From Publishers Weekly
Ardizzone's competent, complimentary biography explains the complicated, glamorous woman who transcended her lack of formal higher education and obfuscated her race to become head of the Pierpont Morgan Library and confidante of the financial mogul who founded it. Belle Green (1879–1950), the daughter of a civil rights activist who was the first African-American man to graduate from Harvard College, was plucked by J.P. Morgan's nephew Junius Morgan from the Princeton Library in 1905, where she had developed a passion for the rare pre–15th-century illuminated manuscripts that were to become the basis of her work for Morgan. Greene became a key player in major acquisitions, such as 16 Caxtons from Lord Amherst's collection. She famously lived at full throttle, speaking her mind and taking many lovers, notably married art scholar Bernard Berenson. Morgan's death left her with a sizable inheritance, and she continued at his library. Although Ardizzone delineates the intricacies of major art transactions, she devotes more space to the copious details of Greene's flamboyant personal life than to assessments of the Morgan treasures that were her legacy. Still, Ardizzone (coauthor, Love on Trial
) showcases the impressive talents of a woman who once wielded enormous power in New York society. (June)
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*Starred Review* In 1905, Greene, a young woman in her twenties, was hired by J. P. Morgan to organize his immense collection of rare books and manuscripts. The incredible opportunity was one more reason for Greene to continue the fiction of her exotic background with a Portuguese grandmother and conceal her true racial heritage as African American. Her lineage was quite remarkableher father was the first black man to graduate from Harvardbut Greene understood the limitations that black blood presented and took full advantage of her appearance, intelligence, vivacity, and drive to create a dazzling life among the wealthy. Greene socialized with the rich and famous and conducted affairs with well-placed men, including art critic Bernard Berenson. Known for her beauty and charm, she coyly dodged questions of her ancestry as she cleverly navigated the art world and its "intricate web of secrets and gossip and deals." Her influence with the irascible Morgan extended beyond his librarywhich amassed an extensive collection of illuminated manuscriptsas she acted as purchasing agent, confidante, and friend. Ardizzone offers a rich and fabulous look at an amazing woman determined to live beyond the limitations assigned by race and sex in her time. Bush, Vanessa