Richard C. Bain and Judith H. Parris
Convention Decisions and Voting Records
Washington DC: Brookings Institution, 1973 (second edition)
350 pages plus an appendix of about 70 unnumbered pages
If you are interested in the history of presidential nominating conventions, you have to have this book. It provides information on the national conventions of the two major parties from 1831/2 to 1972. The heart of the book is a historical summary of each convention, sometimes several pages long. The appendix is a masterpiece of tables, all assembled in the pre-computer age when such activity took days to format.
The book details what it considers the major party conventions. That means for the 1856 to 1972 era it provides information on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. You might think that the Progressive Party would have been a major party in 1912 but forget it. The authors bothered to include half a page on that convention, which is rather generous considering they gave George Wallace less than that for 1968. The authors do not even mention that the American Party ran Millard Fillmore in 1856. Before 1856, the authors cover the Democratic National Conventions 1832-52, the National Republican Party (1831) and Whig (1840-52).
In general, the primary source used by the authors were the Proceedings of the conventions. After each national convention, the parties print a book containing a transcript of each speech, the platform, and tables of roll call votes. These books are extremely interesting but also can be quite soporific (you know about this word if you have taken the GRE). The proceedings might be considered the 'official' take on the conventions. Newspaper accounts are usually more interesting for their coverage. However, in this case who can blame the authors? Even with two people, it would take eight months to read through a copy of each Proceedings volume. And that does not even touch the summarizing and all the analyses provided by the authors.
The tables in the appendix are simply outstanding. They provide information on almost all roll call votes outside of the P&VP roll calls. The latter are detailed with some discretion: if the convention had less than ten ballots, then each ballot is detailed. Otherwise, the authors used a complicated procedure (which they outline) to decide which ballots to include. If the authors had included such a table for each ballot of the 1924 Democratic National Convention, it would have taken up about as much space as the entire appendix does right now. Someone who is that interested would consult the Proceedings anyway.
The undertaking by the authors was immense. You know what I mean if you have ever read a single copy of the Proceedings. Think of reading through 71 such volumes. This statement explains why the authors devote quite little space to such things as the 20th century presidential primaries and the election campaigns.
None of these things take away from the significance of this book. It is the mega-cliff notes book of presidential nominating conventions. If you have to choose between this one and CQ's version, don't waste much time deciding. Get this one.