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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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  • Published:
    Jun 29, 2021, 352 pages


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There are currently 79 reader reviews for The Personal Librarian
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Becky S. (Springfield, MO)

Trailblazer for women!
What a great book about someone that I knew nothing about! One of the reasons I love historical fiction, learning so much about the past and some magnificent and brave people. Belle de la Costa Greene, is certainly someone that I admire after reading her story. I can't even imagine the fear she lived with every day thinking that her secret might be uncovered. But she looked right into the eyes of that fear and made such a successful life for herself ... in a time when women had very little power. What a trailblazer for women!
Nancy D. (Raleigh, NC)

A Woman's Struggle
What I love most about historical fiction is that you are twice blessed while reading the novel. One learns something new about some time or somebody in history with an added plus of a good story. This is how I feel about The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict. What a wonderful story about Belle's triumphs as an independent woman in the early 1900's. She is knowledgeable, carries the financial support of her family and is respected and trusted by one of the most influential man of the time, J. P. Morgan. Mr. Morgan not only relied on her expertise, but at times it appears that he might even have been in love with her. She accomplishes all of this while keeping the secret of her true heritage. Belle's interior struggle to be her own woman, both professionally and ethically, tells the story of a woman in conflict. She yearns to honor her father and to help her people. A genuinely good book, both enjoyable and informative.
Marianne D. (Crofton, MD)

Good book, intriguing backstory
I definitely enjoyed this book. While it is an easy read, there is much to ponder in the story and the history behind this fictionalized account. The authors' comments at the end of the book are critical.

While I'd probably give the book itself a 4.5, the story behind the story is fascinating and takes my review to a 5. Coincidentally, both of my book groups had just finished reading and discussing "The Vanishing Half." Hours could be spent discussing these two books together, even though they are different in many ways. I wish both book groups would schedule a discussion of "The Personal Librarian" in conjunction with "The Vanishing Half." I venture some comments made about "The Vanishing Half" would be re-considered and re-stated.

I was drawn to this book in part because I had read Marie Benedict's "The Only Woman in the Room." I knew "The Personal Librarian" was about the woman who built J. P. Morgan's remarkable collection of manuscripts and art, but I did not know who that woman was. This is a terrific book club book.
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.
Power Reviewer
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.

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