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Ratings and Book Reviews ()

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4.4 out of 5
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  • A Strong Woman Succeeds, Despite Racism and Sexism

    The woman at the center of this historical novel is nothing short of fascinating! Belle da Costa Greene, as the title suggests, served as personal librarian to famous American financier J. P. Morgan — whose business acumen and canny investments helped build the fortunes of many of the multi-millionaires created during the industrialization of the Guilded Age. It was Belle whose guidance, knowledge, and inate intelligence made Morgan’s collection world reknowned, a collection now on display at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. After Belle moved from a pedestrian position at the Princeton University library to Morgan’s employ (through a connection with Morgan’s nephew), Belle has to adjust to moving in circules of wealth and power. Morgan collected historical books and art work and increasingly relied on Belle to do the research needed to prove an object’s value, as well as negotiate with sellers and compete against other buyers. Her skill and innovative approaches soon earn her both a solid reputation and widespread admiration from the rich and famous. The story of a young woman’s rise into these circles of influence would make this historical fiction good enough, on its own. But what adds immeasurably is the secret Belle is keeping. One she keeps for decades. She is Afro-American, passing as white. And given the racist society of the time, she no doubt would have been unable to acheive such success if her secret was known. The glimpse into the difficulty of living a split life like Belle’s where, on the one hand, she travels the world at the highest levels of society and has the ear of one of the most powerful men in the United States, and, on the other, is the primary support for her Black family of origin — is dramatic and sobering. To see how valuable Belle’s many gifts are and to understand that racial identity alone determines her ability to use those gifts becomes a stark lesson in the crushing poison of racism in America. The book came out of a collaboration between two authors, one white (Marie Benedict), one Black (Victoria Christopher Murray). And their Afterwords reveal how impactful their work together was for each in understanding how race plays out in modern times. This too added an interesting dimension to the book. There are a few places where dialog feels a bit unnatural and clunky- chiefly when characters in the book are trying to summarize some of the societal activities underway to advance equality fo all. These can feel a bit stilted at times. But THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN is one that is NOT to be missed.

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    22 person found this review helpful

    22 people found this review helpful

    22 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Did not live up to the hype

    I did not love this like I hoped I would. I think its best aspect is the remarkable true story it follows of the life and career of Belle de Costa Greene. I was trying to figure out what it was I did not like and I think I just had a hard time connecting to Belle and really becoming engaged in her story. Her narration felt aloof and the story dragged on for me. I think this book is probably best read in community, where you can dig in and unearth its richness (I would hope).

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    4 person found this review helpful

    4 people found this review helpful

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Disappointing

    The woman and the period should make this novel fascinating. Unfortunately the writing is stilted and self-conscious. The effort to make the language sound appropriate to the time misses the mark and the characters, especially Belle, are lost in translation.

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    2 person found this review helpful

    2 people found this review helpful

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Loved this

    Brilliant story. Love it when strong inspirational women that I've never heard of, from the past, are bought to life.

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    0 person found this review helpful

    0 people found this review helpful

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

  • An illuminating piece of historical fiction!

    I’ve always enjoyed reading about the Gilded Age and the wealthy set of that era. This story of J.P Morgan and his library along with the historical look at his personal secretary/agent and her secrets and successes was an eye-opener and I really enjoyed it. Don’t skip the historical background notes and notes from both authors at the end to get even more information about this intriguing woman.

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    0 person found this review helpful

    0 people found this review helpful

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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