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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 29, 2021, 352 pages

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There are currently 79 reader reviews for The Personal Librarian
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Power Reviewer
Beverly J. (Hoover, AL)

Rich, Colorful, and Glorious!
In 1905, Belle de Costa Greene is hired to her dream job, to be the personal librarian to financier to J.P. Morgan and curate his ever expanding rare manuscripts private collection. As trust builds between employee and employer, Belle's responsibilities to expand to representing Morgan at auctions. While Morgan's name opened the door for Belle in this all-male industry, it was Belle's keen eye, probing research, and shrewd negotiating that earns the respect of her colleagues.

But Belle is keeping a secret. She was born Belle Marion Greener and is an African American and so walks a tight rope as she balances her private life and protects her family and her career.

This biographical novel is beautifully, wisely, and masterfully told. The collaboration between the two authors is seamless as the reader gets immersed in the glamorous life that affords Belle's position and the trials and tribulations that agonized Belle has she passed for white, while being proud of her African American identity.

A graceful tale and the well-honed characters will earn a place in readers' heart.

I would be remorse if I did not mention that Belle's and her family's story is another example of the wastefulness of discrimination and prejudice.
Mark S. (Blauvelt, NY)

A Great Read!
I confess to being one who knew nothing about Belle's place in history prior to reading this book, but the authors did a wonderful job of bringing her story to life. Not only is this a timely read, but it is an enlightening look at the the incredible juggling act Belle had to do as she earned her place in the world while protecting what should never have to be a secret. Not only will I look for more information about Belle, but I have also become a fan of these authors, both individually and collaboratively.
Monica P. (Cleves, OH)

Loved The Personal Librarian
I really enjoyed reading this one. I love reading historical fiction based on real people, especially ones I know nothing about, and The Personal Librarian did not disappoint. Such interesting characters with the added intrigue of a secret life. I will definitely be recommending this fascinating book to my bookclub.
Cindy R

Morgan's Librarian
I'm sure most of you are unfamiliar with the person written about in THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN (Berkley) by authors, Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. She happens to be one of the most interesting people I've ever read about, and I believe you will find her intriguing too.

In 1905, at the age of twenty-one, Belle da Costa Green was hired by financier, steel, railroad and electric power magnate, J.P. Morgan to become his personal librarian for the collection he wanted to build. He entrusted her completely, to negotiate for and buy millions of dollars worth of manuscripts, books and art for Morgan. She told Morgan, who was willing to pay any price for important works, that her goal was to make his library "pre-eminent, especially for incunabula, manuscripts, bindings and the classics." Acquiring rare and valuable items was a way wealthy families showed off their status. Belle was immediately welcomed into New York society and was soon mingling with Astors, Vanderbilts, Carnegies and other members of the "swells."

But from the very beginning, Belle had a secret. It was a secret that if discovered would crumble down and destroy her and her family, who she provided for. I'm not going to give away the secret, but the whole story is true, with some literary license, and truly amazing.

Belle was a trailblazer as a single, successful career woman in the early in the early 1900's. THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN deals family, sacrifice, truth and lies. A definite must read.
Power Reviewer
Wendy F. (Kalamazoo, MI)

The Personal Librarian
What a lovely story of hidden history! I loved learning about Belle and the writing was excellent. I have read many of Marie Benedict's novels and enjoyed them all. This time she teamed up with Victoria Christopher Murray to tell the story of Belle de Costa Greene, J.P. Morgan's personal librarian, who is an African American woman presenting as white. The constant trepidation that she feels being concerned that she will be found out and how she was able to make herself so successful in the art world make a tempting tale.
Florrie C. (Indianapolis, IN)

A worthy read
Kudos to Marie Benedict for once again plucking a little-known but fascinating woman from relative historical obscurity and giving her a platform. Belle's struggles in renouncing her own race for another and the challenges she faces not just as a woman in a man's domain but a minority in a majority world is compelling and particularly timely in the current environment. Clearly, Ms. Benedict and her co-author Victoria Christopher Murray have an agenda beyond Belle's life story, as they explain to the reader in their Author's Notes. While at times, that agenda appears a bit contrived, we can never be reminded too many times of racial injustice and its terrible human costs. The Personal Librarian is a worthy read.
Susan W. (Berkley, MI)

This book is a winner
I rarely give a "five star rating" to a book, but I have not enjoyed a book this much for quite some time. The Personal Librarian is a treasure. It was as captivating as a good novel, and at the same time I was learning about the J. P. Morgan Library and its librarian. I had never heard of Belle da Costa Greene, so I enjoyed learning about her life; it was a pleasant coincidence to do so during Black History Month.

Sometimes books with two authors have awkward moments. This book did not. The passages that were obviously nonfiction, such as descriptions of art, books, or architecture, fit into the narration seamlessly, and even though I was often not familiar with the information, I was not bored. The Epilogue was the only part of the book that felt inconsistent to me. It seemed stilted, not so true to Belle's voice, although it might have been my own discomfort with the politics around me that colored my interpretation of it as I read.

I would highly recommend this book to a reader who doesn't necessarily enjoy nonfiction as strongly as to someone who enjoys reading about history.
Diane T. (Slingerlands, NY)

"My Personal Historical Fiction Author"
Once again, Marie Benedict has not disappointed in her latest book "The Personal Librarian". She is joined in this book by Victoria Christopher Murray one of this country's top African American contemporary authors.

The main character in this book is Belle da Costa Green who, through high academic prowess and perseverance, becomes "The Personal Librarian" to J.P. Morgan. And so her journey begins to curate both books and art for the greatest library ever assembled for the wealthiest and most influential industrialist of the times. Through her climb of this corporate ladder, in a field that was not one that women aspired, we meet individuals who Belle interacts with on both a professional and personal level. And although her professional life was groundbreaking for that time, it is her personal life that we are drawn into. It is a familial conflict which can determine her future. And it is that conflict that weighs heavy on Belle along with putting a very bright spotlight on the mores and racial and social justice issues then and now.

This is the third of Ms. Benedict's books that I have read and I am hooked. Thank you, Marie Benedict, for highlighting women who made great strides during times when a woman's place was strictly in the home!

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