By Gene Lyons
Updated February 06, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

“Was an artistic career an oxymoron?” Leff asks in Hemingway and His Conspirators: Hollywood, Scribners, and The Making of American Celebrity Culture, a fascinating but oddly truncated book about Ernest Hemingway’s business dealings with publishers and publicists, highbrow critics and film producers. “Could an artist have integrity and acceptance? a great name and a great audience?” If such questions sound naive today, Hemingway himself took them quite seriously. Leff’s study leaves off soon after the 1929 publication of A Farewell to Arms helped turn its author into one of America’s best-known writers. That Hemingway wrote little of value after ’29, as Leff implies, is merely wrong. But his insinuation that fame was the primary cause of the author’s 1961 suicide — given Hemingway’s lifelong struggle with alcohol and depression and the fact that his father, a physician who never made the cover of LIFE or dated Marlene Dietrich, also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound — is downright silly. B-