Simanaitis Says

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PRESIDENTIAL AUTHORSHIP, PART 1

SOME U.S. PRESIDENTS have been known to read books. Imagine that. Indeed, a fair number of them have written books, though not without controversy here and there.

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The 2017 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award will be presented at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, on May 7.

This SimanaitisSays theme was prompted by news that Barack Obama has been named this year’s winner of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. In a statement announcing the honor, JFK’s daughter Caroline said, “President Kennedy called on a new generation of Americans to give their talents to the service of the country. With exceptional dignity and courage, President Obama has carried that torch into our own time, providing young people of all backgrounds with an example they can emulate in their own lives.”

Congratulations, President Obama!

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John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963, 35th President of the United States.

JFK’s 1957 book Profiles in Courage was awarded that year’s Pulitzer Prize in Biography or Autobiography. This was the same year, by the way, that Norman Dello Joio won the Music Prize for his Meditations on Ecclesiastes.

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Profiles in Courage, by Senator John F. Kennedy, Harper, 1957.

Profiles in Courage was neither JFK’s first nor his last book, but it was likely his most controversial. The book is a collection of bios of eight U.S. Senators throughout the nation’s history: John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris and Robert A. Taft.

Profiles in Courage was written when JFK was himself serving in the U.S. Senate, and the book became a best seller. However, its inclusion in the Pulitzer competition was, at least in part, fostered by Kennedy’s father Joseph and his relationship with columnist Arthur Krock, a member of the prize board.

What’s more, not long after the Pulitzer was awarded, questions were raised about how much of the book was actually written by JFK. Eleanor Roosevelt quipped, “I wish that Kennedy had a little less profile and more courage.”

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Ted Sorensen, 1928–2010, American lawyer, writer and presidential advisor.

It turned out that much of Profiles in Courage was written by Ted Sorensen, Kennedy special counsel, advisor and principal speechwriter. Ted, whom JFK once called his “intellectual blood bank,” was 29 years old when the book was published.

In retrospect, JFK was more of an editorial director, guiding a staff of researchers and working with Sorensen on the book’s themes and style. Kennedy shared royalties from the book’s success with Sorensen.

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A Nation of Immigrants, by John F. Kennedy, Harper, 1958.

Kennedy also had a hand in A Nation of Immigrants, 1958. Prior to this, for his 1940 senior thesis at Harvard, JFK wrote an analysis of Britain’s actions before World War II, in a sense following themes of Winston Churchill’s 1938 While England Slept. Two of JFK’s professors honored his thesis with magna cum laude and cum laude plus praise.

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Why England Slept, by John F. Kennedy, Wilfred Funk, 1940.

JFK’s first book Why England Slept was expanded from his thesis and published that same year. His father and Arthur Krock were involved with this one as well.

Joseph Kennedy had originally wanted the book’s preface written by Harold Laski, British political theorist, a mentor of Jawaharlal Nehru. Laski demurred, saying the work was “of an immature mind; that if it hadn’t been written by the son of a very rich man, he wouldn’t have found a publisher.”

Ouch.

In President Kennedy’s defense (as if in toto any is needed), highlights of his administration include significant advances in civil rights and the exploration of space as well as establishment of the Peace Corps. Today, JFK ranks high in the opinions of historians and the public. Indeed, a recent study of presidential intellect placed Kennedy third overall of 42.

Let’s continue our examination of presidential authors in subsequent, though not necessarily consecutive, pieces. There are highs to be celebrated and several not so high. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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