MICHAEL CRICHTON HAS LEFT KNOPF and sold his next two books to HarperCollins for $40 million.

No details about the two books were available Tuesday, but the first will appear in 2002.

Deal is among the most lucrative book contracts on record. Tom Clancy received $45 million for two books from Penguin-Putnam last year.

Knopf launched Crichton’s writing career with “The Andromeda Strain” in 1969. In exiting Knopf, the “Jurassic Park” author joins a wave of top commercial writers exiting long relationships with publishers and agents in recent months. These include Clancy, who left then-William Morris agent Robert Gottlieb for AMG, and James Patterson, who left Arthur Pine Associates for Janklow & Nesbit.

Crichton, who continues to be repped by Lynn Nesbit, also recently ended a long relationship with CAA. Michael Ovitz brokered the Paramount deal for his last novel, “Time Line.”

While the deal is a blow to Knopf, it’s also a triumph for HarperCollins prexy Jane Friedman, who ankled Knopf in 1997.

“This change is particularly meaningful because it gives me the opportunity once again to work with Jane Friedman, a friend and a colleague,” Crichton said in a statement. “Jane and I published together for nearly 30 years.”

Friedman has had a successful run at HarperCollins, and her contract was recently renewed for three years. Last year, the house put 57 titles on the New York Times bestseller list. Revenues reached $1 billion in fiscal 2000.

“THE PERFECT STORM” IS STILL riding bestseller lists almost four years after it was published, and Stuart Krichevsky is still the industry’s most muscular broker of deals for books about men battling the elements.

The lit agent just sold “Perfect Storm” author Sebastian Junger’s next book, the essay collection “Fire,” in a hard/soft deal to Norton and HarperCollins for what’s estimated to be a solid six figures. He also just sold Simon & Schuster two books by David Roberts, a close friend and climbing companion of “Into Thin Air” author Jon Krakauer.

“Shipwrecked” concerns a crew of 18th century Russian whalers trapped in the Arctic; “Escape From Lucania” is the story of two mountaineers in the 1930s who set out to climb what was then the highest unconquered peak in North America.

Krichevsky has often partnered with UTA to sell dramatic rights to these books. UTA sold “The Perfect Storm” to Warner Bros. and sold another Krichevsky title, Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,” to Barry Levinson, Paula Weinstein and Intermedia.

Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver are now penning the adaptation of Philbrick’s book.

“It’s a very strong niche,” Krichevsky says of such books. “The genre is a lot older than 1997, when ‘Perfect Storm’ and ‘Into Thin Air’ came out.”

STEVE GOLIN AND JIM TAUBER’S talent management, musicvideo, commercial and feature production company Anonymous Content has optioned “Slab Rat,” a novel about the magazine industry by Ted Heller, son of Joseph.

Just out in paperback from Scribner, the novel tells of the Machiavellian plottings among the low ranks in a Conde Nast-like magazine empire.

“Slab Rat” came to Anonymous from UTA.

Anonymous has a first-look deal with USA Films.

AT A TIME WHEN the threat of guild strikes is making development executives increasingly wary of new acquisitions, several book projects are continuing to generate keen interest in Hollywood.

Today, Valentine’s Day, Gersh’s Amy Schiffman will send 10 producers and actresses a manuscript by Jane Heller, whose “Sis Boom Bah” is now in development at Revolution. “A Wife’s Tale” is the story of a woman who seeks out a Beverly Hills doctor to help her rekindle her husband’s interest in her. The manuscript, which has been kept secret until now, will come wrapped in a red ribbon.

And the French Publishers Agency has sent development execs on both coasts scrambling for French-speaking readers of “Le Chevalier de Saint-George,” a novel based on the swashbuckling life of Joseph de Saint-George, an 18th century black composer beloved by the French aristocracy. Saint-George commissioned Haydn to write his “Parisian Symphonies,” resided in one of the Left Bank’s grandest estates and was a close friend of Marie Antoinette.

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