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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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  • First Published:
    Jun 2021, 352 pages

    Jun 2022, 352 pages


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There are currently 84 reader reviews for The Personal Librarian
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Janet H. (Long Beach, CA)

A time of fabulous wealth ... and racism
This is the story of Belle da Costa Greene, the young librarian who helped build J.P. Morgan's excellent collection of close-to-priceless books and great art during the early 1900's. It reflects the times of the Gilded Age, the Great Depression and WW l. One of the major themes in the book is that Belle is a light complected black woman, whose mother has decided that the family will change their last name, the story of their origin and pass for white. This is a weighty burden for them. Though a little slow paced in the middle, I learned much reading this book, and recommend it as enjoyable and informative historical fiction.
Linda S. (Tucker, GA)

A Little Mystery, A Lot of Books: Perfect for Bibliophiles!
An easy and enjoyable read, "The Personal Librarian" by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray is the story of Belle da Costa Greene, the woman who becomes the librarian largely given credit for amassing J. P. Morgan's fabulous collection of books, rare manuscripts, and artwork for the Pierpont Morgan Library. In doing so she carved-out a powerful place for herself in the art world, all the more remarkable because Belle hides a dangerous secret. Telling the story from a first person POV and set mostly in New York City, the authors take the reader along on Belle's adventures through the restrictive mores and culture of the early part of the twentieth century as Belle describes some of the delicious artworks collected in the library.

Two minor complaints: I would have liked to learn more about the process Belle used to suss out and assess the value of those artworks; also, early in her work with Morgan, Belle seems to have a higher opinion of herself that I would have thought, given her circumstances, but both of these are minor quibbles. From the first page I knew I would enjoy Belle's story - and I did!
Karen W. (Atlanta, GA)

The Personal Librarian
This novel, based on the real person who brought the Pierpont Morgan library to prominence in the early 1900s, focuses on her racial identity. Not only did Bella DaCosta Greene deal with gender bias, she secretly lived through racial bias since she was passing as white. This book is an interesting counterpoint to The Vanishing Half, since the time and financial status are so different. The style of writing in this book reflects the restricted customs and repressed emotions, however, which makes it a slower and perhaps less exciting read. Those who enjoy glimpses into the lifestyles of the very rich and also insights into rare book collecting will still enjoy it.
Patricia E. (Sugarcreek, OH)

Historical and Relevant
Both authors of "The Personal Librarian" were new to me, but I've already added some of their other titles to my reading list. It is clear that a great deal of research went into the writing of this book. I was impressed by the level of historical detail in this work of fiction as I was by the relevance of the subject matter. Focusing on both racial and gender rights in the first half of the 20th century, the story line shows both the progress we've made and the work still ahead. I feel certain that both book clubs I'm involved in — one for women only and the other for both men and women—would be pleased with this selection.
Celia K Phillips

Sad But True
I am reading an early copy of this book. It is about Marion Greener, a light skinned black woman. In order to realize her dreams of a career, she changes her name to Belle LaCosta Greene, and passes herself off as white. She becomes the personal librarian for J. P. Morgan who is building and stocking his own personal library, the Pierpont Morgan Library.

I am reading this book during Black History Month. How ironic to be reading about a woman who feels that the only way to get ahead is to deny her blackness. It is 1903 and she is probably right, but I am saddened by this attitude.

Contrast that with another book I am reading, 42 Today. It is a book describing the activism of Jackie Robinson 45 years later. What a huge difference.

The Personal Librarian is very well written and in the voice of Belle. I think that Benedict has put the exact proper words in her mouth, depicting Belle as a highly educated speaker and thinker.

I recommend this historical fiction book as one that really makes you think.
Barbara B. (Evansville, IN)

Suspenseful Life of Belle De La Costa Greene
I enjoy Marie Benedict's novels because there's always the hint of something suspenseful for the main character. Belle De La Costa Greene is the Personal Librarian for infamous investor and business magnate, J P Morgan. Belle encounters some good choices and some bad choices during her employment, with a great deal of courage and fortitude. Despite her love for family, friends and business associates, she does not possess enough individualism for herself.
The novel, with a New York setting during the early 1900's, follows a similar theme as Carnegie's Maid, also written by Marie Benedict. A pretty young girl takes employment with a very wealthy man in both stories, sharing income with her family. It is an enjoyable story, especially the information about collecting valuable historical art and books. Mr. Morgan's ruthless personality is quite evident.
Renee T. (Seward, PA)

The Personal Librarian
Having visited the Morgan Library and Museum on my last visit to NYC, I was interested to learn more about the amazing woman who worked to build such a wonderful collection and exhibit it to the public. While I was not a fan of the writing style, I did enjoy reading about Bella da Costa Greene's life and accomplishments. Reading The Personal Librarian will bring this extraordinary woman to life for those unfamiliar with her and her story.
Jane H. (Prospect, KY)

The Personal Librarian
I love the subjects Marie Benedict chooses for her books. They always provide great historical insight of women who were ahead of their time and thus were not properly lauded for their accomplishments. I had never heard of Bella da Costa Greene, or of the fabulous library of J. P. Morgan, so both were a revelation. The writing is not complicated nor particularly outstanding, but her research is impressive. I always learn something from her books and for that, I am grateful to get to read another one.

Beyond the Book:
  Belle da Costa Greene

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