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

The name "Timbuktu" has long evoked mystery and wonder: a remote African city of camels and gold. For librarian and archivist Abdel Kader Haidara, Timbuktu's treasure exists in a different form: an astounding collection of ancient Islamic manuscripts, including scientific treatises and romantic poetry, representing "five hundred years of human joy." When Islamic militants took over Timbuktu in 2012 and threatened to destroy the "subversive" manuscripts, Haidara and his colleagues staged a daring rescue operation. Journalist Joshua Hammer chronicles the parallel stories of Haidara's career and Mali's political unrest in his fourth book, the wonderfully titled The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu.

Hammer (Yokohama Burning) begins his narrative with Haidara, the son of a well-known teacher and scholar who spent his early career traveling throughout Mali, visiting village chiefs and families who kept their treasured volumes in steamer trunks and secret storage rooms. Over time, Haidara built libraries and conservation centers in Timbuktu, where he and his colleagues were able to collect, catalogue and restore thousands of manuscripts. But when warring groups of militants began fighting for control of Timbuktu, Haidara feared for the safety of both his family and his libraries.

The salvage operation--as precarious and fraught with obstacles as any Hollywood heist--involved moving more than 350,000 manuscripts hundreds of miles downriver to Bamako, Mali's capital. 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. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

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