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
Book about books
Why I love it
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.
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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