Profiles in Courage

by John F. Kennedy

Paperback, 1964




New York, Harper & Row [c1964]


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)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jcbrunner
I picked up "Profiles in Courage" in July at the JFK Library in Boston where it was extensively praised in the video tribute. It also garnered a Pulitzer. I love US history and like JFK. Everything points to me liking this book. Unfortunately, I did not. This is a political book masquerading as history. JFK covers all the bases. Here a nod to intolerant Southerners, there a wink to isolationist Midwesterners and for starters some goodies for conservatives. The key message: Don't fear my presidency, I am not a Massachusetts liberal. This "inclusiveness" wrecks any kind of consistency in the cases selected.

It is not a surprise if senators do no come to mind if one imagines courageous people. Nay-saying is the chief function of the senate. It is a feature and not a bug. Senators have little to fear for nay-saying. Incumbents are nearly impossible to unseat, way past their shelf-life. Their six year terms leave ample time for amnesia to work. Courage for a senator according to Kennedy is voting against their party/state interest. I would divide JFK's examples into three categories: 1) Conscience voters: Thomas Hart Benton (MO, pro Union), Sam Houston (TX, against secession), Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (MS, against currency debasing), George Norris (NE, filibustered WWI entry). 2) Legalists: Edmund G. Ross (KS, against impeachment), Robert A. Taft (OH, against Nürnberg death penalties). 3) Compromisers: John Quincy Adams (MA, pro Embargo), Daniel Webster (MA, slavery compromise). Among the decisions only Edmund Ross' refusal to vote for Johnson's impeachment had a historic impact. All the other events would have happened even if the senator under discussion had voted otherwise (the 1850 compromise is debatable, though).

Overall, a not particularly well written book which served its purpose in adding an intellectual halo to JFK but does not stand the test of time.
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LibraryThing member guhlitz
I read this book at the turn of the millennium. If I remember correctly I tracked it down via the internet, possibly one of the first books I bought on the internet. Then again, I have a memory of talking on my cell phone to a sales representative, specifically asking for a hardback edition, which was successfully fulfilled. When I received the edition, I sat down every day after work for 30 to 45 minutes, reading a chapter or two. I was impressed by the praise JFK laid upon politicians, writers and public figures over the previous century or two, who stood up for their beliefs and did not relent to social norms, or political partisanship. Most of them were not politically successful in there philosophies, yet they stood strong against all those who disagreed and argued for a different direction. Instead of calling them martyrs or misunderstood, he called them courageous. The inspiration that drove him, is the inspiration that often drives me. For this, I am very thankful.… (more)
LibraryThing member zen_923
I love this book! Very Inspiring!
LibraryThing member Angelic55blonde
This is a great book. John F. Kennedy wrote this when he was a senator and he focused on eight U.S. senators and their acts of courage or bravery (they chose to do what was right, even if it meant they would have to pay for it later by loss of popularity or whatever). He focused on both republicans, democrats, and the federalists and the book later won the Pulitzer Prize. Of note, a couple of the senators mentioned are John Adams and Robert Taft. I really really liked this book, it was interesting and showed that not everyone in the Senate were horrible people.… (more)
LibraryThing member Yestare
Should be required reading for every HS student and everyone running for office.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I first read this book in my teens when I was very much a Kennedy admirer. These days, I'm decidedly ambivalent about him and his presidency, and rather emblematic of that is what I've learned of this Pulitzer Prize winning book since first reading it. By all rights, the byline for this book should read Ted Sorenson, not John F. Kennedy. In his autobiography, Counselor, Sorenson admitted what had been rumored for years--that he largely researched and wrote Kennedy's book for him, writing "the first draft of most chapters." At best, it was a collaboration, but one heavily weighted towards Sorenson. As he explained, "While in Washington, I received from Florida almost daily instructions and requests by letter and telephone – books to send, memoranda to draft, sources to check, materials to assemble, and Dictaphone drafts or revisions of early chapters." So Kennedy did oversee the production, but much of the writing isn't his.

Herbert Parmet, a historian who wrote a book on Kennedy, analyzing Profiles in Courage does believe Kennedy largely wrote the opening and closing thematic chapters, and those are I think the parts of the book of enduring historical interest given his presidency. In them Kennedy lays out a philosophy of governance. Elected representatives, Kennedy avers, should not "serve merely as a seismograph to record shifts in popular opinion." I've seen some reviewers lambast that view, claiming that for elected representatives to go against their constituencies, whatever their own views, is undemocratic. Personally, I'd counter that America is not a democracy, not a direct one, and was never designed to be. We're a republic. We elect representatives who are supposed to exercise their best judgement, then defend it to their constituencies who are then free to elect someone else if they don't agree. I'm with Kennedy on that.

Kennedy did apparently come up with the idea of the book: stories of eight United States Senators who cast unpopular, potentially career-ending votes. The profiles included some names I think will be familiar to anyone acquainted with American History: John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston and Robert Taft. The other names are much more obscure, although I found the story of Edmund G. Ross, who cast the deciding vote not to impeach President Andrew Johnson, the most memorable in the book. (Although not mentioned is that there is considerable evidence Ross was bribed for his vote. But that wouldn't make for a profile of courage, would it?) All in all, I did find the stories entertaining, but insightful, impressive works of history worthy of an award? No. But I think those opening and closing chapters, "Courage in Politics" and "The Meaning of Courage" well worth reading and thinking about for anyone interested in politics, particularly the American system. That's why in my estimation the book is worth a three-star rating, whatever its genesis and flaws.
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LibraryThing member Brightman
Great reminder in the embarrassing times of 'Trump' that there can be genuine character in the Presidency today, NOT reality show shit.
LibraryThing member rivkat
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member fdholt
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.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I found these sketches of courgeous political figures well-done and interesting, whethe JFK wrote them or not. As an Iowan I appreciated James Grimes being recognized as a man of courage--he certainly suffered for being such in his lifetime.
LibraryThing member foof2you
I found this book rather interesting given the times we live in today. Much like many books written by famous people today, John McCain, Bethany Frankel, Pamela Anderson or any other person of fame, others write and the star gets the credit. There are those who question whether JFK wrote the book, his name is on the cover and he is credited with being the author.

The book is interesting because unfortunately in our time of partisan politics it is rare when someone bucks the majority and votes their conscience or what the country really needs. We need more politicians who look out for the country first and their narrow minded partisan groups last, right/left, Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Conservative.

A must read for the history major.
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