The Personal Librarian Summary and Reviews

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray X
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

The remarkable, little-known story of Belle da Costa Greene, J. P. Morgan's personal librarian--who became one of the most powerful women in New York despite the dangerous secret she kept in order to make her dreams come true, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture on the New York society scene and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps build a world-class collection.

But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle's complexion isn't dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white--her complexion is dark because she is African American.

The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths to which she must go--for the protection of her family and her legacy--to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

"[P]owerful... Benedict and Murray do a great job capturing Belle's passion and tenacity as she carves a place for herself in a racist male-dominated society. This does fine justice to a remarkable historical figure." - Publishers Weekly

"The real Belle left scant records, so the authors must flesh out her personal life...But Belle's mask of competence and confidence, so ably depicted, distances readers from her internal clashes, just as her veneer must have deterred close inquiry in real life. Strangely stuffy and muted." - Kirkus Reviews

"An extraordinary tale that is both brilliant historical fiction and an important and timely commentary on racism. By holding up an unflinching mirror and illuminating this little-known chapter in American history, these two gifted authors have penned a work that is a must-read." - Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Woman with the Blue Star

"A marvel of a story. This unflinching look at one woman's meteoric rise through New York's high society is enthralling, lyrical, and rife with danger. Belle's painful secret and her inspiring courage will capture – and break – your heart. Serious kudos to Benedict and Murray for bringing this true story to life." - Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

"The Personal Librarian illuminates the extraordinary life of an exceptional, intelligent woman who had to make the impossible choice to live as an imposter or sacrifice everything she'd achieved and deserved. That Belle denied her true identity in order to protect herself and her family from racial persecution speaks not only to her times but also to ours, a hundred years later. All that glitters is not gold. This is a compelling and important story." - Therese Anne Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of A Good Neighborhood

This information about The Personal Librarian shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Robin M. (Newark, DE)

Feels like a biography
Is it historical fiction? Is it a biography? I'm not quite sure, but I enjoyed this book very much. The authors were careful in their research and created lively and interesting characters, well-described settings and wardrobes and some very intense plot twists. The complexities of "passing" and the risks of doing this in the early 1900s are very apparent in the book and, sadly, remain relevant today.

I will be recommending this to my Fact & Fiction book club because I enjoyed reading it, it is a well-written book, and because it blurs the lines between fact and fiction.

Carole C. (Newtown Square, PA)

Another Great Story!
Marie Benedict writes fantastic historical fiction novels and she's written another one with THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN. I haven't read anything by Victoria Christopher Murray, but definitely will after this book. This was a wonderful collaboration about a woman named Belle da Costa Greene who was the librarian and curator for J. P. Morgan's library of rare books and manuscripts. She tells the story of how she gains respect in the auction world, which is male dominated with her knowledge of rare books as well as her business sense. The struggle she has is she's a light skinned African American woman trying to pass for a caucasian woman. She does this because that is the only way she could get a job like this one. She's worried her secret will be discovered and she won't be able to help provide for her family. Her struggle with denying her true identity is very thought provoking throughout the book. I found her story to be very interesting and it kept me wanting to read about her. We need to learn more about amazing women like Belle who was an important part of history, but no one ever knew her story.

Virginia Lee B. (Cedar Rapids, IA)

Fascinating Strong Woman
Thanks to BookBrowse and Net Galley for the ARC of this book. It is the story of a young woman who works as the main librarian, curator and collector for J P Morgan as he builds his rare book collection. She becomes well known and well respected within the world of collectors. She is biracial and makes the decision to pass as white. I think because of that and from being a female in a male world, it makes it easier for her to take risks to show her competence and personality to others. I am always leery of historical fiction, and how many liberties the author may take. I am thrilled to say that my research showed that this remarkable story is very close to the truth. Very readable and extremely well written.

Karen L. (Wilton, IA)

Excellent Historical Fiction. Loved it!
History comes alive in this book. I have read Marie Benedict before. She is very good at bringing historical women to life. I am not familiar with her co author but the book is excellent. The book is excellent for book clubs and people interested in African American and civil rights issues. I felt so bad for Belle - I feel like she gave up a personal life and happiness for her professional advancement. She did not have good work life balance. I believe it was unfair that she could not have both. She could not have both because she was a African American woman. I thought Bernard was a cowardly man who was unworthy of her. My heart broke for her when she had the abortion with no support from him. He was unworthy of her love and trust. Her mother tried to give her a good life but in the process expected too much of her and separated her from her father. Her professional life soared to the heights but her personal life was often in a valley.

Laura O. (Los Angeles, CA)

Fascinating and challenging
This is a wonderful book that brought a topic to me that I'd never seen discussed before in a novel, passing for white in America of the early 20th century. The book is very easy to read but challenges the reader at the same time. The characters are engaging and complex, the solutions aren't simple. It was absolutely delightful!

Linda J. (Urbana, OH)

Well, I Never...
...heard of Belle Marion Greener. The daughter of Richard Greener who was the first African-American graduate of Harvard (class of 1870) and spent his life fighting for civil rights along side W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass
I also never heard of Belle da Costa Greene who worked as J. P. Morgan's Personal Librarian and helped him manage his library and art collection into a pre-eminent for manuscripts and classics. Her mother was Genevieve Greener who decided to drop the final "R" in her last name and allow her light-skinned children to pass so they would get the opportunities they deserved and would not be able to get.
I was on the edge of my seat so often during my reading of this book - waiting for the boom to drop.

Bella lived a charmed life being able to take advantage of so much that working for Morgan allowed her.

I only have one question after reading this delicious book. When was Bella's secret revealed?

...72 more reader reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray Author Biography

Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years' experience as a litigator at two of the country's premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in history and art history and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. Writing as Heather Terrell, Marie published the historical novels The Chrysalis, The Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare; and under her own name, a narratively connected series of historical novels starting with The Other Einstein, which tells the tale of Albert Einstein's first wife, a physicist herself, and the role she might have played in his theories. Benedict lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Author Interview
Link to Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray's Website

Other books by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray at BookBrowse
  • The Mystery of Mrs. Christie jacket
  • Lady Clementine jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .

more historical fiction...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Genesis
    Genesis
    by Guido Tonelli
    Popular science books represent an important niche in non-fiction. They build a bridge between ...
  • Book Jacket: Buses Are a Comin'
    Buses Are a Comin'
    by Charles Person, Richard Rooker
    Charles Person was just 18 years old in 1961 when he became the youngest of the first wave of '...
  • Book Jacket: Firekeeper's Daughter
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Angeline Boulley's young adult novel Firekeeper's Daughter follows 18-year-old Daunis — ...
  • Book Jacket: Winter in Sokcho
    Winter in Sokcho
    by Elisa Dusapin
    Our unnamed narrator is a young French-Korean woman who works at a guest house in Sokcho, a popular ...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Girl in His Shadow
by Audrey Blake
The story of one woman who believed in scientific medicine before the world believed in her.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Theater for Dreamers
    by Polly Samson

    A spellbinding tour-de-force about the beauty between naïveté and cruelty, artist and muse.

  • Book Jacket

    Crossing the River
    by Carol Smith

    A powerful exploration of grief that combines memoir, reportage, and lessons in how to heal.

Who Said...

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

A S I T closet

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.