In This Review

The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power
The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power
By Jules Witcover
Smithsonian Books, 2014, 592 pp

The transformation of the vice-presidency in the last generation represents the most striking contemporary innovation in U.S. governance. The vice president of the United States has become a kind of assistant president, often enjoying greater influence than any member of the executive branch save the president. Readers hoping that this book (by one of the country’s most distinguished journalists and political commentators) will explain this transformation will be disappointed. Instead, Witcover has produced a series of capsule biographies of each person who has held the office, from John Adams to Joe Biden. The short biographies lack the depth of reflection and intensity of analysis that might have turned the book into something more than a superficial chronicle. One hopes that another writer will step forward to show how the rise of the modern vice-presidency -- which began, as Witcover rightly notes, with Walter Mondale -- illustrates the changing nature of executive power in the contemporary United States.