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

the-bad-ass-librarians-of-timbuktu-9781476777436_lgTitle: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts
Author: Joshua Hammer
Hardcover: ISBN: 9781476777405, $26; ebook: ISBN 9781476777436, $11.99.
Imprint: New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

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.




“Hammer gives the badass librarians of Timbuktu—who outwitted al-Qaeda, saving ancient Arabic texts from being destroyed—their due.” (Vanity Fair)



“[A] vivid, fast-paced narrative. . . . Hammer draws on many—often dangerous—visits to the city and interviews with major players to chronicle the efforts of Abdel Kader Haidara to save priceless literary and historical manuscripts. . . . A chilling portrait of a country under siege and one man’s defiance.” (Kirkus Reviews)



“Hammer does a service to Haidara and the Islamic faith by providing the illuminating history of these manuscripts, managing to weave the complicated threads of this recent segment of history into a thrilling story.” (Publishers Weekly)



“[A] powerful narrative. . . . Hammer’s clearly written and engaging chronicle of the achievements of Timbuktu, the risks presented to this area, and portraits of several brave and dedicated individuals brings to light an important and unfamiliar story.” (Library Journal)



“As precarious and fraught with obstacles as any Hollywood heist. . . . Both a moving story of quiet heroism and a fascinating glimpse into a country little-known in the U.S., The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu will appeal to historians, bibliophiles and those who love a good heist narrative.” (Shelf Awareness)



“Illuminating reading.” (Booklist)



“Gripping.” (Houston Chronicle)



“Hammer exposed my ignorance. Without thinking about it, I had accepted the conventional wisdom . . . but The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu provides irrefutable evidence that culture and learning in Africa were far more advanced than in Europe by the 16th century when Timbuktu flourished as a center of learning.” (Washington Independent Review of Books)

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