Profiles in Courage was originally published in 1956 while Kennedy recuperated from a difficult spinal surgery. Biographical history and the courageous acts of single individuals were two of Kennedy's academic and personal passions. To inspire himself, one can only suppose, while he fought back against pain and debility, and to offer inspiration to others, Kennedy wrote about some singular historical instances of courage. Kennedy was in the U.S. Senate at the time of the surgery and was particularly interested in "men of courage" in the Senate. It seems the compelling question driving his writing was: "Does it mean, then, that the Senate can no longer boast of men of courage?" Kennedy's aim was to reveal men of courage from history, like John Quincey Adams and George Norris, and to provide models for "men of courage" in the then present age (I'm sure today Kennedy would have written of "men and women of courage").
Following the world altering events of September 11, 2003, when New York was attacked, leaving the United States and the world devastated and shaken, Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy's daughter, authorized the 2003 reissue of her father's book, thinking that the time had come for a renewed celebration of acts of heroic courage and a new envisioning of the power of courage:
Now it is up to us to redefine that commitment [to courage] for our own time ... today we honor those with the courage to compromise as well as those who stay the course.
The purpose of Caroline's Kennedy's Introduction is to orient the reader to the value of courage, as examined by her father, to our own day and our own circumstances by drawing a parallel between events during Kennedy's years on Capitol Hill and in the White House: Kennedy courageously fought through labor reform and civil rights legislation (and planned to withdraw troops from Vietnam and initiate disarmament); we fought courageously through terrorist attacks that affected other nations as their nationals were on American soil and the initiation of a "war on terror" that (rightly or wrongly, legally or illegally) led to a shift of rights and power.
To summarize, in her Introduction, Caroline Kennedy gives a brief overview of her father's interest in the stories of men of courage then gives examples of times during which he demonstrated courage in his own time, for instance, when he mobilized the Alabama National Guard to protect two black students or in a speech after the Cuban Missile Crisis when he said: "Let us ... direct our attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved." Then briefly she describes her father's political record starting with his early public service years as a PT-boat lieutenant commander that resulted (through whose error is beyond the present issue) in Kennedy's heroic rescue of those who survived the explosion and sinking PT-109.
After this survey of Kennedy's political career, ending with the posthumous passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Caroline Kennedy profiles some of the recipients of the Profiles in Courage Award, like Congresswoman Hilda Solis and Congressman John Lewis and President Gerald Ford, who pardoned President Richard Nixon, an act that irrevocably jeopardized his political career. The purpose of all is to turn our focus to the demonstration of courage in our own time and within the crises we face with the goal of inspiring our courage and inspire deeper understanding of the historic stories of courage J. F. K. wrote about in Profiles in Courage.