The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu

The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu

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

Book - 2016
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Describes how a group of Timbuktu librarians enacted a daring plan to smuggle the city's great collection of rare Islamic manuscripts away from the threat of desctuction at the hands of Al Quaeda militants to the safety of southern Mali.
Publisher: New York :, Simon & Schuster,, 2016
Edition: First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781476777405
Characteristics: 278 pages ; 22 cm


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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.

squib Feb 04, 2017

Giving the Mahgreb, in particular Mali, during waves of invasions by forces hostile or at the very least a volatile threat to the accumulated knowledge of centuries of written accounts of astrology, astronomy, mathematics, health, medicine, and all the stuff of life at the intersections of different forms of Islam and local tribal traditions.

It draws attention to the passion and importance that knowledge has for us in identifying ourselves in and to the world. In our world of mass-produced paperbacks and e-books, it is a refreshing reminder of what we lost when we forget, and our knowledge is assaulted.

Puts the OPL into a clearer context.


ontherideau Jan 30, 2017

A fascinating account of life in North Africa- intelligence, dedication and terror.

NVDPL Librarians Sep 12, 2016

An enlightening introduction to what events took place in the country of Mali in the past decade. Jihadists, Al-Qaeda and other rebels wreak havoc on a moderate Muslim country. The focus on saving ancient manuscripts is captivating for the book-lover.

Aug 27, 2016

Books have a way of sparking interest in geography and/or politics where one might not otherwise been aware of. Timbuktu has a unique cultural history rich in ancient manuscripts which, in itself, is mind blowing. Add the political/religious background in a story of our time and you've got a Bad Ass book rich in detail. I'd give more stars for all the research but fewer because of the overwhelm of information to digest.

Jul 18, 2016

This book taught me a lot about the militants of North Africa, but less about Timbuktu than I would have liked. Still, it's a compelling story and well worth reading.

Jul 16, 2016

I really wanted to love this book, but I didn't. Most of the book was either very dry or very depressing. I thought that the rescue of the priceless manuscripts would be the focus of the book, but it is a small part near the end. I had to force myself to keep reading this book. There is some good information here, but it is not enjoyable reading. What a disappointment!

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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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