It's a shame Jeremy Lott's lighthearted history of the Vice Presidency has to end, as chronology warrants, with the most recent holder of the office. When John Nance Garner, who held the office for eight years under FDR, characterized his position as "not worth a bucket of warm piss," he obviously had no idea what Vice President Dick Cheney would be able to barter for that bucket less than a hundred years later. After seven years as the seemingly uncontrollable right-hand man to the president, Cheney can't even stand to the side quietly at a press conference without making the public nervous.

Luckily, Lott isn't out to justify Cheney alone; instead, his book The Warm Bucket Brigade rehashes many widely known stories and a few mistakenly spread ones about the vice presidents, spanning from John Tyler—who ascended to the presidency after his running mate, William Henry Harrison, died in office, and who subsequently returned all correspondence addressed to the vice president—to the mistreatment of Hubert Humphrey at the hands of LBJ. VPs who became president get more ink than those who didn't, but Lott even devotes a slim chapter to Thomas Marshall, Woodrow Wilson's second-in-command, who wasn't even allowed to see the president for the last 18 months of his term, while Wilson's wife, secretary, and doctor ran the country in Wilson's name.

Advertisement

Lott theorizes that while the second-in-command office may not command anyone in particular, it made good presidents of indifferent public servants while thwarting the ambitions of those who saw the office primarily as a stepping stone. (Dan Quayle gets an undue ribbing on this count because of Lott's trip to the U.S. Vice Presidential Museum in Huntington, Indiana, formed when a Quayle collector expanded his purview.) His quips, particularly those presented in inset text bubbles (gastroenteritis is "not recommended"; Warren G. Harding was "misunderestimated") frequently interrupt otherwise sober discussions of national policy, but he also hits bulls-eyes, like encapsulating Gerald Ford's post-Nixon platform as "He was also for ice cream and against mean people." The Warm Bucket Brigade will bore hardcore history buffs who already understand the debate over the first national bank, or the motives behind Andrew Johnson's impeachment, and who might not find Lott's case for the "do-something" Veep compelling, but it's an altogether amusing, digressive account of "the drunk tank for the power-mad."