As a lifelong book lover and library user, I have always been enchanted by the Morgan Library and its collections. Biographical novels and early twentieth century history are also favorites of mine so when I saw the announcement for The Personal Librarian, I knew it was for me. It was so much more than I could have hoped for! Authors Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray have brought J.P. Morgan’s first librarian Belle da Costa Greene to life with authenticity and care, beginning with her time at Princeton’s exalted Firestone Library, her love of illuminated manuscripts which led her to her career as the Morgan Library’s first librarian and director, curating one of the finest private libraries for one of the richest, most powerful men in a building specially designed by Charles McKim.
This novel is not only a history and homage to one of the world’s greatest private libraries, it is also a social history, told through Belle, an exceptional young woman fighting for equality both as a woman and as a Black woman passing as a white woman of Portuguese descent.
Benedict and Murray turn Belle’s story into pure magic. There is much for book clubs to discuss; book lovers will be enthralled with the descriptions of the beginnings of the Morgan Library. Readers wanting to know more about Greene should turn to her biography An Illuminated Life by Heidi Ardizzone
Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library, NJ