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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.

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    Social issues

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    Buzzy

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    Real-life characters

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    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 (2479)
All (2479)
Love (1446)
Like (922)
Dislike (111)
2509 ratings
  • 58% Love
  • 37% Like
  • 4% Dislike
  • Middletown , DE

    I had to idea about Belle’s story until I read this book! Amazing take on her life and how she was able to keep her secrets! This book actually inspired me to go to the Morgan Library - it’s amazing

  • Massapequa Park, NY

    Based on the true story of Belle da Costa Greene,JP Morgan’s librarian. Not only was she a powerful woman, but a woman of color forced to pass as white during the turn of the 20th century. Marvelous!

  • 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!

  • Winterport, ME

    The fictional account of a woman who rose to success as the curator of J.P. Morgan's vast library of rare books. She was forced to hide the fact that she was passing as white as she rose to prominence

  • Minnetonka, MN

    Exquisitely written account of a woman’s fight to show her worth, provide for her family and celebrate art and writing as it should be - all for the love of her family and her new found work family.

  • 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

  • Princeton, MN

    I listened to this book on Audible. Truly a great book. It kept me interested through out. I'm such a book need and to hear about the woman in the story who had love for art and books was pretty cool.

  • 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

  • Helena, MT

    Historical fiction about rare books in an awe-inspiring library based on the true story of the extraordinary Black woman passing as white who curated it? Yes, yes! I loved reading about Belle's life!

  • Oshkosh, WI

    Such a FASCINATING read. I had no idea about JP Morgan's librarian and all she endured. She was a pillar of strength but lived in fear everyday. I am glad she was treated well by him. Very good read!

  • Alexandria, VA

    A remarkable story of Belle de Costa Greene the personal librarian to J.P. Morgan. Her story captivated me from the start as I escaped into her world, her story and found myself not wanting to leave.

  • 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.

  • Chattanooga, TN

    Who knew that J.P.Morgan had an African-American woman as his personal librarian? I particularly enjoyed that the authors didn’t gloss over her struggles while lauding the character’s courage.

  • 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!

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