From John Adams to Dan Quayle, the vice-presidency seems the best refutation of the theory of evolution. Or so, at least, does it appear in this brisk if superficial history from syndicated- columnist Witcover (coauthor, Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars?, 1989; Wake Us When It's Over, 1985, etc.). Three-quarters of this account covers the post-Truman years, partly because of Witcover's belief that the vice-presidency became a much more perilous office in the nuclear age, partly because he apparently finds contemporary affairs more congenial than distant history. Notwithstanding attempts through the 12th and 25th Amendments to correct potential dangers in selecting a running mate, and notwithstanding heavier policy involvement by Walter Mondale, George Bush, and Quayle, ticket-balancing considerations and sheer human folly, the author finds, have subverted the Founding Fathers' hope that the vice-president would be the second most qualified person to lead the republic. Witcover shows how party presidential nominees--including those once a heartbeat away from the Oval Office themselves--have played games with running mates: either ``surprise the electorate'' (the selection of Quayle and Spiro Agnew) or, when elected, ``humiliate the V.P.'' (the fate of Nixon, LBJ, and Humphrey). The author makes the telling point that, unlike the Alexander Throttlebottoms who languished in the office during the 19th century, five of the last nine presidents have served as vice-president. Yet, given the history of the office, Witcover's call for greater consideration of running mates is entirely predictable, as is his hand-wringing over Quayle. More welcome are the nuggets of inside information he serves up, such as why Gerald Ford picked Nelson Rockefeller as V.P. over party- favorite Bush (even then, Witcover says, many believed that Bush lacked ``the vision thing''). Horror, farce, and tragedy--in one vivid, if not particularly enlightening, package.