This long-awaited ``insider's'' version of the contemporary art world may bring a blush to the cheeks of the ``curators, collectors, academics'' and critics who, Haden-Guest gleeflully demonstrates, ``often spend as much energy sniping at each other as at art's vigorous and well-armed enemies.'' Haden-Guest (Bad Dreams, 1981, etc.), a journalist and art critic, offers an anecdotal portrait of the American art world and, more specifically the frantic, hothouse art world of Manhattan from the 1970s to the present. He draws on the kind of stories one gleans at antic openings, art fairs, cocktail parties, and bibulous lunches rather than from a dimly lit carrel at the library. As a result, it's much more interesting to read than a sober, scholarly study. The book kicks off with an account of the glittery 1973 auction at Sotheby's of 50 works of contemporary art (by Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, and Robert Rauschenberg, among others) from the noted collection of Ethel and Robert Scull. Raking in over $2 million, the auction set off the frenzied pursuit of contemporary art by dealers, collectors, and museums, and also set the pattern for the edgy, often hostile relations between artists, dealers, and collectors that seemed so much a part of the art scene in the 1970s and '80s. Rumor had it that Rauschenberg (who later tried to pass legislation entitling the artist to a share of resale profits) socked Mr. Scull in the stomach after the auction. Haden- Guest blends accounts of the artists and their hangers-on (including some particularly outrageous stunts by artists desperate to make their mark) with a sly portrait of the evolution of the downtown art scene, nailing down the internal power plays lubricating the machine that SoHo became, emphasizing the temperamental nature of the art world's enthusiasm and the cruelty of the pack (collectors, critics, dealers) when novelty wears away. Sexier than Artforum but brainier than Vanity Fair, this should appeal to insiders and outsiders alike.