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Profiles in Courage
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Profiles in Courage

3.8 42
by John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy (Foreword by), Caroline Kennedy (Introduction)

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During 1954-1955, John F. Kennedy, then a U.S. senator, chose eight of his historical colleagues to profile for their acts of astounding integrity in the face of overwhelming opposition. These heroes include John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, and Robert A. Taft.

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1957, Profiles in Courage -- now featuring a new


During 1954-1955, John F. Kennedy, then a U.S. senator, chose eight of his historical colleagues to profile for their acts of astounding integrity in the face of overwhelming opposition. These heroes include John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, and Robert A. Taft.

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1957, Profiles in Courage -- now featuring a new Introduction by Caroline Kennedy, as well as Robert Kennedy's Foreword written for the 1964 memorial edition -- resounds with timeless lessons on the most cherished of virtues and is a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit. It is, as Robert Kennedy writes, "not just stories of the past but a book of hope and confidence for the future. What happens to the country, to the world, depends on what we do with what others have left us."

Editorial Reviews

Springfield Republican
A book that deserves reading by every American.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
P.S. Series
Edition description:
50th Anniversary Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)
1410L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

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Courage and Politics

This is a book about the most admirable of human virtues--courage. "Grace under pressure," Ernest Hemingway defined it. And these are the stories of the pressures experienced by eight United States Senators and the grace with which they endured them--the risks to their careers, the unpopularity of their courses, the defamation of their characters, and sometimes, but sadly only sometimes, the vindication of their reputations and their principles.

A nation which has forgotten the quality of courage which in the past has been brought to public life is not as likely to insist upon or reward that quality in its chosen leaders today-- and in fact we have forgotten. We may remember how John Quincy Adams became President through the political schemes of Henry Clay, but we have forgotten how, as a young man, he gave up a promising Senatorial career to stand by the nation. We may remember Daniel Webster for his subservience to the National Bank throughout much of his career, but we have forgotten his sacrifice for the national good at the close of that career. We do not remember--and possibly we do not care.

"People don't give a damn," a syndicated columnist told millions of readers not so many years ago, "what the average Senator or Congressman says. The reason they don't care is that they know what you hear in Congress is 99% tripe, ignorance and demagoguery and not to be relied upon ......

Earlier a member of the Cabinet had recorded in his diary:

While I am reluctant to believe in the totaldepravity of the Senate, I place but little dependenceon the honesty and truthfulness of a largeportionof the Senators. A majority of them are small lights,mentally weak, and wholly unfit to be Senators.Some are vulgar demagogues ... some are men ofwealth who have purchased their position ... [someare] men of narrow intellect, limited comprehension,and low partisan prejudice....

And still earlier a member of the Senate itself told his colleagues that "the confidence of the people is departing from us, owing to our unreasonable delays."

The Senate knows that many Americans today share these sentiments. Senators, we hear, must be politicians--and politicians must be concerned only with winning votes, not with statesmanship or courage. Mothers may stiff want their favorite sons to grow up to be President, but according to a famous Gallup poll of some years ago, they do not want them to become politicians in the process.

Does this current rash of criticism and disrespect mean the quality of the Senate has declined? Certainly not. For of the three statements quoted above, the first was made in die twentieth century, the second in the nineteenth and the third in the eighteenth (when the first Senate, barely underway, was debating where the Capitol should be located).

Does it mean, then, that the Senate can no longer boast of men of courage?

Walter Lippmann, after nearly half a century of careful observation, rendered in his recent book a harsh judgment both on the politician and the electorate:

With exceptions so rare they are regarded as miracles of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular-not whether it will work well and prove itself, but whether the active-talking constituents like it immediately.

I am not so sure, after nearly ten years of living and working in the midst of "successful democratic politicians," that they are all "insecure and intimidated men." I am convinced that the complication of public business and the competition for the public's attention have obscured innumerable acts of political courage-large and small--performed almost daily in the Senate Chamber. I am convinced that the decline-if there has been a decline-has been less in the Senate than in the public's appreciation of the art of politics, of the nature and necessity for compromise and balance, and of the nature of the Senate as a legislative chamber. And, finally, I am convinced that we have criticized those who have followed the wordand at the same time criticized those who have defied itbecause we have not fully understood the responsibility of a Senator to his constituents or recognized the difficulty facing a politician conscientiously desiring, in Webster's words, "to push [his] skiff from the shore alone" in a hostile and turbulent sea. Perhaps if the American people more fully comprehended the terrible pressures which discourage acts of political courage, which drive a Senator to abandon or subdue his conscience, then they might be less critical of those who take the easier road-and more appreciative of those still able to follow the path of courage.

The first pressure to be mentioned is a form of pressure rarely recognized by the general public. Americans want to be liked-and Senators are no exception. They are by natureand of necessity-social animals. We enjoy the comradeship and approval of our friends and colleagues. We prefer praise to abuse, popularity to contempt. Realizing that the path of the conscientious insurgent must frequently be a lonely one, we are anxious to get along with our fellow legislators, our fellow members of the club, to abide by the clubhouse rules and patterns, not to pursue a unique and independent course which would embarrass or irritate the other members. We realize, moreover, that our influence in the club-and the extent to which we can accomplish our objectives and those of our constituents--are dependent in some measure on the esteem with which we are regarded by other Senators. "The way to get along," I was told when I entered Congress, "is to go along."

Going along means more than just good fellowship--it includes the use of compromise, the sense of things possible.

Profiles in Courage. Copyright © by John F. Kennedy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was president of the United States from 1961 to 1963. At forty-three, he was the youngest man ever elected to the Oval Office and the first Roman Catholic president.

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Profiles in Courage 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
HomeSchoolBookReview More than 1 year ago
What is courage? And how does one express it in the political realm? Politicians have a rather bad reputation, and some of it is deserved, but all of it is not. Before he became President, while serving in the United States Senate, John F. Kennedy wrote this book to chronicle the lives of eight United States Senators from history who showed courage by following their consciences in opposition to their party, their section, or even prevailing public opinion. Kennedy does not argue whether they were right or wrong in their beliefs and actions. In fact, some of them took exactly opposition positions on certain issues from others. But what Kennedy wished to emphasize is that we do not necessarily have to agree with people to admire the courage that it took for them to stand up for what they thought was right. The list includes John Quincy Adams, later President, who in opposition to his Federalist party voted for the Embargo Bill to keep English ships from attacking American ones; Daniel Webster who set aside his own opposition to slavery to support the Compromise of 1850 which effectively gave the North more time to prepare for the Civil War; Thomas Hart Benton who supported the Union in spite of the fact that his state of Missouri was a slave-holding state and thus helped keep Missouri from seceding; Sam Houston who also supported the Union in spite of the fact that his state of Texas was a slave state and later when it did secede was ousted as governor at the time; Edmund G. Ross who voted not to remove Andrew Johnson from office; Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, a southerner who tried to heal the breach between North and South caused by the Civil War; George W. Norris, a progressive Republican who opposed his party on many issues in the early twentieth century; and Robert A. Taft who objected to the Nuremberg Trials following World War II. One may not agree with all the political principles which Kennedy sets forth in the first chapter, but he still makes some interesting and important points. Unfortunately, he includes a number of quotations in which some form of the "d" word is found and the term "God" is used as an interjection. Otherwise, it is an enlightening account of important historical people and events. In the 1960s a television series entitled Profiles in Courage was made, using seven of the eight examples cited by Kennedy (Lamar was excluded, perhaps because he had fought for the South during the Civil War) and adding several others. It's generally conceded today that Kennedy had much to do with the opening and closing chapters of the book, but Dr. Jules Davids and Ted Sorensen, later an assistant to President Kennedy, contributed most of what lies between. It still won a Pulitzer Prize.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was sitting in Barnes & Noble, waiting for my friend to arrive. She lives far from me, and B&N is a half-way point for us. Anyway, on my way to the chairs in the back, where I was planning to sit down and read "The Princess Diaries", I saw this book in the little bargain section. I love JFK and I'd heard of the book, so I decided to pick it up and read it instead. I loved every minute of it. I learned about some politicians who I'd never heard of (Ross is a good example), and I couldn't help but feel inspired to always stand up for what I believe in. It also reminded me of the reasons I admire Mr. Kennedy as a president, despite the fact that I'm both 16 and a conservative Republican. The book showed exactly what made him great, and reminded me of all the reasons our country is great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I listened to this on audio cassette. As I began listening to it, I began to wonder if it would have even gotten published if the author had been John Doe. I did come away from listening to the book admiring President Kennedy's extensive vocabulary. Also, John Jr.'s reading of it seemed to lack spirit. With one exception, I though it was informative but not that interesting. The one part that was extremely interesting was the part about Edmund G. Ross. That section was breathtaking. It was Edmund G. Ross's vote who kept Andrew Johnson in office after Lincoln's assasination. If Senator Ross had voted differently, the politicians who wanted to treat the South as vanquished territories would have been in power. If that had happened, would the United States be what it is today?
ljethrogibbs46 More than 1 year ago
The book is quite interesting & absorbing & a solid contribution to American history.  The reason for only 2 stars is that it WAS ghostwritten by Kennedy friend/speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, who admitted as much before he died.  JFK not only accepted the Pulitzer Prize for it, he said nothing about who really wrote it.  Admittedly, he supposedly did give the prize money to charity.  But his own acttions hardly qualify as a "profile in courage".
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EJ43 More than 1 year ago
In our greed based society, these timeless stories of intrepidity need to be introduced to the youth of our country!
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Hello people, it's 2010 and I cannot believe the Kennedy's are still trying to convince the world that JFK wrote this book. It was written by Ted Sorensen. It was made an instant bestseller because Joseph Kennedy bought thousands of copies. google, google, google.
Huskerfan More than 1 year ago
I have loved this book since my first reading sometime in the 60s. It is still just as topical as it was then and always enlightening. You can't read about these men without being inspired. And, of course, the writer is so very inspirational on his own. I have the editions with forward by Senator Robert Kennedy as well as the original edition. I have just added this edition to my library of Kennedy books as a very important part of my collection. Caroline's memories and her love for her father, can be heard as she writes. She is an accomplished writer on her own, and adds just the right touch to this edition.
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Should have elaborated in depth on family history.
ericmoreno More than 1 year ago
This book has inspired me to do more. John F. Kennedys' wrtting is the best. He tells it as it is and, from his own words. This book has helped me alot to think differently brfore joining the Marine Corps.
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