teddy Roosevelt's resort to military means for semi-imperialist objectives, always insisted that I was named not for the hero of San Juan Hill, but for the Greek words meaning "gift from God." An early feminist, she also insisted that her children receive her maiden name in addition to our father's last name—and the five of us were Chaikin Sorensen ever since; two names sufficiently unusual that we all became accustomed to misspellings. Books, newspapers, and magazines continue to do so; the New York Times has misspelled my name more than a hundred times in headlines and articles over the past fifty years. My mother's successor as editor of the University Journal, noting upon her departure that "Annis Chaiken resigned to become Mrs. C. A. Sorenson," misspelled both her maiden and her married name in the same sentence.
Throughout my life, I have reflected on my good luck; but never was I more fortunate than on the day of my birth. Among the hundreds of thousands of babies born that day, I won what my fellow Nebraskan Warren Buffett has called the "great genetic lottery." My friend Khododad Farmanfarmaian was born that same day on the opposite side of the world, in Persia. He was ultimately forced to flee for his life from his native country, hidden in a Kurdish hay wagon. I was born into a country protected by the rule of law.
I was raised by parents who were healthy, intelligent, college educated—and determined to see their children be the same. I was also fortunate to have been born in Nebraska. The city of Lincoln in my youth was small, lovely, and quaint; full of parks, stone churches, low buildings, small shops, and shaded streets. Although I heard rumors in grade school from older boys about an establishment called "Ma Kelly's," Lincoln was a wholesome place in which to grow up, the kind of small-town environment now seemingly gone forever. It was a city "in the middle of everywhere," as one Nebraska roadside sign proclaims. That message was confirmed for me as a small boy on a drive through central Nebraska with my parents, when we came upon a sign with two arrows, one pointing east, reading "New York World's Fair, 1,454 miles," and the other pointing west, reading "San Francisco World's Fair, 1,454 miles."
Even after I moved to Washington, D.C., and thereafter traveled the world over, from Fujairah to Bujumbura, from Skopje to Singapore, I always cherished the city of my birth—the safe, peaceful, predictable environment that nurtured my childhood and laid the foundation of my life and career. Of all the cities in which I have lived—Lincoln, Washington, Boston, and New York—the air, water, and politics were always cleaner in Lincoln.
I have occasionally wondered: Can a political career be affected by the name of one's hometown? Hope? Independence? What I do know is that growing up in a city named for Abraham Lincoln, whose stately statue stood by the state capitol in front of a wall on which his Gettysburg Address was inscribed, intensified my interest in the man, his life, and his speeches—speeches I have been quoting ever since.
Nebraska remains in my heart the wonderful home that shaped so much of my youthful outlook. In those halcyon days, Nebraskans spoke plainly, dressed plainly, and opposed elites and sophisticates of any kind. They were mostly middle class with middle-of-the-road views, isolationists increasingly interested in stable overseas markets for Nebraska crops, churchgoers who supported traditional church-state separation (except for school prayer), community-minded pragmatists and businessmen who were skeptical of the far right as well as the far left, and opposed to big spending by politicians. They did not like politicians of either party who showed too little concern about truly big issues but hypocritically expressed too much concern over trivial issues.
Yet Nebraska produced a host of political leaders with the courage to challenge conventional thinking—from the fiery political iconoclast and religious conservative William Jennings Bryan, to the civil rights leader Malcolm X, to Herbert Brownell and J. Lee Rankin of the Eisenhower Justice Department, who helped put courageous procivil rights judges on federal courts in the South.
But the best known Nebraskan of all was not in politics—the late Johnny Carson. Johnny and I attended the University of Nebraska in the 1940s, where he was known campus-wide for his magic and ventriloquism acts. My brother Tom thought Johnny the brightest prospect in the Beginning Journalism class Tom taught. As graduation neared, Tom suggested that Johnny come work for him at the local radio station where Tom was news director. "Gee thanks, Mr. Sorensen," Johnny replied, "but I thought I would try Hollywood." "Hollywood?" Tom retorted in disbelief. "I'm talking about $55 a week!"
Excerpted from Counselor by Ted Sorensen Copyright © 2008 by Ted Sorensen. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Ted Sorensen was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, and after law school moved to Washington, D.C., where he would ultimately work for John F. Kennedy. He left the White House soon after JFK's death, and in 1966 joined a New York City law firm, where, as a prominent international lawyer, he advised governments, multinational organizations, and major corporations around the world. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History. Sorensen remained active in political and international issues until his death in 2010.
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