With help from research assistants and the Library of Congress, Kennedy wrote "Profiles in Courage" at his bedside during 1954 and 1955 while on leave from the Senate to recover from surgery to treat his troublesome back.
It was a book describing eight instances in which U.S. Senators risked their careers by standing by their personal beliefs.
After its release on January 1, 1956, Profiles in Courage was widely acclaimed and helped Kennedy earn national recognition. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1957 and remains one of the definitive books written on both political courage and the U.S. Senate.
Questions have been raised about how much of the book was actually written by Kennedy and how much by his research assistants. In 1957, newspaper columnist Drew Pearson appeared on ABC News' The Mike Wallace Show and claimed that the book had been ghostwritten and later named Kennedy’s "research associate" Theodore C. Sorensen as the ghost writer. Both Kennedy and Sorensen denied this claim .
ABC News, under pressure from Kennedy and his lawyer Clark Clifford , retracted the story. However years later historian Herbert Parmet analyzed the text of Profiles in Courage and wrote in his book "The Struggles of John F. Kennedy" that although Kennedy did oversee the production and provided for the direction and message of the book, it was clearly Sorensen who provided most of the work that went into the end product.
On the January 25, 2007, episode of The Colbert Report, Colbert's guest Mike Wallace claimed in a discussion about Kennedy: "You know he never wrote Profiles in Courage?"
In 1956, presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson left the choice of a Vice Presidential nominee to the Democratic convention, and Kennedy finished 2nd in that balloting to Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. Despite this defeat, Kennedy received national exposure from that episode that would prove valuable in subsequent years. His father, Joseph Kennedy, Sr., pointed out that it was just as well that John did not get that nomination, as some people sought to blame anything they could on Catholics, even though it was privately known that any Democrat would have trouble running against Eisenhower in 1956.