THE MAKING OF A PUBLIC MAN; A Memoir. By Sol M. Linowitz. Little, Brown. 258 pp. $19.95. IT IS ONE of the sad truisms of literature that virtue, harmony, perseverance, and happiness simply do not make as lively copy as do mischief, conflict, temptation and struggle. Autobiography -- even business autobiography -- does not escape the general rule. And on those grounds, a reviewer is forced into a melancholy dilemma. Duty requires one to say that Sol Linowitz is a most admirable public and private man, whose story deserves the wide audience that can profit from intelligent views and good examples. Conscience compels the added warning that the book is sorely deficient in the liveliness that keeps pages turning.

Linowitz uses, as an epigraph, Justice Holmes' statement that in order to have lived, a man "should share the passion and action of his time." Linowitz has been where the action is, but if he has known passion, it isn't conveyed here, not even with the gratefully acknowledged writing help of Martin Mayer.

The trouble may be that Linowitz's basic skills are those of an accommodator, negotiator and conciliator, and they carry over into his text. He has had his battles, and he can be tough without raising his voice -- he furnishes a few examples, including resistance to some exploratory bullying by Lyndon Johnson when he was Johnson's ambassador to the Organization of American States. But he will question no one's motives, nor say a harsh word of any person -- not even the right-wing fanatics who burned him in effigy for helping to "give away" the Panama Canal. Neither will he acknowledge any negative feelings or self-doubts on his own part. Looking back with obvious satisfaction on his life, he modestly calls himself lucky, but adds: "I made the right choices -- and it was a lot of fun making them."

He is an accentuator of the positive, first and last. Did he suffer snubs as the lone Jew in his class at Hamilton College (Class of '35)? You won't hear about it from him if he did. Is he upset that the current administration is savaging the good-neighborly policies that he worked hard to promote in Latin America? Yes, but perhaps our present "disillusionments" correct too much earlier "optimism."

Newly married and fresh out of Cornell Law School, Linowitz gamely started a practice and a career in Rochester, a city socially dominated by a close-knit gentile elite. He became good friends with one of the locals, a young businessman named Joseph Wilson, with whom he shared a taste for domesticity, a love of music, and a good dose of ambition. Together, they became involved in one of the great business stories of the century.

"The Xerox years," as Linowitz calls them, saw Wilson's little Haloid Company -- a manufacturer of photographic papers -- acquire both the services and the patents of Chester Carlson, who had developed an electrostatic copying process that we now take for granted, all unaware of how formidably difficult it was to perfect and manufacture. Because Haloid lacked the needed capital for research, production and distribution, it was necessary to develop a licensing system which involved bigger corporations, yet kept control in Haloid hands. Linowitz, as the company's attorney and later the holder of various executive titles, was especially adept at the necessary negotiations. In modern industry there are many ways to the top, and financial or legal acuity make for as valuable a head start as manufacturing knowhow or sales persuasiveness.

Superlative management of its assets and alliances made Haloid (renamed Xerox, a Wilson invention, in 1961) an astounding success. Its pre-tax income was $3.7 million in 1958, $100 million and rising in 1966, with stock valued at $4.5 billion. Linowitz seems to hurry over this part of the story, giving almost no sense of what crossroads were reached or why particular directions were taken. He does convey a sense of the enjoyment that he and Wilson shared as they moved from the early days of earnest salesmanship and clumsy experiments to the heady realms of multi-millionairedom and status as civic ornaments.

Both men liked that, being more inclined to benevolence and reform than to piling up more millions. They became model capitalists, inveterate trustees of universities, hospitals and foundations, chairmen of planning commissions, draftsmen of the reports of study groups on this social problem and that. Wilson stayed in Rochester, but Linowitz went on to wider worlds of political involvement -- as a Democrat -- though he wisely (in view of his low-keyed style) forsook running for elective office.

LINOWITZ presumably received his OAS ambassadorship by virtue of the hemispheric business contacts he had made. Like so may who come to Washington, he never went home again. Putting Rochester behind him he joined the capital-based legal firm of Coudert Brothers, but spent much if not most of his time in pro bono activities, like chairing the National Urban Coalition or Washington's Federal City Council.

When the Democrats returned to the White House, he was named by Jimmy Carter (whom he greatly admires) to be one of the negotiators of a new treaty with Panama that would restore to the Panamanians sovereignty over their own territory and so remove "a long-standing hemispheric irritation." The slow and difficult negotiations to achieve this pact -- and the long and elaborate process of back-scratching, arm-twisting, logrolling, horse-trading and horn-blowing necessary to get it ratified -- fill a large portion of the book.

Linowitz is justly proud of the hard-won success of this project, for which he was eminently fitted. His next and last diplomatic assignment proved tougher. He tried, as Carter's special representative, to midwife the deal for "full autonomy" for the West Bank and Gaza Arabs that Israel had promised to Egypt at Camp David. The effort foundered for many intractable Middle Eastern reasons, but it was also doomed the moment the Iranian hostage crisis immobilized Carter's foreign policy for the balance of his term.

Somehow, the diplomatic story is flatter than the juicy material warrants. There are intriguing glimpses of LBJ, en route to an OAS conference, waking in the middle of the night and demanding to know why he is going there. Or of Carter, so devouringly hungry for detail that his negotiators had to put him on an information diet in order to get him to focus on policy. Or of the political rituals that become significant when handling sensitive Panamanians -- or American right- wingers.

A mere touch of waspiness, a bare hint of a kvetch here and there would do much to season the narrative. Or, since the author is clearly a humanist, at least some general observations about life, history and government would provide depth and pace. As it is, Linowitz concludes his memoir with a number of exemplary maxims and social goals for American leaders in both public and private sectors to pursue but leaves the impression that while he deserves well of the republic, it will take some motivation for the reader to finish the book.