COUNSELOR: A LIFE AT THE EDGE OF HISTORY, by Ted Sorensen, Harper, 556 pages, $27.95
Only two years out of the University of Nebraska law school, Ted Sorensen became a member of John F. Kennedy's U.S. Senate staff after the 1952 election. Sorensen moved up rapidly because he and JFK connected to a remarkable degree. Finally, he was outranked only by JFK's brother Bobby.
Together, he and Bobby played crucial roles in ending the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when Fidel Castro accepted Russia's gift of atomic warheads aimed at the United States. Many analysts now consider those nine days to be the "most dangerous in the history of the world."
Sorensen took six years to write his memoir while recovering from a stroke that hit him at the age of 70. The stroke greatly diminished his vision, although he does now walk daily on the streets near his New York home.
Sorensen is best known as Kennedy's speechwriter, especially as he campaigned for the presidency in 1960. He considered Kennedy to be a superb boss, and they became close confidants.
"We never argued, shouted or were sore at each other. He never bawled me out or asked me to lie to anyone. In the early days, he never treated me as the green kid I was," wrote Sorensen.
While in law school, Sorensen married, and the marriage produced three sons, but his long hours working for JFK and his frequent travel eventually led to divorce. He married a second time to Gillian Martin, a woman 13 years his junior. It has been a happy marriage, and she has accompanied him and some of his sons in travels around the world.
After Kennedy's assassination, Sorensen wrote "Kennedy," an incisive book about his working life with the senator and later president. Jack's glamorous wife, Jackie, read the entire manuscript and made several changes. Sorensen especially remembered that she was against giving any praise to Lyndon Johnson, JFK's vice president.
Eventually, Sorensen received lucrative offers from Washington and New York law firms. He selected a partnership in Paul, Weiss and Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison. For the next 40 years he traveled the globe, meeting "with at least a hundred prime ministers, presidents, chancellors and kings on almost every continent."The most impressive and charismatic leaders he ever met were Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Fidel Castro of Cuba. He thought Mobutu Seko of the Congo to be the most corrupt. His loyalty and respect for JFK has never waned over the years.
Parry Sorensen is professor emeritus of communications at the University of Utah.