"The Love You Make," by former Beatles factotum Peter Brown (the "insider" of the subtitle) and writer Steven Gaines, is actually two books struggling inside the same skin.

The first--what I think of as Gaines' part--is the usual pandering celebrity bio, alternating superficiality with disproportion. (The space allotted to the supporting characters, typically, is determined not by their actual roles but by which of them, as interviewees, told the most--note Cynthia Lennon's untoward prominence.) The other book, Peter Brown's, is a rather more legitimate, if narrow, account of those few aspects of the phenomena to which Brown was actually privy--business stuff, mainly, and mostly toward the end, after the Fab Four set up Apple Corp. as a corporate substitute for their deteriorating sense of emotional unity.

It's been suggested elsewhere that however poor "The Love You Make" is as writing, the book is valuable for its supposed trove of novel information. I assume the suggestion comes from people who don't know much about the topic.

The Beatles' careers, and for that matter most of their private lives, have been about as minutely documented as any in history. Even the byzantine financial intrigues that went on around and among them (until recently a much more obscure part of the story than, say, John Lennon's drug habits) were laid out in Philip Norman's prosy but solid history "Shout!"

Most of the scraps Brown and Gaines add to the heap--that the Bahamas became the location of "Help!" for tax-shelter reasons, say--aren't much more than crumbs, peripheral when not obvious. The ritualistic phrase that attempts to puff up each such tidbit--"As revealed here for the first time," the authors announce, just in case we might not notice--ends up giving the effect of a Monty Python routine.

As a simple retelling of one of the great mythic stories of our time, the book fares better, but not by much. The pressure of keeping up the impression that this is an expose' forces the authors into a perspective of false seaminess; their version of the Beatles' raw beginnings in those Hamburg nightclubs, for instance, periodically catches itself up short to remind us that this was all quite sordid, in a way that we haven't been made to feel it was, and can't credit the Beatles themselves with believing it was.

The worst offense in this vein is the book's treatment of Brian Epstein--the closest thing to a tragic figure in the whole Beatles epic, the brilliant entrepreneur who created Beatlemania almost single-handedly, and died three years later of what an earlier generation might have called a broken heart. It was he who hired Peter Brown, and brought him to the Beatles; Brown several times expresses his affection. And yet, he and Gaines turn this miserably unhappy man into the stock homosexual villain of pulp literature, whose unrequited love for John Lennon is made near to vampiric: ". . . John lay there, tentative and still, and Brian fulfilled the fantasies he was so sure would bring him contentment, only to awake the next morning as hollow as before."

Well, it's an insider's book, after all. But in fact this Brown is so remote from much of the narrative that more than once, when actually appearing in it, he has to re-introduce himself like this: "I (Peter Brown)."

In those episodes in which he was a participant, he comes off as a rather engagingly hard-headed operator, and these sections do offer useful addenda to our knowledge of how the Beatles worked as a business--it's hard not to admire a man who can describe Paul's treachery in buying up stock in the Beatles' music-publishing company behind the others' backs, and their subsequent fury, after casually mentioning that he himself had been McCartney's errand boy in the matter.

But soon enough Brown's hard-headedness blurs indistinguishably into Gaines' all-purpose coarseness, and so even the segments that might well be most authoritative end up seeming untrustworthy. (The book is, of course, replete with entries into its characters' supposed inner thoughts, 15-year-old dialogue supposedly recorded verbatim, and all the other paraphernalia of junk journalism.)

Ultimately, though, what's most offensive about "The Love You Make" is the book's condescending assumption that the audience's interest in these matters is not only inherently cheap, but divorced by definition from any concern with sociology or art. This is a fallacy.

Rock 'n' roll stars generate much lubricious gossip and backstairs intrigue, but with them it never exists completely in a vacuum, because from the time of Elvis their personalities have been the prime vehicle of their art, not a background but a medium.

No one exemplifies this better than the Beatles: It's impossible to separate the fact of their talent from the public iconography of John, Paul, George & Ringo, impossible to talk about their creative development without seeing it as partially a function of their fame. This fusion is the source of pop's unique potency; books like "The Love You Make" become travesties because of their inability to grasp the fact that all the stuff they dredge up has a far richer meaning than their sensibility can admit.