Book Review: The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

New York Times Bestseller fictional story about J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene.

This book is loosely based on the real-life Belle, J.P. Morgan’s librarian. The actual library is located in NYC (if you’re ever curious to visit). 

I tried to do some recon on the real Belle; oddly enough, it proved difficult. She never married nor had any children, alluding that she did this on purpose, given the racially charged times she lived under.

Genre: Historical Fiction

Breakdown: This story unravels from the first-person perspective of Belle, a Black woman in America during the 1900s, hiding her true identity while trying to rise up in the ranks within the elite social society (uber-wealthy). Belle navigates not only the racial biases during those times but also one of the biggest tycoons in American history, J. P. Morgan helping him find and collect art and rare books to add to his private collection. Belle’s mother, Genevieve played a pivotal role in denying their identity by passing her family off as Portuguese. This concept was quite the opposite of what her absent father wanted; a Black rights activist, also known as the first Black man to graduate from Harvard University.

Read it if: You just want to read something with sprinkles of reality, then suddenly drowns in fiction. 

Is it funny: Nope.

The cover: A beautiful backdrop of a gargantuan library and what we assume to be Belle in a stylish ox-blood-colored gown.

Do I recommend it: I really wanted to like this book. Some parts were informative and endearing, and you really did cheer for the protagonist, Belle. But then, it became predictable with little depth left. The story started to run superficial, and it completely lost me. I learned some new words, but I don’t think I’ll use them anytime soon. This book highlighted her personal and professional life, but it became messy and soap opera-esque. Maybe I was expecting them to stick to a more believable storyline about the true Bell Greene, but then again, this woman, who was she? History has very little about her, and it’s a real shame. 

Ultimately, the story is a “read at the beach” read but nothing more. Maybe this just wasn’t the book for me. Either way, I appreciated the read. 

Rating: 2 Stars ⭐️⭐️