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Profiles in Courage (1956)

by John F. Kennedy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,648173,739 (3.82)44
The Pulitzer Prize winning classic by President John F. Kennedy, with an introduction by Caroline Kennedy and a foreword by Robert F. Kennedy. Written in 1955 by the then junior senator from the state of Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage serves as a clarion call to every American. In this book Kennedy chose eight of his historical colleagues to profile for their acts of astounding integrity in the face of overwhelming opposition. These heroes, coming from different junctures in our nation's history, include John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, and Robert A. Taft. Now, a half-century later, the book remains a moving, powerful, and relevant testament to the indomitable national spirit and an unparalleled celebration of that most noble of human virtues. It resounds with timeless lessons on the most cherished of virtues and is a powerful reminder of the strength of the human spirit. Profiles in Courage is as Robert Kennedy states in the foreword: "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." Along with vintage photographs and an extensive author biography, this book features Kennedy's correspondence about the writing project, contemporary reviews, a letter from Ernest Hemingway, and two rousing speeches from recipients of the Profile in Courage Award.  Introduction by John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline Kennedy, forward by John F. Kennedy's brother Robert F. Kennedy.… (more)



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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
In these days of political upheaval, I turned to John F. Kennedy, one of the heroes of my childhood, and to reread his account of those brave politicians who acted, not in their own interests, but in the interest of their country. I especially wanted to re-read his account of the Andrew Johnson impeachment and Edmund Ross, who voted for acquittal. It is eerily pertinent. Johnson decided to follow the path laid out by Abraham Lincoln to reunite the country. The radicals wanted to punish the south. So impeachment and removal was their way of getting rid of their obstacle. So it was with Clinton and so it is with Trump; a use of impeachment frowned upon by the Constitution. Edmund Ross and others refused to follow the others and for this he was vilified.

There are many other examples of courage in this book. We ought to take a deep breath and listen to these words by a Democrat who would no longer be welcome in his own party. It might make a difference. ( )
  fdholt | Dec 14, 2019 |
I'm sorry, but this was definitely not my type of book. ( )
  KendraJ. | Dec 10, 2019 |
This is a deeply problematic book, and the fact that it is so widely lauded as a classic by many very intelligent people is a sign that our political ideals are based more on the idea of winning some game than of producing the best outcome for our country. Although it's not entirely untrue that some of the senators Kennedy profiled did show enormous courage, this is not necessarily a good thing in and of itself. Indeed, a number of the senators in this book have explicitly negative legacies. The most egregious is Lucius Lamar, who Kennedy praises for giving a nice speech for his political enemy Charles Sumner (who has much more right to be praised than Lamar does) and for going against the Southern tradition of a senator's vote being dictated by the state legislature, on the issue of free silver. What Kennedy does not mention is Lamar's central role in the fight against abolition and reconstruction in Mississippi -- in fact, Lamar was responsible for the infamous "Mississippi Plan," in which black voters were massacred, terrorized, and kept from the polls to ensure a Democratic victory in the 1875 elections. Whether or not the person responsible for such an egregious violation of democracy (Lamar wrote of the "blackest tyranny" of the "brute masses") was a good orator is beside the point -- it is impossible for a learned observer to call such a person courageous.

Of course Kennedy can be somewhat forgiven on this front, because he didn't write the book himself. Instead he gave the task to his speechwriter Thomas Sorenson, who is clearly not invested in the book. The writing is melodramatic and childish, and the sourcing incredibly sloppy (at least for the Lamar chapter, which again is the one I am the most familiar with). I doubt that either Kennedy or Sorenson even knew of Lamar's role in the Mississippi Plan. Nevertheless, we do get some idea of Kennedy's own beliefs filtered through Sorenson -- particularly his fascination with big, aristocratic families and the superior morality of the "genius." There is a distinct anti-democratic strain in this novel, which blames the "masses" for expecting to know better than their educated leaders. That Kennedy's millionaire father bought the Pulitzer (over the Committee's misgivings) just goes to show how deeply the belief in money and genius ran in that family.

Falsely attributed, sloppily sourced, and illegitimately awarded -- this book is a prime example of the corrupt, selfish view of politics held by JFK and his father. It suffers, as does the legacy of Kennedy himself, from a sick conception of politics as noble struggle, a Nietzschean proving ground where young aristocrats (like Kennedy and many of the senators mentioned) can get the power and respect they feel like they deserve. Skip this book unless you want an insight into the Kennedy family (who, to be fair, did produce a few genuinely inspiring politicans). ( )
  Roeghmann | Dec 8, 2019 |
Great reminder in the embarrassing times of 'Trump' that there can be genuine character in the Presidency today, NOT reality show shit. ( )
  Brightman | Dec 16, 2017 |
Senators who stood against the popular will, often including the will of their own states, in causes good and maybe not so good—Kennedy was extremely forgiving of various men who wished to preserve the Union by putting off the question of slavery to another day. Here’s Kennedy, writing words that we perhaps find hard to believe today: “The true democracy, living and growing and inspiring, puts its faith in the people—faith that the people will not simply elect men who will represent their views ably and faithfully, but also elect [those] who will exercise their conscientious judgment—faith that the people will not condemn those whose devotion to principle leads them to unpopular courses, but will reward courage, respect honor and ultimately recognize right.” I guess we’ll see whether we have that true democracy any more. ( )
  rivkat | Dec 23, 2016 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John F. Kennedyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kennedy, Robert F.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nevins, AlanForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sorensen, Theodore C.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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He well knows what snares are spread about his path, from personal animosity...and possibly from popular delusion. But he has put to hazard his ease, his security, his interest, his power, even his...popularity...He is traduced and abused for his supposed motives. He will remember that obloquy is a necessary ingredient in the composition of all true glory: he will remember...that calumny and abuse are essential parts of triumph...He may live long, he may do much. But here is the summit. He never can exceed what he does this day. -Edmund Burke's eulogy of Charles James Fox for his attack upon the tyranny of the East India Company- House of Commons, December 1, 1783
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This is a book about the most admirable of human virtues—courage.
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