The Instant New York Times Bestseller! 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 bestselling authors Marie Benedict and 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 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
In this fact-based historical drama, a promising young woman named Belle da Costa Greene is hired by bank magnate J. P. Morgan to build a library befitting his status as one of the world’s richest men. Belle succeeds brilliantly, becoming a leading figure in the New York arts and literature scene of the early 1900s, all while hiding a secret that could ruin her career and hard-won social status—she’s African American, the daughter of the first Black man to graduate from Harvard. Authors Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray have taken the historical facts detailed in a lengthy author’s note at the end and turned them into a Henry James–like novel of ambition, identity, family, love, and betrayal. Belle is a fascinating character, capable of both take-no-prisoners negotiations and rapturous flights of artistic abandon, and the sumptuous depictions of her wealthy, fashionable circles are a lot of fun to read. Gorgeous and heartbreaking, The Personal Librarian is a true gem.
Benedict (The Mystery of Mrs. Christie) and Murray (Wrath) deliver a powerful take on the accomplishments of J.P. Morgan's librarian. In 1906, Belle da Costa Greene is hired away from Princeton University to run the Pierpont Morgan Library. There, Belle adds notable works to the library's collection and successfully navigates a high-stakes auction. As Belle's position requires her to attend social events with New York's elite, she is ever cognizant of maintaining the secrecy of her Black heritage, asserting that her grandmother is Portuguese. Belle's father, Richard Greener, an equal rights advocate, was the first Black man to graduate from Harvard University, and left the family after Belle's mother insisted on raising her as white. Though Belle enjoys her personal success as J.P. Morgan's personal librarian, which brings her significant influence in the city's art world and rare books market, her public role increases her risk of exposure for passing as white, which she fears would cost her the job and bring an end to her family's financial support. Benedict and Murray do a great job capturing Belle's passion and tenacity as she carves a place for herself in a racist male-dominated society. This does fine justice to a remarkable historical figure.