Thomas B. Congdon Jr., 77, a prominent book editor who shepherded into print Russell Baker's memoir, Peter Benchley's biggest best-seller, and David Halberstam's tome about the auto industry, eventually founding his own publishing house, died Tuesday at home in Nantucket, Mass.

He died of Parkinson's disease and congestive heart failure, said his daughter, Elizabeth Caffey Congdon Pinto.

Described by authors as a meticulous, old-fashioned line editor who wrote long, detailed memos in response to manuscripts, Mr. Congdon worked at several publishing houses in the 1970s, including E.P. Dutton, where he was editor in chief.

He started his own company in 1979. It went bankrupt six years later, but he continued editing books for other publishers, including Halberstam's

The Reckoning

(1986).

His first major success, at Doubleday, was Peter Benchley's 1974 novel,

Jaws.

By then he was already a mentor to young biographer A. Scott Berg, who was at work on a book about the editor Maxwell Perkins. That year Berg turned in a manuscript in which, he recalled in an interview, his own prose tended to imitate, at different times, the style of other writers.

Berg said: "I remember once, he circled a paragraph, and he said: 'You know who this sounds like? Nobody. Write the whole book like this. That's your voice.' "

The book,

Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius

, won a National Book Award in 1980.

- N.Y. Times News Service