The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race To Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts

S. & S. Apr. 2016. 288p. notes. index. ISBN 9781476777405. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476777436. HIST
Hammer, an experienced journalist who knows Mali and its historic city of Timbuktu well, interweaves three astonishing stories, reflecting both the vulnerability and strength of a rich Islamic culture in West Africa. First he introduces Abdel Kader Haidara, a Timbuktu native who became an expert on his city's ancient manuscripts while working with the National Library of Mali in the 1980s. The author then presents the rise of a brutal group of militants in the region after 2008, their conquest of Timbuktu and threat to the records that embody centuries of vibrant Islamic history. He lastly describes the ingenious rescue of the records and transporting them more than 400 miles across the Sahara and on the Niger River to safekeeping in Bamako, Mali's capital. This powerful narrative of adventure juxtaposes a convincing description of a cultural heritage encompassing religion, history, literature, and science over eight centuries with the cruelty and intolerance of Jihadi groups arising in the region.
VERDICT Hammer's clearly written and engaging chronicle of the achievements of Timbuktu, the risks presented to this area, and the portraits of several brave and dedicated individuals brings to light an important and unfamiliar story. [See Prepub Alert, 10/12/15; "Editors' Spring Picks," p. 28 ff.]
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