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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
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2022, 352 pages

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There are currently 84 reader reviews for The Personal Librarian
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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!
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.
Ilene M. (Longmont, CO)

Well done!
Wonderfully written book about a fascinating woman in American history. It is also a condemnation of the racial discrimination that has plagued our history. Bravo for Marie Benedict having the understanding that she could not write this book by herself. Adding Victoria Christopher Murray as the co-author gives authenticity to the feelings of the protagonist. This is my introduction to Marie Benedict as an author. Now I want to read more of the books that she has written about unsung women heroes.
Jackie H

Intellect, Passion and Sacrifice
Knowing nothing of J. P. Morgan’s Library or personal librarian, I was intrigued by the title. Written by two authors, one white, one black, created an authentic look at the cost/benefit of “passing”. Professionally and socially, Belle was able to dramatically succeed through her intellect, passion and perseverance for the printed word and for visual art. Belle was able to effectively deal with the business associates who sought to use her for their personal gain and as she weighed responses to questions to avoid spilling her deepest secret. The family dynamics, both immediate and extended, were interesting. Especially interesting was the pressure from the mother for her to succeed while seemingly content for the mediocrity for the other children. This is sure to be on the agenda for book clubs across the country.
Jessamyn R. (Fayetteville, NC)

Better than a Fairytale: a real Belle, enchanting library and its (sometimes) monstrous owner
Once I got into the story of Belle da Costa Greene, I was swept away - and knowing that she was real made it an even more enticing. I came to love the heroine's balance of professional chutzpah and vulnerable heart, and the vibrant depictions of life in the gilded age (with attention to those not in the stratospheric heights of wealth). I think this would be an excellent book club book: there's something for everyone to identify with or want to discuss from professional identity, to romance and subverting societal expectation around sexual morality, to books as objects of art and reverence, to the U.S.'s complicated history of race relations at the core of the novel.
Susan B. (Fort Myers, FL)

Amazing story of a woman who creates a world class library while holding onto a dangerous secret
This story of an amazing woman you probably have never hear of.

Bella da Costa Greene is an accomplished librarian with a dark, dangerous secret. J.P. Morgan chose her to help him build a library of priceless books and manuscripts and she excelled at locating rare works and had great purchasing skills. Her relationship with J.P. Morgan brings the reader a rare understanding of the financier and his love for the library.

Never married, she had a life among the art elite and a complicated romance with a married art dealer, Bernard Berenson. At all times her secret was paramount in how she lived.

The book moves along at a rapid pace. The authors' prose and vivid descriptions put you into the scene.

I recommend this book to all lovers of historical fiction. It is one of the best I have ever read.
Mary Jane D. (Arlington Heights, IL)

A Very Timely Read
The Personal Librarian is a very well researched book that was collaboratively written by two women authors. The story is fascinating and although I didn't know anything about J.P. Morgan and Belle de Costa Greene I was drawn into their story and wanted to keep finding out more. The book is very close to the true facts about their lives and the little known fact that J.P.Morgan's much admired assistant who helped grow his library was a black lady passing as white.

I found the authors' notes at the end very interesting and made the book even more appreciated by me. The perspective of one black and one white author clearly added depth and feeling to the characters. Also the fact that it was written during the pandemic and these troubling racial times made it very timely and offered food for thought.

The book would be a good Book Club choice and offer many topics for discussion.

Beyond the Book:
  Belle da Costa Greene

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