Editors Phyllis Cerf Wagner and Albert Erskine have knitted up a pale, nononsense substitute for the book-about-books that the late publisher-celebrity intended to build from diaries, taped interviews, assorted memorabilia, memory, and wit. Would canny Cerf have begun chronologically--with a brisk, unapologetic self-portrait of the cocky, moneyed comer who bought a publishing vicepresidency (benefiting from the profligacies of doomed Horace Liveright), snatched up the profitable Modern Library line, cornered the limited editions biz, and started the RH snowball rolling--and then settled into disconnected musings on Random House authors, editors, and mergers? Probably not. And he certainly wouldn't have allowed such flaccid phrasings as "". . . The Tides of Mont-Saint-Michel... a novel having as its background Mont-Saint-Michel and its great tides"" to escape his desk. Unsatisfying shape, thin tone. . . but the books and bookmen--just try and stop him. Reading Gentlemen Prefer Blondes before anyone else, recoiling from Dreiser's gaucheries, knuckling under to Shaw's hubristic self-pricing, supervising the gambit that took Ulysses to trial and out of brown paper covers, trying to protect O'Neill from the taunts of Carlotta (""You're in pain, remember?""), telling FDR that his Public Papers were going to be remaindered, being summed up by Gertrude Stein on national radio (""a very nice boy but you're rather stupid""), squabbling with William Saroyan and Irwin Shaw--inky gold. The dullish surrounding ore includes Cerf's eulogies for George Gershwin and Moss Hart (eloquent he wasn't), but What's My Line and such are happily absent. His line was books, the rest was incidental, and book-lovers will be eager to repress wistfulness for the book that isn't and browse at random through the book that is.