Book Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

You know why I picked up this book. Who could walk by that and not stop. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer.

I grew up in the late 70s, early 80s and listened to my dad complain about how something was practically to Timbuktu or so far in the middle of no where it might as well be Timbuktu. Ok, Dad was not a history buff. Then again I’m guessing unless you took African history in college, cough – don’t bother raising your hands, you don’t know that while Europe was struggling through the dark ages of oppression and ignorance, The University of Sancore in Timbuktu was the premier location of higher learning in the Middle Eastern and African worlds.  Physics, Chemistry, and Math highlighted their program. The real deal.

All of that learning had been preserved in manuscripts, as well as religious discussions, poetry, and literature. When Timbuktu was over run, 16th century, the manuscripts were buried to keep them safe. Eventually, with Mali in a somewhat settled political position in the 1980s, librarians began to seek out the manuscripts from families all over the desert. Much of the work was done by one man who was smart enough not to roll up in a gov’t SUV and flash a bunch of cash, like previous librarians did. He traveled local style on camels and in boats. He offered exchanges for the manuscripts and kept his promises to restore and preserve the works. He built schools and mosques, bought goats and cows for the villages.

All this work was almost for naught. Over 380 thousand manuscripts were in 25 libraries in Timbuktu when Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb steam rolled into Mali and decided to make it the new base of their operation. I’m not going to give away how the story goes from there.

For the most part, Librarians was a very enjoyable read. I found the 60 plus pages explaining how the AQIM came to have it’s particular set up rather tedious. I’m not sure it was really all that necessary. The other 160 pages were a great read however. A true testament to how far men will go to save books, knowledge, their historical greatness.

℘℘℘℘ – Four pages. With the exception of the boring part, it was a great read and I had a hard time putting it down. I wonder if all that was included to lengthen the book as it’s quite short by some standards. It would have been better with a tighter less tedious explanation. But you can skip that part when you read this. smiles.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

  1. As a kid I always thought Timbuktu was a fictional place too, like Shangri-la or Albuquerque. I’m pretty sure I got that from things I was reading, maybe comic books?

    Liked by 1 person

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