HERE IS A timely book you should buy and not read.

Buy it because you will want to look up the names of your friends, enemies, business associates, and organizations that bombard you with propaganda. The Power Peddlers is an excellent catalog of which foreign interests are using which lobbyists to influence which legislative and executive branch decision makers on many contemporary issues.

You will not want to read this attempt at a comprehensive account of foreign lobbying because it is so poorly written and organized that your fury at the authors will outstrip your fascination with the material.

Russell Warren Howe and Sarah Hays Trott picked the right topic for a book on contemporary Washington. Since they completed their manuscript, accounts of South Korean influence peddling have filled the national news, a former Chilean official lobbying against the present Santiago regime was blown apart while driving down embassy row, and the Senate has pretended to agonize over limiting the income of its members and the temptations of outside influence.

Despite the timeliness of their material and an incredible mass of information compiled from public records and news accounts on the various foreign lobbis, Howe and Trott have produced a jumbled book, constantly tripping over itself, leaping forward, stumbling backward, repeating needless details, developing irrelevant characters, ignoring all but the basics about central figures.

On a single, three-paragraph page, 17 time references are made, ranging from the early 16th century to 1906 and including six flashbacks. The book is filled with minor errors annoying to even the partially informed reader (Representative John B. Breaux is referred to twice as Robert Breaux), and overlooks many relevant public records. Several foreign lobbying groups already identified as recipients of CIA funds are discussed without mention of this fact.

Unconfirmed speculation alternates with documented fact. "Theoretically" and "presumably" fill in for unconfirmed details on dozens of references. Though roughly 1400 individuals are mentioned, a potential wealth of information, there are no footnotes to allow an interested reader to determine what of the material is new. But footnotes could easily be sacrificed for coherence. Less miscellaneous detail and more depth is called for.

Lobbyists lobby for clients who have specific interests. Each interest conflicts with some other interest being lobbied by some other lobbyist for one or more other clients. Legislators, bureaucrats, lobbyists, clients are all human. Their interactions take place in a complicated context.

This book is best when the authors plunge the reader into the lobbying context with specific case studies. Only then do the goals of the foreign principals become tangible and the conflicting interests begin to crackle.

Unfortunately since none of these case studies really becomes full blown, the book loses the subtlety of living, breathing real-life lobbying. Lost also is any perspective on the massive power of the multinational corporations, the manipulation of United States bureaucracies internally pitted against themselves, the silent meshing of gears as U.S. intelligence agencies watch their foreign counterparts work on U.S. officials with proven influence-peddling methods.

The book's cataloging pace leaves the reader without any feel for differences between the best of lobbying, which feeds massive amounts of relevant information into the public decision-making process, and the worst influence-buying which slinks behind the scenes to grease every wheel, often corrupting unnecessarily.

Without any real in-depth look at lobbying, the reader has few criteria to judge the various effects -- and comparative perniciousness -- of junkets, gifts, campaign contributions, cash, and constituent pressures.

Persistent readers will find that the 546 pages of text improve as they wade in. But the reader never discovers a real feeling for the social milieu of Washington --the ease with which previously unknown mystery men such as South Korean businessman Tongsun Park can spring to life as prominent citizens capable of producing command performances for congressmen and cabinet secretaries, or the weight swung by good ol'boys who leave government to lobby on the other side.

The book's closing chapter on reforming the laws affecting foreign lobbying misses the point. Legislation requiring disclosure of officials' incomes, sources of lobbying funds and contacts with lobbyists is necessary not only to protect our legislative and executive decision-making from sale to foreign interests, it is also an essential first step to show that public confidence in Washington is deserved at all. (Puerto Rican nationalists must ask themselves why they should lobby for independence among a mob of corrupt congressmen when a few pipe bombs bring public attention to their cause more effectively.)

The fact is, as the authors may sense but do not say, Congress does not want to clean itself up. And a significantly large minority within Congress is sufficiently venal to warrant general public disrespect for legislative institutions.

But congressional clean-ups are only a portion of the problem. As the authors note, the Department of Justice is not well equipped to enforce the existing foreign registration act. No one is likely to take seriously criminal statutes prohibiting unregistered foreign lobbying, bribery, illegal campaign contributions, or other attempts to undermine the democratic process, until the Justice Department prosecutes those few malefactors exposed.

Jimmy Carter and Griffin Bell have arrived in town announcing that public confidence in government may now return to the city. Skim The Power Peddlers , review its index, and ask yourself how much public confidence Washington warrants.