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


This gripping history of Mali's recent years focuses on the collection and near-destruction of some of the country's greatest treasures: centuries-old manuscripts on wide-ranging topics, from science and math to religion and philosophy.  

Hammer introduces readers to the book's unlikely hero, Abdel Kader Haidara, who worked diligently for years to collect thousands of manuscripts from across Mali and was later tasked with saving them from the clutches of Al Qaeda extremists.  Culminating in tense rescue operations under the cover of darkness  and directly under the nose of Al Qaeda leaders  The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is a fascinating portrait of both a country and a man. 

"The extremists had declared jihad against anyone and anything that challenged their vision of a pure Islamic society, and these artifacts treatises about logic, astrology, and medicine, paeans to music, poems idealizing romantic love represented five hundred years of human joy.  They celebrated the sensual and the secular, and they bore the explicit message that humanity, as well as God, was capable of creating beauty.  They were monumentally subversive.  And there were thousands of manuscripts just like these hidden in safe houses in Timbuktu.  Now he and a small team had set out to save them."

Joshua Hammer is an American journalist and author.  He has worked as bureau chief for Newsweek in Nairobi, Los Angeles, Berlin, and Jerusalem.  His books include A Season in Bethlehem, Yokohama Burning, and The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu.

Published:  2016
Length:  288 pages
Set in:  Timbuktu, Mali