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All booksHistorical fictionThe Personal Librarian
The Personal Librarian by M. Benedict and V. Christopher Murray
Historical fiction

The Personal Librarian

by M. Benedict and V. Christopher Murray

Quick take

According to some scientists there is such a thing as too many books. Belle da Costa Greene would like to have a word.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Buzzy

    Buzzy

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Real-life-characters

    Real-life characters

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_BookAboutBooks

    Book about books

Why I love it

Fiona Davis
Author, The Lions of Fifth Avenue

As a long-time New Yorker who adores the city’s landmarks, the Morgan Library & Museum is one of my favorites—a breathtaking space full of rare treasures, a book-lover’s dream. In their new novel, the powerhouse duo of Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray bring to life a shocking secret that lies at the very heart of the collection: the fact that Belle da Costa Greene—who oversaw the library’s vast acquisitions and eventually became an intimate confidante to the powerful financier J.P. Morgan—was a Black woman.

In the early 1900s, when the story opens, segregation is in full force. Belle takes an enormous risk by accepting the job of personal librarian, exposing herself to nasty rumors among the members of high society and ruptures within her own family. The authors take us on a giddy yet fingernail-biting ride as she ingeniously forges her own pathway to success, leaving behind a legacy for the ages.

There were moments while reading The Personal Librarian that I wanted to weep for the injustices Belle suffered, which resonate profoundly in our own times. She fought back with savage wit as well as a deeply-rooted confidence in her own abilities.

At its heart, this story is about a woman who reveres the power and magic of libraries and books—a perfect read for anyone who shares that love.

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Synopsis

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 in New York City society 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 create 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 she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.

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Preview

Get an early look from the first pages of The Personal Librarian.

Member thoughts

All (1479)
All (1479)
Love (876)
Like (540)
Dislike (63)
1494 ratings
  • 59% Love
  • 36% Like
  • 4% Dislike
  • Valley Village, CA

    What a beautiful story about a woman I didn’t even know existed! I was so caught up in her story and what it must have been like to hide your whole identity to do the great things she did. Well done!

  • Roanoke, VA

    Historical fiction isn't usually my genre but this was an engaging page turner Belle da Costa Greene rose to one of the highest positions available to her while passing as a white woman Very well done

  • Fort Worth, TX

    Historical fiction about an African American woman librarian providing for her family while passing as white during the 1900s racism and creating one of the most important library collections: amazing

  • GREENSBORO , NC

    As a woman of color I had feelings of disdain for blacks who chose to pass. This book entirely changed my perspective. Belle crossed the color line and used her talent and intellect in an amazing way.

  • Allen, TX

    This was a good read. The human spirit can put up with a lot. Belle is a black American who gives up many things to achieve greatness. Pretending that she is white is just 1 small weight on the scale

  • Farmington Hills, MI

    Belle was a strong woman for her time! Her upbringing, career, social/love life, & dealing w/ a racist society were a lot to handle. Working for Mr. JP Morgan was such an accomplishment. Amazing book!

  • Redmond , WA

    Such a pleasure to read about a black person achieving success. It was enlightening to read about the horrible discrimination occurring so long ago, but it continues, in other different ways even now

  • Missoula, MT

    This woman had done very interesting challenges. For the time she lived in, her accomplishments were truly inspiring and her abilities were above and beyond. I loved reading about her and her life.

  • Hialeah, FL

    This was compelling and interesting. It kept me engaged and I couldn't put it down. Belle is an interesting woman who forged an amazing career for any woman, much less a black woman. 2 thumbs up!

  • Beatrice , NE

    I’ve seen ads for this book for months. I was so excited to see it on BOM. The story of Belle was engrossing and fascinating. Also being a personal librarian sounds amazing. Belle was amazing!

  • Midvale, UT

    What an interesting and layered read! I truly enjoyed the rich descriptions and the strong willed characters that bring such life and vividness to this book! Belle de Costa Greene was a force!

  • Lakewood, CO

    Strong, single, successful woman at a time when that alone would have been quite the feat, let alone a black woman passing for white. She deserves to be finally celebrated as her complete self!

  • Eagle, ID

    I was sobbing. The complete injustice the main character has to go through every day while trying to elevate the world through beauty and art is mind blowing. I read it and was forever changed

  • St Thomas , VA

    The strong female lead grabs your affection from the beginning… I didn’t want her story to end. The fact that it is based on a real life woman makes this one of my all time favorite books!

  • Lander, WY

    Well researched historical novel about a fascinating powerful woman who developed the Morgan library. Book is a light read, bordering on the Romance genre, but is well worth the read!

  • Gadsden , AL

    The Personal Librarian was the best beach read! Following the little-known life of a NYC librarian, this book challenged my worldview and is perfect for fans of Mr. Carnegie’s Maid.

  • Forest Hills, NY

    One of the best books I have ever read. This story is one that needs to be told forever and that everyone should be aware of. Thank you to all involved. Would recommend 10/10 times

  • Hinesburg, VT

    5 star read! The complex relationship between Belle & JP, the daily struggle that Belle faces, the look into what it must be like to hide who you truly are is all breathtaking.

  • New Haven, CT

    For those who love books about books, you will love this! Warning you will also want to immediately plan a trip to NYC to see the Morgan Library for yourself. CW: abortion.

  • Spokane, WA

    Well written. The authors masterfully wove their historical research of this era into the details of this book as well as bringing out the personality of Mr. J P Morgan.

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