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Publisher's Summary

The Instant New York Times Best Seller! A Good Morning America Book Club Pick!

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post

“Historical fiction at its best!”

A remarkable novel about J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as White in order to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times best-selling authors Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray.

In her 20s, 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.

©2020 Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“Historical fiction at its best.... The Personal Librarian spins a complex tale of deceit and allegiance as told through books.” (Good Morning America)

“Benedict, who is white, and Murray, who is African American, do a good job of depicting the tightrope Belle walked, and her internal conflict from both sides - wanting to adhere to her mother's wishes and move through the world as white even as she longed to show her father she was proud of her race. Like Belle and her employer, Benedict and Murray had almost instant chemistry, and as a result, the book's narrative is seamless. And despite my aversion to the passing trope, I became hooked.” (NPR)

“An extraordinary tale that is both brilliant historical fiction and an important and timely commentary on racism.  By holding up an unflinching mirror and illuminating this little-known chapter in American history, these two gifted authors have penned a work that is a must-read.” (Pam Jenoff, New York Times best-selling author of The Woman with the Blue Star

What listeners say about The Personal Librarian

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A Treat For This Academic Librarian!

What a tremendous story and such a delight to read. The Personal Librarian was historical fiction at its finest. I added the story to my Want to Read list because of the title. As a librarian, I was eager to delve into the pages of work that captured the world of JP Morgan amid his quest to build the renowned Pierpont Morgan Library. However, it was the story’s overview that pushed this book to the top of my list.

Belle da Costa Greene was a woman before her time. She became a titan in her field at a time when the only expectation of a woman was to be a fine wife and mother. da Costa Greene became a titan in her field when the idea of a working woman was frowned upon. da Costa Greene was far more than a working woman. Belle da Costa Greene was a working woman of color who became a titan in her field.

She was a woman who, unlike other women of color during that time, had so many choices before her. The color of her skin paid her admission into a world that would have shunned her, or worse, for even daring to look its way. Despite all the opportunities afforded her, da Costa Greene’s life was no party. She had to make sacrifices at every turn. She was the breadwinner for her mother and siblings, and one wrong move on Belle’s part could have cost them everything.

As a workaholic, I appreciated Belle’s dedication to her work. Still, I hated that she had to sacrifice so much of her personal self in the process. While Morgan’s vast wealth allowed the library to flourish, da Costa Greene’s diligent efforts grew the library’s collection. All this, while dodging outside scrutiny of her abilities and her background. This story drew me in and didn’t let go.

The collaborative efforts of Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray came through splendidly in every chapter. They were in the writing trenches during the pandemic and the heightened civil unrest of 2020. The authors described this writing project as a transformative experience against the backdrop of racial turmoil that came to yet another boiling point last year.

When she began her career in the 1900s, Belle da Costa Greene hid the truth of her racial identity for fear that it would be weaponized against her. Over 100 years later, the color of our skin continues to be a weapon against us. Yet stories like these will always inspire, always elevate and always continue to push us one step closer to change.

26 people found this helpful

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Disappointed

Very disappointed. I expected a historical novel based on her achievements. Instead the emphasis seemed to be on romance . Money poorly spent

19 people found this helpful

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Annoying

The reader drove me crazy… her pomposity was so annoying and the name dropping was equally annoying. I loved Marie Benedict’s Carnegie’s Maid and The Only Woman in the Room… but I couldn’t even finish this one.

13 people found this helpful

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I want to love this book…

But the storyline is painfully plodding.

Perhaps I’m looking for more action right now. Something of a summer page-turner.

This is not that.

It’s more like living in my own head, filled with self-doubt and chatter.

I so want to empathize with the character, and I do. Just can’t enjoy the storyline because it takes too long for anything interesting to happen.

12 people found this helpful

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Never Judge a Book By Its Cover

I loved everything about this book. I would have never purchased it let alone read it bases on the cover and title, but it was our book club's monthly reading. I listened to the book on a cross country drive, and I was pleasantly surprised by the powerful, based on a true story, storyline.

I did not know anything about Belle...had never heard her story, but it is one everyone needs to know.

7 people found this helpful

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2 authors gives life to historical fiction

I enjoyed the wonderful layout of the story as well as the number of subplots. There was a bit of a lull in the middle but it picked back up.

7 people found this helpful

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Splendid!!

Such a beautifully written book about the life of Belle Da Costa Greene. I truly hope everyone has an opportunity to read her story.

7 people found this helpful

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Excellent Story

This was a fantastic story. Belle had to navigate the world as a white womanly, you could feel he pain and indecisiveness, but the determination to excel in the art world was brilliant. Her love life as it was came from her inexperience. Great read!!!

6 people found this helpful

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A History Lesson

While historical fiction, this book provides a glimpse into the lives of both the privileged upper class of this nation a century ago and the struggles faced by black Americans. The co-authors—one white and one black—brought different perspectives to the portrayal of the relationship between J. P. Morgan and Belle da Costa Greene. The epilogue also provides valuable reference materials and suggested readings as well as personal statements from both authors on the impact this experience has had on them. This is a story that will encourage discussion of the history and current state of racial issues in this country.

5 people found this helpful

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Relevant

The authors did an excellent job telling Belle’s story. You will never know what a person is going through until you walk a mile in their shoes!

4 people found this helpful