four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
By: 
Ted Sorensen
user_rating: 
0

A-CounselorTed Sorensen was one of JFK’s closest confidantes. A speechwriter, the president’s "intellectual blood bank," and the author of Kennedy, still the gold standard of books to come out of that presidency, Sorensen, now 80, recalls his role in the administration and shares his unique perspective on the making of a dynasty.

The Topic: At 24, Ted Sorensen was the consummate greenhorn, arriving in Washington, D.C., with a newly minted law degree. He quickly rose through the ranks of the D.C. power structure to become JFK’s right-hand man after he was interviewed by the up-and-coming senator in 1952. In Counselor, Sorensen opens the door into the world that would become known as Camelot, as well as his own long and varied diplomatic career in the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination. Rumors persist regarding Sorensen’s role in the ghosting of Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Profiles in Courage, as well as his credit for lines from some of JFK’s most famous speeches and for his crucial correspondence with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev during the Bay of Pigs. With uncommon modesty, Sorensen brushes aside such questions, claiming only collaborative credit and citing the "grandeur of [Kennedy’s] ideas."
Harper. 576 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 0060798718

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[In] Sorensen’s extraordinarily lucid memoir, he lets his hair down, revealing poignant moments of his Kennedy White House years that he didn’t feel appropriate to reveal while Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was alive. … Without question Counselor is the most up-close memoir ever written by somebody deeply involved with JFK’s political and personal life." Douglas Brinkley

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History is not only a fascinating memoir but also this election year’s most important political book. … Sorensen’s willingness to draw lessons concerning the current political situation from his experience is one of the several things that make Counselor such remarkably pleasurable and instructive reading." Tim Rutten

Wall Street Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Even when he is describing 40 years of post-White House law practice, there is hardly a page that does not confirm our sense of Mr. Sorensen as a writer of the first rank. If his active service to Kennedy is now concluded, we are still left with the inescapable sense that the words that the two men crafted together—however one divides the credit—will live on." Richard J. Tofel

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Counselor] is full of new information about both men, and in a world saturated with Kennedy stories both over-familiar and apocryphal, that’s saying something. … This book is instantly essential for any student of the period." Ted Widmer

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Engaging and breezy, the book serves as a trustworthy tonic to most of the recent iconoclastic writing on JFK. … Sorensen’s loose chronological approach allows pauses for entire chapters on topics like his relationship with the Kennedy family or speechwriting." John Barron

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Much of [Counselor] is inescapably about J.F.K., and it includes some discreet disclosures and funny historical footnotes. But primarily this is a book, a touching book, about a mellower Sorensen, who here calls himself not Theodore C. but Ted." Jack Rosenthal

Critical Summary

Another book about JFK? While much has been written about our 35th president, Sorensen offers fresh perspective on his experiences in that administration and his lifetime of public service ever since. Counselor provides a rich context for the JFK years, including new details that escaped attention (or were too sensitive to publish with some of the principals still living). With poignant good humor, Sorensen wears his erudition and access to the Kennedy administration lightly. Yet there is nothing lightweight about Counselor, which makes an indispensable addition to any library devoted to Kennedy, the Cold War, or the art of political communication. Even after half a century (and several years after a debilitating stroke that left him partially blind), Sorensen’s memories of that pivotal time remain sharp, and his contribution to American political rhetoric remains important.