Peter Mayer obituary

Charismatic publisher who combined erudition with commercial savvy to turn Penguin Books into a global brand

In 1978 Peter Mayer, who has died aged 82, was drafted in from the US to rescue a moribund Penguin Books. He took the beloved but by then loss-making publisher and turned it into a global publishing brand, along the way transforming the publishing industry as a whole. Without doubt the greatest publisher of his generation, Mayer was also the most charismatic. Handsome, charming, witty and at times infuriating, he was also brave, defending to the hilt Salman Rushdie and his novel The Satanic Verses (published in 1988 by Viking Penguin) and refusing to go into hiding when a fatwa was issued against Rushdie, as he was advised to do.

Mayer was a true intellectual but what made him unique was the combination of erudition with an overarching vision and commercial savvy. Among his ...