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The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu



The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu
Joshua Hammer
Simon and Schuster, 2016
Source: E-Galley
Audience: Adults

From Goodreads:
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.


Well, I tried. Before I committed to this adult nonfiction book - not my usual genre - I did research. I looked at Goodreads to see what everyone else thought about The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. The reviews were pretty polarizing. Either they loved it, or they hated it. I thought I would give it a try. While I didn’t hate it, I certainly didn’t love it. It just wasn’t the book for me.

I love librarians and book about them (usually) because I am one. So what was wrong with this book? It wasn’t focused on librarianship as I knew it and experiences related to the field. It was more about history, politics and religion of an area that I didn’t know much about. That would be fine - I like learning about new places and cultures - but unfortunately, it was written for someone who is familiar with that part of the world already. I found myself getting lost and forgetting important people’s names.

Overall, I think I was the wrong audience for The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. I think it’s well-written and interesting, but a magazine article would have sufficed for me. History and current event buffs will love it.

Normally, books that I don’t finish only get 1 star as a rating, but I gave this one 2 because I know other people will like it.

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