The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past

In 2013, Charlie English (The Snow Tourist), then international news editor of the Guardian, became obsessed with the news coming out of Timbuktu. Jihadists were destroying the city's religious monuments because they were not properly Islamic, and librarians were smuggling medieval books out of the city in order to preserve them. English was not the first Westerner to be fascinated by the city and its treasures: throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries European explorers had tried to find their way to the legendary golden city of Africa.

In The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past, English intertwines the history of Europe's relationship with--and quest to "discover"--a city that few Europeans had ever seen and first-hand reporting on the threat to Timbuktu's historical heritage. The result is a parallel set of adventures, both of which are shaped by personal danger, the search for funding, the difficulties of traveling across the desert, the threat of armed bandits, the frustrations of dealing with international cultural organizations, and a passion for medieval documents.

The contemporary story may be familiar to readers of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. English, however, adds a layer of complexity by placing it in the context of Europe's historical attempts to reach the city. He captivatingly considers the mythic quality Timbuktu attained in the collective imagination, and the failure to understand the city's continued importance as a treasure trove of knowledge. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

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