A Higher Purpose: Profiles in Presidential Courage.

AuthorHelicher, Karl
PositionBook review

Work Title: A Higher Purpose: Profiles in Presidential Courage

Work Author(s): Thomas J. Whalen

Ivan R. Dee

9 b/w illustrations, 272 pages, Hardcover $26.00


ISBN: 9781566636308

Reviewer: Karl Helicher

At a time when political courage on all levels has been replaced by thirty-second sound bites and by polls designed to identify how people would respond to various actions, these nine case studies remind the reader that courageous presidential decisions are necessary, will have important consequences, and could cost the makers their reputations and reelections. Whalen defines political courage as "that special quality of valor exhibited by certain presidents in times of crisis, placing conscience over expediency, regardless of personal or political cost." This definition is similar to the one used by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage, the book which inspired Whalen's account.

Whalen, who holds a doctorate in American history from Boston College and is an assistant professor at Boston University, clearly admires John F. Kennedy. His earlier book, Kennedy Versus Lodge: The 1952 Massachusetts Senate Race, examines the election that made Kennedy a national figure, and the author includes an impassioned retelling of Kennedy's fight to desegregate the University of Alabama as one essay in this book.

Each essay is approximately twenty-five pages and includes a useful biographical sketch, as well as a concise, informative analysis of each decision, describing its immediate effect on the president and the long-term impact on the country. Some stories are more familiar: Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, Theodore Roosevelt as trust regulator, and Harry Truman and the firing of...

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