The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu

The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu

And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts

Book - 2016
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To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean¿› Eleven. In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world¿› greatest and most brazen smugglers. In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali. Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara¿› heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali¿›©Łnd the world¿›♯ðiterary patrimony. Hammer explores the city¿› manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants Ì�march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 2016.
New York : Simon & Schuster, 2016.
ISBN: 9781476777405
Characteristics: 288 pages ; 22 cm.


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Jan 14, 2019

The inspiring true story of how a small, dedicated and passionate group of Malian librarians managed in 2012 to secrete out of Timbuktu upwards of 300,000 priceless medieval manuscripts from under the noses of Islamic extremists who had threatened to destroy them. This is a hopeful book for a future in which knowledge, and the preservation thereof, is valued.

May 15, 2017

A very readable story about the creation of a major collection of documents within a center of ancient Islamic learning, and more recent existential threats to the existence of the works, and the heroic efforts by librarians to save the manuscript collection.

May 15, 2017

This book was written by a journalist who documents the efforts of a Timbuktu man - Abdel Kader Haidara who collected and preserved manuscripts during a time of upheaval in Mali. The first 70 pages covers how Haidara went about collecting/purchasing ancient manuscripts and how he organized the efforts to preserve them and maintain them – he set up a number of libraries and introduced digitization and preservation techniques. The next 70 pages deal with the evolving emergence of fundamental Muslims (Al Queda had an operative branch in the Timbuktu area) and the ongoing problem of rebel group of Tuareg who want a separate Tuareg state. I was a bit confused because of the initial coverage of manuscripts then onto politics, but the two do meet when a group whom the author refers to as jihadists take over the area, set up a Sharia Islamic state (forcing women to wear full Burquas, outlawing booze, music and most interactions between men and women) and saying Muslim shrines are not recognized in the Koran. Haidara worries that they will find and destroy his manuscript collection. He decides to move the collection into safe houses in the South and recruits locals to help him when jihadists are searching all vehicles and imprisoning any suspicious people. Haidara explains that Timbuktu has always been a moderate Muslim community and he does not appreciate being told how true Muslims behave. The jihadists are becoming more violent, kidnapping and/or killing Westerners or trying to ransom them. Haidara has help from a woman called Emily Brady in the book (a pseudonym for Stephanie Diakite – easy to find her on the web, see her website a female attorney from Washington State who helps Haidara with international funding. She splits her time between home in Washington State and Mali. Another comment here says the book does not identify the manuscripts (there were 377,000 at the time the book was written and cataloging them was part of Haidara’s task. The book states the manuscript collection included “a treatise about Islamic jurisprudence from the twelfth century; a thirteenth century Koran written on vellum made from the hide of an antelope; another holy book from the twelfth century no larger than the palm of a hand, inscribed on fish skin, its intricate Maghrebi script illuminated with droplets of gold leaf” (p. 4). I thought the book could use some photographs, but they are easy to find on the web just type in the title of the book. These valuable, historic, iconic manuscripts were fortunately saved and preserved by some bad-ass librarians from Timbuktu!

Apr 22, 2017

Does not live up to its title; however, very readable (except middle section explaining the various sects in the Maghreb) and an amazing story. I think the author missed the boat, so to speak, by not elaborating on why these manuscripts are so important to the world and why the invading fundamentalists would want to destroy them. In fact, they seem to destroy about 4,000 volumes out of sheer spite as they are forced from Timbuktu, but they never looked around to find the thousands of texts in the basement storage. The main character's nephew is the most bad-ass--he's the one in the prologue, sweating bullets while going through a checkpoint with a truckload of manuscripts.

Feb 16, 2017

This is an interesting book and a story well worth telling. However, it is very journalistic, providing mostly a chronology of events without in depth context or analysis.

squib Feb 04, 2017

Giving the Mahgreb, in particular Mali, during waves of invasions by forces hostile or at the very least a volatile threat to the accumulated knowledge of centuries of written accounts of astrology, astronomy, mathematics, health, medicine, and all the stuff of life at the intersections of different forms of Islam and local tribal traditions.

It draws attention to the passion and importance that knowledge has for us in identifying ourselves in and to the world. In our world of mass-produced paperbacks and e-books, it is a refreshing reminder of what we lost when we forget, and our knowledge is assaulted.

Puts the OPL into a clearer context.


ontherideau Jan 30, 2017

A fascinating account of life in North Africa- intelligence, dedication and terror.

An enlightening introduction to what events took place in the country of Mali in the past decade. Jihadists, Al-Qaeda and other rebels wreak havoc on a moderate Muslim country. The focus on saving ancient manuscripts is captivating for the book-lover.

Aug 27, 2016

Books have a way of sparking interest in geography and/or politics where one might not otherwise been aware of. Timbuktu has a unique cultural history rich in ancient manuscripts which, in itself, is mind blowing. Add the political/religious background in a story of our time and you've got a Bad Ass book rich in detail. I'd give more stars for all the research but fewer because of the overwhelm of information to digest.

Jul 18, 2016

This book taught me a lot about the militants of North Africa, but less about Timbuktu than I would have liked. Still, it's a compelling story and well worth reading.

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Aug 16, 2016

Timbuktu is a byword in English for an exotic and exciting place to be. This is fact, as Timbuktu has been a center for African cross-continental trade, culture and scholarship for many centuries. In this book, we learn about the city's amazing history and the incredible scholastic heritage that has been miraculously preserved despite terrorism and war.


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