The inside scoop on the book world for the week of March 20, 1998

HARPER ROW When the British division of HarperCollins — owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch — canceled Chris Patten’s East and West, a memoir critical of the Chinese government, it caused an uproar in Britain. The British press roasted Murdoch for dropping the book in order to protect his Chinese business interests; London agents vowed not to submit books to HarperCollins, and a handful of authors have threatened to defect. Murdoch blamed HarperCollins execs for the flap, saying they had bungled the affair by handling it so publicly. He may have a point: In this country, publishers cancel books all the time for political reasons — only they tend to deal with such controversies more discreetly than the folks at HarperCollins did. Steven Schragis, publisher of Carol, snapped up Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein when Putnam canceled under pressure from David Geffen and Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince after Bantam got cold feet. ”When these instances come up, I don’t ask why,” says Schragis. ”I don’t want to know. It’s…our good fortune.”

And in a way, the HarperCollins brouhaha is probably Chris Patten’s good fortune, too. As Times Books publisher Peter Bernstein notes, when he brings out East and West in America next fall it won’t be an obscure title by the little-known last governor of Hong Kong. ”It’s now the book that Rupert Murdoch tried to squash,” says Bernstein.

MICK OF TIME Broadway Books has reached a mid-six-figure deal with rock biographer Stephen Davis (Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga), to write ”the definitive book on the Rolling Stones,” says Broadway publisher William Shinker. The unauthorized biography — which draws its title, Old Gods, Almost Dead, from a Robert Graves poem — is due out in late 2001.