With the thaw in superpower relations, Dr. Armand Hammer is back in the news, arranging cultural exchanges and business deals with the Soviet Union. He's also got a book out, called "The World of Armand Hammer." Subsidized by the stockholders of his company, Occidental Petroleum, and published by a company that specializes in lavish art books, it offers 255 oversized pages of color photographs detailing Hammer's glamorous and peripatetic life style. At age 87, Hammer declares, "I work fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. . . . I never feel my age."

Ten years ago, when Hammer was a mere 77, one of his lawyers described him as "a sick old man (who) lives four blocks from the office, goes in late, goes home for lunch and takes a nap in the afternoon." Charged with making illegal secret contributions to the 1972 Nixon campaign, Hammer arrived at court in a wheelchair, surrounded by cardiologists. His lawyers said he was dying of heart disease. In light of his advanced age and poor health, the judge let him off with a year's probation and a $3,000 fine.

But "this incredible man" -- as Walter Cronkite all too accurately describes Hammer in his sycophantic introduction to "The World of Armand Hammer" -- underwent a miraculous medical recovery when his legal troubles ended, and there is no reference to either difficulty in the book.

The vanity of this enterprise almost defies description. Along with chapters on Hammer's life story, his company, his travels and his good works, there are separate chapters on each of his three homes, on his personal 727 and on his office. The general topic of Hammer's fondness for other VIPs, and theirs for him, is subdivided into chapters titled, "Movers & Shakers," "The Royal Family," "The Beautiful People" and "Washington Elite."

Apart from one obvious customer, is there a market for this preposterous book? There may be. "The World of Armand Hammer" is the ultimate example of what might be called "executive porn." In this age of the glamorized businessman, even serious business magazines feed their readers' gray-flannel fantasies with salacious photos of high-powered executives posed with suggestive self-importance against a backdrop of corporate luxury.

"The World of Armand Hammer" observes the somewhat contradictory conventions of executive porn. On the one hand, the important executive has overwhelming duties and works all the time. On the other hand, he socializes incessantly with famous people. On top of everything, he is constantly on the move. There's a foot-square blowup of Hammer's pocket calendar for March 1985. Busy, busy. A two-page photo spread shows Hammer in bed, simultaneously watching four TVs, eating breakfast, reading the paper and "arranging by phone to have tea with the visiting Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria."

But all is not toil. "Hammer moves among the leaders of the world like no other individual in history." His taste in celebrities is catholic. We see Hammer unwinding with Merv Griffin, Barbara Walters, Frank Sinatra, "his good friend" the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, "his friend Janos Kadar" (party leader of Hungary), "his old friend Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza," "his friend Bruno Kreisky, former Chancellor of Austria," and many, many others. It's wonderful to have made all these friends. In a sentence that perhaps explains more than was intended, we learn that Hammer has "given some $14,000,000 to charities which Prince Charles holds dear and (has) become a close personal friend of Britain's future king."

The Armand Hammer legend, woven over decades, has badly frayed in parts because of revelations in recent years. This book does some delicate patchwork. Cronkite's introduction restates the fiction that Hammer is the "son of a Russian Jewish immigrant doctor, turned socialist and Unitarian." In fact, Julius Hammer was a founder of the American Communist Party and commercial attach,e of the Soviet Union. The text mentions this in passing, but a large picture caption fatuously describes Julius as having "pursued the American dream."

The legend has it that Hammer became friends with Lenin in 1921 when he went to Russia to help famine victims. In fact, Hammer went as agent for his father's business and met with Lenin once for an hour. This book cautiously demotes Hammer from a close friend to "one of the few living acquaintances of Lenin," but insists he is "a folk hero in Russia" as a result. And Stalin? Hammer once described Stalin as "unassuming," which may hold the world record for bad character judgment. In this book, the great mass murderer falls victim to Hammer's only unkind words for any famous person. "Stalin didn't understand the importance of business," he says.

Hammer retains a soft spot for Soviet leaders. We see him reading a eulogy at the funeral of "his friend . . . Leonid Brezhnev," and a few pages later we see him "pay homage" at the funeral of Yuri Andropov. The doctor visited Konstantin Chernenko in December 1984 and, according to The Post, found him "in fairly good health for his age: vigorous and alert." Naturally, Hammer was an honored guest at Chernenko's funeral three months later. This book features a large picture of Hammer and Mikhail Gorbachev on that occasion.

Armand Hammer is an extreme example of the sort of capitalist whose only measure of a government is whether it is willing to "do business." Hammer's whole "world," in fact, seems to be one of cynical mutual exploitation. He is a sad man, measuring his self-worth by the size of his airplane, attracted to people solely because they are rich or powerful or famous, and unaware or indifferent that his so-called "friends" are attracted to him for the same shallow reasons. Hammer's idea of heaven would be an extravagant party, thrown by himself, at which dictators and duchesses, magnates and movie stars came from around the globe to toast him, with his own champagne, on his 150th birthday. Not incredible. Just pathetic.