“Madmen and Geniuses:  The Vice Presidents of The United States,” by Sol Barzman

I did it. I finally finished my first book of the year.  I’ve started 12 books, but my ADD kicked into overdrive and I didn’t finish any of them…until now.

I found this gem at a used bookstore in Fort Scott Kansas.  Mr. Barzman gives a short biographical sketch of each Vice-President, beginning with John Adams and ending with Gerald Ford.  The book was originally published in 1974, but was updated in 1976 to include Vice-President, then President Ford, and is 335 pages in length.  

The Vice-Preaidency has a colorful history.  It was originally thought that the Vice-President would automatically ascend to the Presidency upon the completion of two terms by the current President.  Thomas Jefferson upset that Apple cart by defeating John Adams after only one term.  The Vice-President was also, in the first few elections, the man who received the second highest number of votes in the Presidential election, thus creating a system whereby two men with opposing political philosophies occupied the top two leadership positions in our country.  This was the car with Thomas Jefferson as Vice-President during John Adams’ Presidency.  

There have been eight Vice-Presidents ascend to the Presidency after the death or resignation of the President.  In most of those instances, the acting President did not appoint a new Vice-President for the remainder of the term.  Lyndon Johnson, for example, finished out John F. Kennedy’s term without appointing a Vice-President.  Hubert Humphrey was not nominated until 1964.  There have also been two Vice-Presidents who were elected, but died before their inauguration.

I was taught to include three positive and three negative points in my book reviews.  I’ll begin with the negative:

  1. Mr. Barzman is unnecessarily negative:  Mr. Barzman displays a very low opinion of our Vice-Presidents.  He believes most of our Vice-Presidrnts were not capable of occupying the Oval Office.  I disagree with his assessment.  Many of our Vice-Presidrnts were as capable as some of our Presidents.  The insults are unnecessary and take away from some of the more humorous episodes in the history of the Vice Presidency.
  2. The biographical sketches speak more of the Presidents than the Vice Presidents:  In some of the sketches, Mr. Barzman writes more about the President than the Vice President.  I would have liked less information about the President’s and more information about the Vice Presidents.
  3. Mr. Barzman seems to question the necessity of the Vice Preaidency:  in several passages, Mr. Barzman sounds like he’s suggesting that we put an end to what he sees as an insignificant office.  I do not agree with this suggestion, and I may post my reasons in a separate blog post.  We need the Vice-Presidency.

The main negative aspect is the seeming disrespect for the men who have held this office.  Here are three positive aspects:

  1. Mr. Barzman’s writing style is entertaining:  The book is very easy and entertaining to read.  The writing style had me wanting to read the next chapter.  I had a hard time putting the book down.  He included many humorous details in the life and times of many men who are virtually unknown.  I give Barzman’s writing style an A plus.
  2. Mr. Barzman included details about how each Vice-Preaidrnt was selected:  The details about the nominating conventions and the selection of each Vice President are as entertaining as the details of each man’s career.  Those nominating conventions also show our lack of seriousness in selecting a Vice President.  They are deserving of Barzman’s insults and well timed jabs.
  3. The book is non partisan:  Barzman insults almost every Vice President, regardless of party affiliation.  He is equally critical of Republicans, Democrats, Whigs, and Democratic Republicans.  

If you want an interesting read about a unique subject, then head over to Amazon and order this book here:  Madmen and Geniuses: The Vice Presidents of the United States

I give this book a rating of 85 out of 100.


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