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

Joshua Hammer

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

The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World s Most Precious Manuscripts To save ancient Arabic texts from Al Qaeda a band of librarians pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean s Eleven in this fast paced narrative that is part intellectual history part geopolitical tra

  • Title: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts
  • Author: Joshua Hammer
  • ISBN: 9781476777405
  • Page: 234
  • Format: Hardcover
  • To save ancient Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean s Eleven in this fast paced narrative that is part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract, and part out and out thriller The Washington Post.In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the SaTo save ancient Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean s Eleven in this fast paced narrative that is part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract, and part out and out thriller The Washington Post.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 were crumbling in the trunks of desert shepherds His goal to preserve this crucial part of the world s patrimony in a gorgeous library But then Al Qaeda showed up at the door Part history, part scholarly adventure story, and part journalist survey.Joshua Hammer writes with verve and expertise The New York Times Book Review about how Haidara, a mild mannered archivist from the legendary city of Timbuktu, became one of the world s greatest smugglers by saving the texts from sure destruction With bravery and patience, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali His heroic heist has all the elements of a classic adventure novel The Seattle Times , and is a reminder that ordinary citizens often do the most to protect the beauty of their culture His the story is one of a man who, through extreme circumstances, discovered his higher calling and was changed forever by it.

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      Published :2018-08-23T22:24:38+00:00

    One thought on “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

    1. Danielle on said:

      This book really isn't what the title or description led me to believe what it's about. It's ostensibly about Abdel Kader Haidara who collected thousands of centuries old Islamic and other texts in Mali and then attempted to keep them safe from Al Qaeda as they took control of much of Mali. It does obviously include that story, but it really moreso concentrates on the war and Al Qaeda. There are long chunks of the book that seem to never mention Haidara or the books at all. If you were intereste [...]

    2. Jenny (Reading Envy) on said:

      This book was recently mentioned in the ALA Think Tank Facebook group, so I imagine every library and librarian in America will end up with this book. I wonder how many of us could have done what this librarian did!The title of this book covers just about everything the book is about, in a nutshell. I learned a lot about the early (medieval) literary of north Africa, which makes sense considering Egypt is not far, but I did not know much about the manuscripts and academic culture covering centur [...]

    3. Kasia on said:

      It's mind boggling how one person could achieve so much. Mr. Haidara you are a hero. My hats off to you with highest respect and admiration.

    4. Dayle (the literary llama) on said:

      Rating: ★★☆☆☆ / 2 conflicted stars.Review: I'm conflicted, because while the book was interesting, it is definitely not all that it's promised to be or promoted. The majority of the book is consumed with the actions and movements of a constantly shifting war. And while, yes, this is important information and necessary to understanding the pressure and danger to these precious manuscripts, in the end, the books became a lesser thread in the story, only being mentioned sporadically.The f [...]

    5. Clif Hostetler on said:

      This book gets its title from librarians who thwarted the wishes of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) by secretly moving 377,000 ancient manuscripts hundreds of miles through a war zone. The terrorists weren't the only threats they faced because the government soldiers at road blocks were also erratic and unpredictable.This book is part history, part description of Maghreb regional politics, and part adventure story. The book makes clear to the western reader that Timbuktu has a proud histo [...]

    6. Jessica on said:

      I recommend this book with a caveat: it's not really all that much about the bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu. Nope, maybe 20%, tops, is about the librarians' race to save the world's most precious manuscripts.This is really about the jihadi occupation of Timbuktu [and other parts of Mali] that happened in 2012, and which you probably never heard about because a lot of Western media tends to ignore Africa. Or maybe I just missed it somehow? I know I am not the biggest follower of international aff [...]

    7. Wanda on said:

      I was fascinated by this account of the libraries/archives of irreplaceable old manuscripts in Arabic and other languages of North Africa and the Middle East. The first chapters introduce us to the main players in the manuscript biz, as they try to find & trade for these delicate, rare documents and set up local archives to store them. I think many people forget how sophisticated the Arab world was, back when Europe was languishing in the Dark Ages. They were responsible for maintaining scie [...]

    8. Obsidian on said:

      I really wish that I had liked this more. A great initial start of the book eventually flounders when Mr. Hammer starts going into the unrest in the Mali region and how that impacted Timbuktu. I think just a few pages here and there would have been enough to set the scene. Instead the entire book reads like a who's who of Al Qaeda and every military operation in the region. I just lost interest a good 1/3 through the book and never recovered.I really did love reading about the history of Timbukt [...]

    9. Marika on said:

      For centuries Arabic manuscripts were collected by private households inn the West African country of Mali and particularly Timbuktu. These were gilded manuscripts painted with real gold, and showed vibrant colored illustrations of nature. Some were scholarly in nature and complex such as the creation of the leap year, medical, astronomy and most were written in stylized Arabic. These highly valued manuscripts were handed down from family member to family member to be their caretakers. Why caret [...]

    10. Maggie Macklin on said:

      I received this ARC from Simon & Schuster and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.Wow, do I feel completely ignorant about the world around me after finally putting this one down. I know where Mali is on a map but I had no idea that there was a major conflict from 2012 that lingers until present day. Further still, I had NO IDEA that dedicated and brave as all-get-out scholars, academics and ordinary citizens risked their lives to smuggle some of the world's most precious literary tre [...]

    11. Angie on said:

      This book is not only a telling of how precious manuscripts were protected from Al Qaeda (AQIM, its arm in northern Africa) in 2012, but a painting of the context in which that adventure happened. To understand the audacious act of these librarians struggling to preserve their heritage, we need to understand just how valuable and remarkable that heritage is. We also have to understand the librarians' bewilderment. To us, Mali may just be another desert full of crazy Islamic jihadists, but it was [...]

    12. RavenclawReadingRoom on said:

      3.5 stars. It's been three days since I finished this book, and I still don't quite know what to make of it. First of all, it's a fairly astonishing story. I - being the vague, gets-her-news-from-Twitter type that I am - had no idea that Al Qaeda had a presence in Mali five years ago. So from that perspective, this was incredibly educational. The fact that librarians are badasses who will go to ridiculous extents to protect their collections comes as no surprise to me, being a librarian and all. [...]

    13. Marcia on said:

      This book is a page turner. It is fascinating and horrifying and inspiring and unfinished. It is so up-to-date including references to last November's terrorist attacks in Paris and yet there is no final resolution to the situation in Mali. I had heard about the Golden Age of Scholarship in Timbuktu in the 1500s and 1600s. That a tolerant, eclectic Islamic society enabled scholarship in theology, science and medicine to flourish and that illuminated manuscripts chronicled this history. It was of [...]

    14. Richard Derus on said:

      A journalistic telling of a summer-blockbuster level talet that that's a bad thing!What's most exciting in the book is the interaction of Al Qaeda and the resistance. What's least exciting about the whole story is the fact that we need to be told about the awful and hideous actions of the hate-filled anti-intellectuals who are, even as we speak, eviscerating an entire world's millennium of progress so their imaginary friend won't be mad at them.And then there are the angry anti-intellectual gree [...]

    15. Lesa on said:

      What a fascinating account! The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer is a story of the past, and an account of present terrorism and destruction of the world's treasures. It's a story of courage, and the story of a people who treasure the written word. It's also the story of those who would destroy it.Mali has a lengthy history, "a vibrant culture of manuscript writing and book collecting centered in Timbuktu". By 1509, Timb [...]

    16. Lubinka Dimitrova on said:

      Well, the title pretty much sums it all up (although I find this particular wording quite inadequate, and not a very successful one for that matter. There in no Indiana Jones hidden in the pages of the book). Other than that, the book was more valuable as an insightful source of information about the general situation in Mali and Al Qaeda's action in Northwest Africa. I wouldn't really call the manuscripts in question "world's most precious", that's for sure, but the general story behind the col [...]

    17. Marlene on said:

      Originally published at Reading RealityApril 10-16 is National Library Week, so The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu was an absolutely irresistible title to review this week.But the story in this book is a lot bigger than just the librarians, and goes a lot further back. Yes, we do have the story of the librarians who rescued the manuscripts, but also a whole lot more. Because the author has taken the story and set it into the history of the region, and provides the context for why the rescue was [...]

    18. Jeanette on said:

      Hammer's style is so inclusive to tangent details that this is a truly difficult read. You are tracing centuries of history for this region of Mali, and the forces that have controlled it. For most of the book, the Timbuktu collection seems secondary to the larger Al Qaeda background field/ present dominance. And all of those progressions and former cycles of Islamic lessening or tightening "authority" are a large percentage of the read. This is a 1000 character tale of dozens of rulers and myri [...]

    19. Michael Austin on said:

      The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is not really the story that it bills itself to be, but that's OK. The actual story is better. Really, though, it is three stories told in succession that culminate in the dramatic manuscript heist that was not quite as dramatic as it is portrayed in the blurbs. That is OK too. Nothing is ever as dramatic as it is portrayed in the blurbs.The first story--and to me the most interesting one by far--is the story of how the nearly 400,000 manuscripts managed to fin [...]

    20. Brandon Forsyth on said:

      I wish I liked this more. There's a great story here, but it feels really elongated over the book's (already-slim) 250 pages. Hammer mentions that this had its origins in a magazine piece, and you can feel that in the extended descriptions of the theatre of battle between the French army and the Al Qaeda forces, or the breathless transcription of Reddit or Kickstarter fundraising drives. There's just not a lot of insightful coverage here - it feels broad, but not deep. I'd love to know more abou [...]

    21. Kay on said:

      Well, I hate to be conformist, but I have to agree with what many reviewers here have said about this book: It's more about the spread of Al Qaeda in Mali and its various leaders and factions than it is about librarians. The "bad ass" moniker in the title seems hyperbolic. Profoundly dedicated, sure. Willing to risk their lives and fortunes, agreed. But "bad ass" seems a real stretch. All in all, this material could have made a nice long New Yorker article that I'd happily read over a couple lun [...]

    22. Lis Carey on said:

      Timbuktu is a city with a storied history, and one lesser-known piece of that history is that twice during the Middle Ages it was the center of a flowering of education and scholarship. In the 1980s, a young man named Abdel Kader Haidara, a collector for a government library, traveled the Sahara Desert and the Niger River, collecting ancient Arabic manuscripts, both religious and secular, rescuing them from decay and destruction, and bringing them back for preservation. This part of the story in [...]

    23. Amanda on said:

      Clearly with a title like Bad-Ass Librarians I had to request this book right away right? Bad-Ass is definitely an apt descriptor for Abdel Kader Haidara and his band of merry men in Mali. I had no idea of the scholarly history of Timbuktu over the ages and it was fascinating. Hammer describes how manuscripts were once dispersed among families and Haidara crossed Mali back and forth as a young man buying them back to be placed into a library. That Haidara was able to rescue the manuscripts he fo [...]

    24. Carlos on said:

      I really liked this book, it is a good insight into the alqaeda movement that took place in central Africa, it gives you a historical background into the physical setting and the story progresses smoothly, the only reason I don't give this book 5 stars is the fact that I still think the title is misleading , the librarians only are a small part of the narrative , the book focuses more on the conditions in which the "escape" became the only means by which they could protect the books. I think a b [...]

    25. Andrew on said:

      These guys ARE bad-ass!Abdel Kader Haidara single-handedly built today's treasure trove of manuscripts in Timbuktu into modern, scholarly museums. He slogged through the countryside collecting manuscripts and through the corridors of Western philanthropy to fund his vision. And then he hid them from Al-Qaeda.This guy deserves a place in the book Hall Of Fame for saving not just a country's literary patrimony, but also the ideas of the golden age of Islam.

    26. Mainon on said:

      If you read the New Yorker, you're the type of reader this book needs.This is a book that has grown out of a fascinating piece (or pieces) of long-form news reporting. This is about much more than one group's struggle to keep irreplaceable ancient manuscripts safe from Muslim extremists, though that's a fantastic human interest hook. This is also a history of a region that has gone largely unnoticed by many of us in the West. I wouldn't bet on most Americans being able to find Sudan or Libya on [...]

    27. Isis on said:

      This feels like two books smushed together. I enjoyed the parts of this book which were about Abdel Kader Haidara and his sometimes heroic efforts to buy up manuscripts from the 13th-17th centuries, when Timbutku was a center of Islamic scholarship, from the families who kept them as often improperly-stored heirlooms, and also about the efforts of modern scholars to keep keep them safe from Al Qaeda. Unfortunately, much of the book is taken up with the history of Al Qaeda in Mali and I found thi [...]

    28. Melissa on said:

      Riveting story about the massive undertaking to save more than 350,000 manuscripts in Mali. Wrapped up in the story of Abdel Kader Haidara and his race to save the manuscripts, first from the depredations of time and later from Islamic fundamentalists during the invasion of Timbuktu, is the history of the intellectual life and literary traditions of the Sahel region in Africa (and also a bit of the musical tradition, too). It is so amazing, not just in the description of beauty of the manuscript [...]

    29. Jenny on said:

      Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is about the way Abdel Kader Haidara saved valuable centuries-old Arabic manuscripts from Al Qaeda. The readers of Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu will learn about the development of the Libraries of Timbuktu and how they outwitted the insurgent of Ql Qaeda supporters. Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is a great book to read and learn about Timbuktu literature history and how a group of librarians saved this historical heritage. Also, Joshua Hammer takes the readers o [...]

    30. Megan on said:

      The best and maybe only good part of this book is the title, and perhaps the personal stories of the bad-ass librarians that go largely untold. This is mostly a dry recitation of history and events leading to the Al Qaeda occupation of Timbuktu. The story of the manuscripts seems secondary and the author seems to insert himself into the story unnecessarily at odd times. I am not a big fan of non-fiction and this book doesn't have me rushing out to read more! I wanted to like this but couldn't.

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