An Austrian Jew who barely escaped the Nazis, Hans Kraus emigrated to America 35 years ago and established a successful antiquarian book trade in New York City. His life story has none of the mustiness laymen associate with the quartos, folios, and papyri in which Kraus deals; it is instead packed with bizarre characters, startling discoveries in neglected attics and medieval abbeys, and the high drama of six-figure bidding for a Gutenberg or a Caxton at Sotheby's and Parke-Bernet. Prominent in the cast: Rubakin the Communist bibliophile; Baldur von Schirach, collector of books about bees; Miss Greene, the august and terrible director of acquisitions at the Morgan Library; and our favorite, C. W. Dyson Perrins, Worcestershire sauce king and collector of medieval manuscripts, who lavished cases of his condiment on his friends. The books are odd too: the Sarezzano Purple Bible, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Mining Book of Schwaz, the ""Cipher Manuscript."" Rich old men and expensive old books linked by a magnificent obsession: ""Oh! Bibliomania!"" Kraus exclaims. Only a comatose writer could fail with this material, and Kraus is anything but. Scrambling all over the globe, he ferrets out rare tomes, buys whole libraries from insolvent aristocrats, and sells them to pharmaceutical tycoons and condiment kings. Unfortunately, Kraus can't resist self-advertisement. We gain as intimate an acquaintance with his account books as with the rare books he trades, and he leaves no doubt about the number of articles which have appeared about him in the New York Times. But, as Kraus probably knows, these books and bibliomaniacs are engrossing, regardless.