x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Required Reading: The Other Man

It's time to investigate the strange world of The Other Man at the White House with these selected reads.

The US vice-president Joe Biden gave his only senior Democratic colleague a boost in the polls on Thursday night, after a robust performance against the Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan. A poll by CBS/Knowledge Networks had Biden winning among undecided voters by 50 per cent to 31; notwithstanding subsequent reports that suggested he was occasionally economical with the truth. Still, after his own lacklustre debate performance, Obama needed good news. But will it matter? Is the VP really the second most important man in the US, or - as many claim - an irrelevance? Time to investigate the strange world of the Other Man in the White House.

Start at the beginning with Harlow Giles Unger's John Quincy Adams (De Capo Press, Dh101). Adams became the first vice- president in 1789, and, says Unger, his experience might have served as a warning. President George Washington excluded him from most government business, prompting Adams to call the VP job "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived".

A full 150 years later, Franklin D Roosevelt's VP John Nance Garner agreed, using rather more colourful language. Read Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance (Top Shelf Productions, Dh73) for more on Garner and numerous successors.

But insignificance is not always the VP's lot. Read the masterful Cheney (Harpercollins, Dh103), by Stephen F Hayes, to learn more about the (allegedly sinister) man many believe was the real president from 2001 to 2008. Cheney, says Hayes, wrote the script for the War on Terror. And he achieved the rare feat of putting a VP on international front pages when he accidentally shot a friend on a hunting trip in 2006.

So why have 47 men subjected themselves to the indignity of being VP? For one reason, of course: so far, 14 VPs have become president. What other job in the US offers a 30 per cent chance of eventually occupying the Oval Office? Just don't remind Al Gore of that. Read Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency (Little Brown, Dh162) to remember the presidential election of 2000, handed to George Bush after the Supreme Court stopped a recount of votes cast in Florida. Some VPs, it seems, are assigned by destiny to second place.