Publication Date: June 29, 2021
A Good Morning America Book Club Pick
The remarkable story of 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 to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict, and acclaimed author 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.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray is an outstanding fictionalized story of a fascinating real-life woman. Belle Marion Greener grew up in a loving black family in Washington, D.C. until her parents separated. Her father, a champion for improving race relations, took a government job overseas. Her mother, fiercely determined to find a better life for her children, moved them to New York and identified the light-skinned family as white. Belle was renamed Belle da Costa Greene, a name she used the rest of her life. Employing her intelligence, charm, and ingenuity, Belle becomes the personal librarian to the very wealthy financier J. P. Morgan. Over the years, she builds the Pierpont Morgan Library while concealing her roots.
The authors present the general facts of Belle’s life while adding fictionalized emotions and perspectives. The book is written in the first person so the reader can see and feel how Belle evolved from a shy young girl into a knowledgeable, confident woman that hobnobbed with the crème of New York society during the Gilded Age. There are many powerful messages in this story, foremost being our view of skin color and racism. During the past year, many people have made a conscious effort to understand racism in the United States by reading such books as White Supremacy and How to Be an Anti-Racist. The Personal Librarian offers readers another viewpoint on this difficult issue through the eyes of a black woman passing for white. It is great to see the book on several summer reading lists. I cannot recommend it enough.
Marie Benedict is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator. A graduate of Boston College and the Boston University School of Law, she is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Carnegie’s Maid, The Other Einstein, and Lady Clementine. All have been translated into multiple languages. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.
Victoria Christopher Murray is an acclaimed author with more than one million books in print. She has written more than twenty novels, including Stand Your Ground, a NAACP Image Award Winner for Outstanding Fiction and a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. She holds an MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business.