Read advance reader review of The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, page 7 of 11

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The Personal Librarian

by Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray X
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray
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    Jun 2021, 352 pages

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Page 7 of 11
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  • Christine P. (Essex Junction, VT)
    The Personal Librarian
    The story of Belle da Costa Greene, the personal librarian for JP Morgan, is more than an account of the gilded era and the extraordinary Pierpont Morgan Library, which she and Mr. Morgan created together. It is the story of a woman who had to hide her true identity as a "colored" woman (Belle Marion Greener) to succeed and excel in the segregated and very prejudiced early 20th Century.

    Set against the racial racial reckoning of this past year, the Personal Librarian is a timely story that not only shows us how far we have come in our struggle against racial inequality and injustice, but also reminds us how much more is left to be done.

    I will definitely be recommending The Personal Librarian to my book group. It's a great story and the discussion possibilities are endless.
  • Ann L. (Henderson, NV)
    Little known story
    At least to me. Well presented and interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. After the past few years of being pelted daily with political stuff, I signed up for this book hesitantly. And it proved me wrong. The interaction between JP Morgan and his "librarian" is a unique and caring story. And her struggle in a 20th century world is told in a non-judgemental way. I would recommend this book to the reader inquisitive of interesting non-mainstream stories of American history whether they know of and are interested in the JP Morgan story/era or not.
  • Carole A. (Denver, CO)
    The Secrets Held Dear
    "The  Old North bell tolls the hour"  begins the book and from there I did not put it down again until the very last "whose name was Belle da Costa Greene", The next day I read it again straight through.  Benedict and Murray have created a wonderfully rich and well written look at life in the early 1900's and so much beyond.

    Belle de Costa Greene was, historically, a very powerful woman and yet has never crossed my radar. The authors described a woman of great intelligence, style and depth one can never know enough about. For all the women I have read about and studied over the years this one should have crossed my radar sooner and yet did not.  What a wonder - then or now. I look forward to continued research of Greene. Greene is the product of parents who funnel into her their deep personal though divergent passions all of which allowed her to succeed.

    The secrets held dear by the characters in this amazing book are no different than many of the secrets such as race, religious and sexual identity held in the world today. The strains and constraints of holding these secrets dear are highlighted by many of the characters found in this book. The prejudice highlighted by the non-secret holders are the same against race, religion and a sexual identity proving history either keeps repeating itself or humans, as a rule, do not grow.  

    That being said there is so very much more to The Personal Librarian!  The saga of how the Pierpoint Morgan Library grew from a small private library into the world class public institution of today primarily with the expertise of Greene, the personal librarian, and the money of J.P. Morgan along with his son Jack is fascinating. 

    The layers and layers of education in the areas of art, early manuscripts, fine art auctions, negotiations, politics, the early civil rights movement, "passing" for white, the suffragette movement, fashion of the day and lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Anyone of these areas would have been a fine subject standing alone and yet due to expertise of the authors it is never overwhelming.  

    Perhaps and needless to say this is a fabulous book!  This is a book which should be  must for all but in particular for Book Clubs who could have many hours of discussion through the many layers. 
  • Elizabeth K. (Glenshaw, PA)
    The Personal Librarian
    The fascinating story of Bella Da Costa Greene begins for the reader in 1905. She went from working at the library at Princeton University to becoming the personal librarian to Junius Morgan, better known as J.P. Morgan. Even though her father was the first African American man to graduate from Harvard University, she lived her whole life as a white woman. Working with Mr. Morgan opened a whole new world for her. We read how she gained the respect of the men behind the scenes art world in the United States and Europe. Under her tutelage the private collection became the public library it is today.
  • Vivian H. (Winchester, VA)
    Fascinating Story of an Amazing Woman
    Once I started reading The Personal Librarian, I couldn't put it down and finished it the same day. What a truly remarkable story about Belle Da Costa Greene who became the personal librarian and curator of J. P. Morgan's unequaled collection of illustrated medieval manuscripts, incunabula ( books printed before 1500) and rare paintings.

    Belle's father, a trailblazer himself, introduced Belle to at an early age. At one time she was one of the most successful business women in America, an outsider in numerous ways invited to and attending engagements with the New York elite of the gilded age. Yet, I'd never heard of her until reading this novel. This is a woman I would have loved to know.
  • Patricia L. (Seward, AK)
    Personal Librarian
    As a retired public librarian, I was drawn to this title for obvious reasons. Yet I was unprepared for the non-stereotypic, incredible story of Belle de Costa Greene, personal librarian to J.P. Morgan. This fictional account of Belle Marion Greener, who became de Costa Greene in order to hide her racial heritage is a history lesson both fascinating and humbling.

    While "passing" is a fundamental theme in the story, the world of the rich and famous during the early 20th century is also central. A young Greene, working as a librarian at Princeton, was introduced to J.P. Morgan by his nephew, a friend of Miss Greene. The introduction was fueled by the younger Morgan's knowledge of Greene's intelligence, passion for knowledge and work ethic. These qualities were so evident to the venerable J.P. Morgan, that he almost immediately entrusted her with acquiring some of the world's most valued art and literary antiquities for his personal library. A relationship that began a lifetime career for Greene and resulted in the respected Morgan Library and Museum of today.

    Bennett and Murray have done a credible job of turning Greene's story into a real-life drama. Never a shushing bespectacled matron dusting shelves, Greene was known for her clever negotiation savvy and vibrant style. The many rumors about her non-library life are teased out to reveal how the mores of the time were navigated by this consequential woman of history. This portrayal of the diminutive (in stature only) Greene and her ability to navigate a purely (white) man's world with her wit, tenacity and intelligence is unforgettable.

    Recommended for those who crave learning about the courageous women of the past who were fearless in pursuit of their dreams.
  • Dorinne D. (Wickenburg, AZ)
    An Extraordinary Woman
    Another winning historical novel by Marie Benedict, this one takes place beginning in the early 1900's when Belle da Costa Greene is hired by wealthy financier J.P. Morgan to catalog, organize and assist in the acquisition of rare books and manuscripts for his personal library. With the Morgan fortune at her disposal, Belle becomes a very shrewd and successful negotiator in procuring the most sought-after items for the library. I found the book to be particularly interesting in the descriptions of the sumptuousness of the library, the fashions of the time, the paintings and other artifacts owned by the Morgans and their friends, and the preciousness of the manuscripts and tomes sought for the collection. Propelling the story throughout were Belle's secret (passing as a white woman) and the tragedy of her romantic life. Truly a novel not to be missed.

Beyond the Book:
  Belle da Costa Greene

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