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Book editor Ashbel Green dies at 84

Ashbel Green, a versatile and respected editor at Alfred A. Knopf who persuaded Gabriel García Márquez to switch publishers, worked on Walter Cronkite's memoir and a foreign policy book by President George H.W. Bush and helped discover the crime classic "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," has died at age 84.

The publisher announced Wednesday that Green died Tuesday night while dining with his wife, Elizabeth Osha, near their home in Stonington, Conn. The cause of death was not immediately given.

Green, known to his friends as Ash, was an old-school publishing man who preferred a typewriter to computers and was praised by The New York Observer as "an exemplar of elegance, decency and seriousness." He acquired and edited hundreds of books and as managing editor at Knopf looked through the endless unsolicited manuscripts known as the slush pile.

"Ash was a prodigious talent, one of the most significant editorial figures in modern publishing, famous for his breadth of reading and grasp of history," Knopf president Sonny Mehta said in a statement. "Many of us had the good fortune of learning a great deal about the business from him. He was a beloved colleague, and his contributions to our company -- an esteemed editorial legacy -- are part of what still define us today."

The son of a newspaperman and descendant of Presbyterian ministers, Green was born in New York in 1928. He graduated from Columbia College in 1950 and two years later received a master's in Eastern European history from Columbia. He worked as publicity director of Prentice Hall, developed a love for editing and was hired by Knopf in 1964 as managing editor. Nine years later, he was promoted to vice president and senior editor and remained in those positions until his retirement, in 2007.

In the early 1970s he came upon a story about the Irish-American underworld in Boston, written by Assistant U.S. Attorney George V. Higgins. Although put off by the two-page cover letter -- "George sometimes tended to garrulity," Green later told the alumni publication Columbia Magazine -- he looked through the submission, liked it and paid $2,000 for a novel now considered a masterpiece and made into a film starring Robert Mitchum.

Green's other projects included Cronkite's "A Reporter's Life" and a collaboration between Bush and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft titled "A World Transformed." He also worked with historians Ken Burns and Geoffrey Ward and the novelists Ernest J. Gaines and Winston Groom.

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