The legendary Kennedy adviser reflects on his own remarkable life.
In 1965 Theodore C. Sorensen authored Kennedy. Now approaching 80, nearly 50 years removed from the job for which he remains best known, John F. Kennedy’s Special Counsel and indispensable wordsmith revisits much of the same territory, this time as “Ted,” a tip-off to this book’s more relaxed tone and focus on his own contributions to JFK’s career. Comparable historically to Colonel House, Harry Hopkins and Karl Rove, the man JFK referred to as “his intellectual blood bank” tells marvelous stories about first going to work for the Massachusetts senator, the writing of JFK’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Profiles in Courage, traveling the country for the 1960 campaign, the first televised presidential debates, the Cuban missile crisis, the triumphal visit to Berlin and, of course, crafting many memorable speeches for candidate and President Kennedy. Although he’s more forthcoming than ever about these and other more delicate topics—including Kennedy’s philandering, the senator’s timid response to the McCarthy censure and the president’s assassination—the author’s deep respect for and heartache at the loss of his mentor clearly abides. Sorensen (Why I Am a Democrat, 1996, etc.) also makes room for stories about his career as an international lawyer, his failed senate bid in 1970, the fiasco surrounding his withdrawn 1977 nomination for Director of Central Intelligence and his continuing role as adviser to the Kennedy family. He expresses regret about the toll his high-powered life took on two failed marriages, and about his own youthful aloofness and arrogance. He also pauses to settle some minor scores with the likes of Kenneth O’Donnell, Richard Goodwin, Joe Biden and Jimmy Carter. Notwithstanding the great events and the famous people that crowd this narrative, the most charming and heartfelt passages concern the author’s early life in Nebraska, as he traces the roots of his family and his still unabashed liberalism.
A colleague once praised Sorensen’s ability to “use words that everybody can understand—intellectuals, milkmen, diplomats, politicians.” The author does just that in this absorbing memoir.