Thursday, March 16, 2023

Book Review: The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray


Goodreads Overview:

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.

Jacque's Review:

I was fortunate to see Marie and Victoria speak at the Columbus Metropolitan Library last year. I had heard of The Personal Librarian, but I didn't know anything about the story of  Bell da Costa Greene. It was fascinating to hear how they collaborated and co-wrote this book. Due to their varied personal backgrounds, they were able to bring different perspectives to this racially charged story.

The late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s was a time of racial segregation in the United States. Belle's father was the first black graduate from Harvard and worked as a lawyer and advocate for equal rights. Her mother felt it would be better for her family to pass as white in order for them to have a better life. It was very risky, but Belle was smart and managed to elevate herself to the top of New York's society. As the personal librarian, and ultimately a friend of J.P. Morgan, she had considerable clout when dealing in the art world. She becomes a renowned expert in her field regardless of her gender and racial background. 

This was a fascinating story about a strong, well educated, and savvy woman who was able to overcome what some would have considered insurmountable odds. I found it very educational, entertaining, and worthy of 5 stars on Goodreads. It would be an amazing opportunity to visit the Pierpont Morgan Library, which is now the Morgan Library & Museum. I have visited the New York Public Library, but had no idea this building existed. The building itself is described as a work of art in the book, so I googled some images and was floored. It is stunning! The next time I am in New York, I will make it a point of visiting. My husband is now reading the book and is equally as invested. I will not have any trouble talking him into visiting the Morgan Library.

The following photo of the Morgan Library & Museum is from

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