About Us

Louis Begley

Lawyer, novelist

I love the Society Library: the way it looks from 79th Street, showing off its modest but ineffably chic facade; the cheerful librarians, compulsively helpful and well informed; the seriousness of the Reference Room, which makes me think of green eyeshades and scholarly toil I shall never know; and the southern exposure of the sunny top floor, large study room where encyclopedias slumber peacefully. That is before I even begin to think of the often surprising riches of the Library's collection. My wife, Anka Muhlstein, consults almanacs on my behalf and borrows an occasional volume. But the benefits I have derived from the Library indirectly are incalculable. Its collection has made it possible for Anka to do a very large part of the research for her books.

The Library owns materials she would not have dared to hope she might find there. In the case of her first work, La Femme Soleil, a study of the power of women at the court of Louis XIV, it was the memoirs of Madame de Maintenon, in a pretty 18th-century edition. A little later, Anka discovered that almost everything she needed for her biography Victoria was right there on 79th Street. And when she wrote about Baron James de Rothschild, the first Rothschild to have settled in Paris, the Library's volumes of newspapers were an invaluable means of capturing curious details and coincidences, including the appearance of the obituaries of the Baron and Rossini side by side on a page of The New York Times. Literally all the materials for Anka's history of Manhattan were on the Society Library's shelves. Now, working on a double portrait of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, she is again continually astonished by the depth of sources immediately available at the Library, including old and very valuable volumes.

No wonder I share Anka's immense gratitude to the Library. Long may it prosper!