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Bill Kelter and Wayne Shellabarger: Veeps

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Anyone who ever placed an order with the Scholastic Book Club in elementary school is probably familiar with Barbara Seuling's The Last Cow On The White House Lawn, a breezy collection of off-the-wall factoids about the executive branch of the U.S. government. Bill Kelter and Wayne Shellabarger's Veeps: Profiles In Insignificance puts an amusing spin on the Last Cow concept, taking a closer look at arguably the wackiest part of presidential life: the selection and inevitable shunning of vice-presidents. Between Shellabarger's dark, scratchy illustrations and Kelter's mix of straight info and offbeat anecdotes, Veeps gives the men who take a pointless job for political reasons about as much space as they probably deserve.

Still, Veeps could have been more thorough, or nuttier. Each profile runs about three pages, which is just enough space for some basic who-what-where and only a little "Hey did you know?" And after the first few VPs, the details start running together. But that's okay. Veeps is more a book for browsing, and for picking up conversational tidbits about Schuyler Colfax's financial scandals, or how Hannibal Hamlin once avoided being beaten by an anti-Lincoln mob because no one recognized him.


The most fascinating characters in Veeps are the ones who went on to be fairly undistinguished presidents to boot: the Millard Fillmores and Gerald Fords. Veeps is too schematic to offer much of a strong point of view, but in dwelling on the banality of an unglamorous bureaucratic position, Kelter and Shellabarger do emphasize how much the history of American leadership has been about administrative drudgery, political expediency, and plain dumb luck.