The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu


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 treasures to safety.

Joshua Hammer certainly taught me a little something.  This book follows the conflict, loosely tied together with the story of Abdel Kader Haidara-the man who orchestrated the salvation of hundreds of thousands of manuscripts.

At a time when some of Mesopotamia’s finest treasures are being crushed or carried off in the night, and when Syria’s revered chief of antiquities has been executed by ISIS, here is a story with a good ending: In 2012, a librarian in Timbuktu pulled of a daring heist worth of Ocean’s Eleven by rescuing thousands of the world’s most valuable manuscripts from Al Queda.-Priscilla Painton, VP and Executive Editor

She said it best.  This is a painstakingly researched chronology of what happened during the Northern Mali conflict as told through the preservation of the manuscripts.  Hammer not only gives a detailed piecemeal of witness accounts but actually traveled to the sites soon after many of these events.

Haidara is a hero and I was enthralled reading about him-which for someone that rarely reads non-fiction is a big deal.

What drove him most was a belief in the power of the written word–the rich variety of human experience and ideas contained between the covers of a book.

As Al-Queda and their allies close in, Haidara doesn’t pick up the sword of his ancestors or the gun of his modern antagonists but instead wields art and culture as the most deadly weapon of all.

A jihadi, Haidara argued, in the original and best sense of the word: one who struggles against evil ideas, desire and anger in himself and subjugates them to reason and obedience to God’s commands.

An excellent read.  I am enriched for having read it.

Five stars.

Expected publication: April 19, 2016