The new, post-Geneen ITT has got itself a benign alternative to Anthony Sampson's scathing The Sovereign State of ITT (1973). Business historian Sobel (IBM, Inside Wall Street) was asked to write the firm's history in 1978 (the year Rand Araskog took over); he turned down a company subsidy but had company cooperation. ITT, he initially concedes, ""has more than its share of warts""; what he mainly does is show it at its best. Merger-built ITT didn't originate in an acquisition, but in founder Sosthenes Behn's ""nursing to health"" of a ""rundown, almost valueless"" Puerto Rican telephone company. ""From its inception""--via the 1920 merger of that company with two Cuban counterparts--""ITT was wedded to politics."" (This wasn't a post-WW II development.) On Behn's close Nazi ties, and his companies' contribution to German rearmament, it was ""a matter of survival."" (Ditto his early aid to Franco.) Apologetics apart, all this is rather bland and plodding. Interest quickens, however, with the 1959 advent of Harold Geneen--a kid-gloves subject whom Sobel handles with wondrous dexterity. ITT wasn't ""a mess"" when he took over, as he liked to make out. His hard-driving style did alienate some executives--but many who left were go-getters themselves. Most importantly, he knew what he was doing in diversifying; he had specific, stated reasons. (The anatomy of ITT merger-mania--the Royal Little/Peter Drucker impetus, the Felix Rohatyn input--is the book's #1 achievement.) Some acquisitions were auspicious (Sheraton); some were disastrous (Levitt). The one that didn't come off--ABC--was the most crucial. It attracted unfavorable publicity (mightn't far-flung, dictator-linked ITT interfere with ABC news broadcasts?) and, failing, brought more conglomerization. (With ABC, Geneen would have had to concentrate on telecommunications and entertainment.) On the Dita Beard episode (a political contribution--for an anti-trust settlement?), Sobel hedges; on Chile, he favors the company side (direct support for Allende opponents only). He intimates, however, that ITT was also into other things--until Geneen left. And, as of now, ITT is Concentrating on Telecommunications. Only the predisposed will accept Sobel's version of all these events--but the slant is illuminating in its own way.