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Alice Mayhew, Editor of a Who’s Who of Writers, Dies at 87


Though Ms. Mayhew was highly regarded, her own life was something of a closed book, so rigorously did she defend her privacy. When The New York Times ran an article about her in 2004 with the headline “Muse of the Beltway Book,” she declined to be interviewed. The article relied on the observations of those who worked with her, some of whom said her greatest talents lay in conceptualization and structure.

“She is particularly adept at unearthing submerged themes,” the Times article concluded, “developing swift transitions, unsentimentally pruning away digressions, even when — especially when — they are hundreds of pages long. Mayhew’s faith in chronological organization is said to be nearly religious.”

Alice E. Mayhew was born on June 14, 1932, in Brooklyn, the daughter of Alice and Leonard S. Mayhew. Alice grew up in the Bronx and had an older brother, Leonard F. Mayhew, who was her neighbor in Sag Harbor, N.Y., on Long Island, where she also had a home. He died in 2012.

Simon & Schuster said she left no immediate survivors.

Ms. Mayhew joined Simon & Schuster in 1971. One of her early successes there was “Our Bodies, Our Selves” (1973), the feminist classic assembled by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. What began as a 193-page course booklet on stapled newsprint sold, in the Simon & Schuster version, at least 4.5 million copies worldwide.

Just a sampling of her other authors, many of them historians and journalists, would include, in no particular order, Betty Friedan, Frances Fitzgerald, Michael Beschloss, Steven Brill, E.J. Dionne, J. Anthony Lukas, Kati Marton, Richard Reeves, Evan Thomas, David Gergen, Jill Abramson, David Herbert Donald, Robert Gates, Fred Kaplan, Sylvia Nasar, William Shawcross, James B. Stewart, Amy Wilentz, Joe Conason, Mark Whitaker, Harold Holzer, Connie Bruck, Jonathan Alter, Jennet Conant, Richard Engel, David Maraniss and Sally Bedell Smith.

Ms. Mayhew’s reputation was sterling, but her career was not untouched by scandal. In 2002, the historians Stephen E. Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin, both Mayhew authors, were accused of plagiarism. Ms. Goodwin acknowledged that in 1987 Simon & Schuster settled with an author over accusations of plagiarism in a book she had written about the Kennedy family. Mr. Ambrose was found to have lifted, without using quotation marks, passages from another book, though he had footnoted them.

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