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Book Review of The Personal Librarian

The Personal Librarian
cathyskye avatar reviewed on + 2214 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1

Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray tell the amazing story of Belle da Costa Greene, a woman of great intellect and skill who was the personal librarian of J.P. Morgan. Through her hard work and shrewd negotiating skills, she almost single-handedly turned the Pierpont Morgan Library into one of the world's premier libraries of rare books and manuscripts. If that weren't enough to make this novel one to read and savor, the even more amazing fact is that Greene was a Black woman passing as white in the New York high society of racist America.

The Personal Librarian is an account of Belle da Costa Greene's life and the lengths she had to go to in order to preserve her secret, the aspects of normal life that she had to deny herself in order for her to make her mark in the world. It was far from easy because treachery lurked behind some surprising corners. Imagine having to live your life never knowing whom you could trust. That was Belle's life.

Perhaps the two things I carried away after reading this book were the fact that Greene's mother and siblings seemed to expect her to pay their way through life. She provided them a roof over their heads, vacations, clothing, and more, while the other thing I learned concerned President Woodrow Wilson. Now, I have to admit that Wilson is one of those presidents whom I never bothered to learn much about, so when I found out how he worked against civil rights and equality, my opinion of him rapidly sank to the bottom of the abyss.

At the end of The Personal Librarian, the authors tell of writing the book as a team and of how they weaved together all the various pieces of the secretive Greene's life in order to write the book. If that's the sort of thing you usually avoid reading, you should make an exception in this case. The Personal Librarian is the story of an extraordinary woman and the lengths she had to go to in order to fulfill her destiny. No one should ever have to go through what Belle da Costa Greene and many others were forced to do.

(Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Net Galley)

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