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The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu

The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu

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

eBook - 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's 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's 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's heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali's?and the world's?literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city's manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants' 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, NY : Simon & Schuster, 2016.
ISBN: 9781476777436
Characteristics: 1 online resource.
Alternative Title: Badass librarians of Timbuktu

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Oct 26, 2020


Apr 17, 2020

I liked the book although it was not exactly what I was expecting. With that title I had assumed it would involve more intrigue and, while there was some of that, it was primarily a depressing description of the recent history of failures by the Mali government, the corruption and inadequacy of the Malian army, and the ruthlessness and fanaticism of all of the various jihadi terrorist groups that continually seem to occupy the country. The libraries of Islamic books that had been collected in Timbuktu sound amazing. The artistry and knowledge contained in them sound unbelievable. It is hard to imagine the effort to collect and preserve 377,000 of these books, many of which are several hundred years old, in what in some cases amounted to little more than mud huts while these various jihadi groups swept through, bent on destruction of anything and anyone that disagrees with their religious beliefs. The writer does an excellent job of capturing all of that while never getting boring or preachy. This is definitely a case where you wish the world were different but, based on what I read, it makes it seem very doubtful that it ever will be.

OPL_JacobL Apr 13, 2020

This is an account of one of the greatest collection of manuscripts that had laid hidden with families for generations and had to be heroically saved by a select group of librarians and historians from insurgents in the Mali area. Part history lesson, geopolitical introduction, and thriller, "The Bad-Ass Librarians of TImbuktu" offers a little bit of something for everyone.

multcolib_susannel Apr 09, 2020

To save ancient Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians pull off a brazen heist that is fast-paced. part history, part thriller.

Feb 25, 2020

Extraordinary measures by ordinary people save treasured religious texts during ISIS rampage, good does conquer evil. Waaaaay to much history on texts that will probably never see the light of day for me so I skimmed a lot. If followers of ISIS and Al Quaeda would read some of these texts they would know they are interpreting the Koran incorrectly.

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.

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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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