Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In 'Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History,' Ted Sorensen provides a fascinating look at the Kennedy White House and American Politics

A GREAT speechwriter is a master of timing, as well as a maker of phrases.

Now in his 80th year, Ted Sorensen -- whom John F. Kennedy once referred to as his "intellectual blood bank" -- has as firm a grip on those qualities as ever, which is one of the reasons "Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History" is not only a fascinating memoir but also this election year's most important political book.

Despite the subtitle's characteristic modesty, part of what makes "Counselor" so important is that its author was at the very center of so much that was important in American history and politics during the second half of the 20th century. Thus, this book contains significant new information and insights into Kennedy's ambiguous relationship with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the civil rights and Cuban missile crises, and the origins of the space program. What truly elevates Sorensen's account above other political memoirs, however, is not so much its candor but its spirit: "Counselor" is at bottom a love story -- the author's expression of his deep and abiding love for American ideals, for their expression in American politics, for his remarkable mother and father (and his anything-but-prosaic Nebraskan roots) and, perhaps most of all, for Jack Kennedy.

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