Ranking The Vice Presidents, by Ian Randal Strock
This book is a companion volume to another book written by the author about presidents, and it contains a great deal of entertaining anecdotes and rankings of the vice presidents in various categories. The book was written before 2017, so it only goes up to Biden (who is smiling creepily on the cover besides a glowering John Adams), but it features a great deal that is somewhat entertaining even if it is also somewhat repetitive. The vice presidents of the United States have often been an obscure lot. If not all presidents are well known, what is one to make of such historical obscurities as William King, who was only Vice President for a few weeks before dying of tuberculosis and never even managing to make it to Washington DC after having been sworn into office in Cuba? Or what does it mean that Charles Dawes was the first major federal official to not be of entirely European ancestry given his extensive Native American background? (And is it telling that it was the Republicans who made him a Vice President?) While Vice Presidents are definitely obscure figures within American political history, that does not mean they are not worth knowing about.
This book is a short one at just over 200 pages and it is divided into various sections. The book begins with a discussion of the office of Vice President and some general information about both presidents and vice presidents. After that the author discusses the average veep briefly and then looks at the vice presidents in life and death, giving a top 5 ranking for those who lived longest, died the youngest, lived the longest after being in office, shortest and tallest, most common names and states to be born and buried in, and so on and so forth. After that the author discusses home and family by looking at how many children they had, how much older (or younger) they were than their wives, how many of them married more than once, and how many had facial hair (not many, sadly). The author discusses the resume of veeps, including the colleges they went to and their professions and even which ones won Nobel prizes. The author then discusses vice presidents on the job in comparison to the presidents they served. Since this only comes up to less than 150 pages the author then pads the length of the book by discussing some statistics and lists about cabinet officers, then includes laws and regulations concerning presidential succession as well as a summation and index.
When one looks at the rankings of Vice Presidents, a great deal of the importance relies around how long they lived after having been Vice President. Considering that so few Vice Presidents have become president after having served in the runner-up position (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, and George H.W. Bush are the only ones two have won an election to the presidency without first succeeding to the office on the death of the president), it is not surprising that longevity of life would be the most important aspect of their careers. And some Vice Presidents have lived a very long time, which makes sense given how little stress the office has for most of them, although a surprising amount died in office, only a slightly lower percentage than the much more dangerous office of the presidency. If some of the stories included here are a bit redundant, the book does indicate the way that different presidents have chosen different models for the Vice presidency as a way of achieving balance, be it sectional balance in terms of states, ideological balance to increase party unity, or even a balance with regards to age. The book even includes some information about cabinet officials.