President of The Overlook Press, which he founded with his father in 1971, Mayer was best known for his long tenure as ceo of Penguin Books, from 1978 to 1996. Prior to that, he was publisher and president at Pocket Books, and spent 14 years at Avon Books, where he became publisher.
As the NYT wrote in 1998 after Mayer had left Penguin, "He was driven, manic and so scattered that fabled stories circulated about times when he was so preoccupied with the press of business that he would go to a restaurant and forget to order or he would dine twice because he had forgotten an earlier meal. His breezy letters -- which often went through several drafts before they went out to far-flung employees -- were legendary for their pointed lessons in publishing." Mayer told the paper at the time, "'I loved my 19 years being a C.E.O. I loved it to distraction, but I couldn't do it till I'm 80. So I love being big and I love being small.''
R.I.P. Peter. I remember fondly working with you back in our Penguin days. You were an inspirational publisher.