When historians look back at the fin de siecle technology bubble that burst two years ago, they may find illuminating the way the national media allowed itself to become a mouthpiece for one James J. Cramer. Rarely has such a blatant self-promoter met a constituency who viewed its mission as serving as a platform for such a rampant publicity hound.

Remember the one about a genius just being one step away from insanity? Well, that's what the reader is given in a new book, Trading With The Enemy: Seduction and Betrayal on Jim Cramer's Wall Street (Harper Business), by Nicholas M. Maier about Cramer, a hedge fund manager of the 1990s and the founder of the controversial investment Web site, TheStreet.com.

This is a ribald book. The author's publicists are hoping this will be a 21st Century version of Liar's Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage On Wall Street, the 1989 bestselling book by Michael Lewis, a former bond salesman for Salomon Brothers. It is actually a literary Animal House, a tour de force of obscenity served up raw. If one is to believe the book, Jim Cramer, when under trading pressure, is congenitally incapable of completing a simple sentence without the generous use of four-letter words involving various aspects-pleasant and not so pleasant-of copulation.

Trying to recount the substance of this book is the equivalent of watching a movie on television with language that is blipped about every 30 seconds. About 1% of the comments credited to Cramer by his former trader actually can be quoted in some form here.

Maier, a former trader with Cramer's hedge fund, depicts his former boss as, at times, an inspired madman. (Cramer, by the way, has retired from the hedge fund business and runs TheStreet.com. Since the dotcom blowup two years ago, the company's stock frequently has appeared on the new low list.). Cramer's performance, the author reports, has been rocky. One moment, Cramer is making brilliant trades, according to Maier, a tyro trader he trained. The next moment, Cramer's firm is blowing up.

For seven straight years in the 1990s, Cramer's firm beat the S&P by a country mile. Yet, by the end of the 1990s, the magic was gone. In August 1998, the firm lost 21% in just one month. For the year, it was down by 16%. Investors were pulling out.

In good times and bad, Cramer is a howling maniac, Maier tells us. After a bad trade, Cramer tells Maier he wants him "to feel the pain." Cramer is not happy, the author asserts, unless everyone around him is as uncomfortable as he is.

Cramer is depicted as a virtual paranoid. He blames anyone and everyone in sight. Anything gets under his skin. Even birds by his window enrage him, as do construction workers below. His psychiatrist prescribes a medicine to calm him down. He bays that he will not take it. Cramer is ready to destroy any machine-fax machines within 50 miles of this guy are in imminent danger on an average business day-or kill almost anyone he sees as standing in the way of his potential tens of millions of dollars in profits. In retrospect, Gordon Gecko seems a quiet, timid gentleman compared with Maier's portrayal of Jim Cramer.

In the 1990s, Cramer constantly hounded his minions at Cramer & Co. with a warning: "We are at war. We are in a foxhole. Everyone out there is the enemy."

Did his staff get it? Were they ready to go to work with the bellicose attitude demanded by Field Marshall Cramer? Apparently not. Cramer wasn't convinced, even though staff members nodded, Maier reports.

"He (Cramer) started smashing his phone over and over on the desk in front of him. He lifted a monitor and heaved it like a shot put. After several feet, it shattered on the floor," Maier writes. I don't remember any of this in the movie Wall Street.

Even for a hedge fund manager, Cramer's techniques were as controversial as his language. He ignored costs. He considered anyone who held on to a stock for even a few days to be a hopeless long-term sucker who deserved to lose money. "A stock was a buy at $20, a sell at $21 and rarely even a hold in between," Maier writes of Cramer.

Cramer started rumors, trying to short stocks or pump up companies he was going to jump in and out of, Maier maintains. For example, Maier, who had graduated from gofer to doing "research" for Cramer, was assigned to go to a Lehman Brothers conference and ask about Hannaford Brothers stock.

Cramer told his excited charge to stand up in the middle of the conference and ask: "When are you going to have to lower your earnings numbers because of all those stupid (expletive deleted) acquisitions you made?" Maier, who was instructed by his masters not to obtain a nametag at this conference, also was supposed to ask the same question at the breakout session.

A Hannaford Brothers official declined to answer the question because the stock was in a quiet period just before it was going to report earnings. Maier, the up-and-coming Cramer henchman, announced that the company must have something to hide.

Did it? It doesn't matter. It was an unanswered scurrilous question that might have been stricken from a record but not from someone's memory. Cramer's pet bulldog had accomplished his mission. He had made a suggestion that something was amiss. The market took notice. Hannaford Brothers stock dropped a point. Cramer was shorting it. He made his bucks, then quickly sold out.

But this was only one act in Cramer's three-ring hedge fund circus. He used the media with the skills of an FDR or a Ronald Reagan. He played CNBC like a fiddle. He wrote a column of stock recommendations for SmartMoney, expecting that readers of this big-time magazine would be impressed, buy the stocks and pump up the value of Cramer's portfolio. Not a bad bet, given the awe and admiration of the average investor for tech stocks in the last decade and for anyone who was perceived as having expertise in this area. But it resulted in a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry that prompted SmartMoney to issue new rules for their top tout.

But in writing about this issue, Maier, the former Cramer lackey who seems to be using this book to break out of servitude, suddenly lapses into lackeyhood. "In Jim's defense, SmartMoney had neglected to run a disclaimer stating that he might own any of the specific stocks written about."

In defense of a man he spends almost 200 pages describing as a raving lunatic? It's a strange comment coming from a man who all but says that his former boss should be in a straight jacket. And there you are, it was all the magazine's fault! Who could blame Cramer for these strange kinds of episodes? Well, how about the regulators? They were nosing around, Maier reports, looking at the fund's techniques.

But Cramer cursed and alternatively laughed at every investigation by the SEC, Maier maintains. "What a bunch of jokers," he says, dismissing the credibility of the regulators. Despite his expanded use of disclaimers, some Web surfers wondered if Cramer at times in the late 1990s seemed viscerally addicted to buying investments and then printing articles about them on his site.

How is one to assess the credibility of this book?

It should be mentioned that Cramer says Maier was fired for "gross incompetence." Also, several pages of the original book had to be spiked after Cramer charged that it contained a false episode in which he was alleged to commit insider trading. The pages were dropped, but HarperCollins gleefully continues to sell the book.

On one level, this book is worth the time and money. It is highly entertaining and interesting in the same way that car wrecks, train derailments and wars tend to rivet one's attention, even as one grimaces while reading every last detail of the disaster. But the bigger issue is Maier's verisimilitude, or lack thereof. He was happy to take Cramer's fat bonuses in the 1990s and didn't ask too many questions of his bosses when he was sent out on his missions of mayhem: asking impertinent questions at business conferences.

Cramer's character is obviously in dispute, but the charges of a former employee as the basis of a book-the tried and true formula for selling books-are very difficult to resolve. However, genius and madness have a way of reproducing their disasters time and again. When history repeats for a second time, Marx said, it is a farce. TheStreet.com, the product of Cramer "the journalist," has been an expensive farce. The performance of this dotcom's index, after shooting out the lights in the late 1990s, has been nothing short of disastrous.

Brilliance and disaster, at times, appear to be closely related. Just ask the people who have faithfully followed the recommendations of TheStreet.com over the last few years. Despite these shortcomings, the media lemmings continue to fawn over this self-anointed king of braggadocio. Just a few months ago, CNBC gave Cramer his own nightly news/talk show. After it flops, they'll surely find another vehicle to indulge Cramer's fantasies of media superstardom.