The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts
By Joshua Hammer
2016, Simon & Schuster, 978-1-47677-740-5, $26 hb.
Reviewed by Graham Chandler on March 1, 2017
Joshua Hammer visited Abdel Kader Haidara in Mali several times over a decade to craft a story about how the young man preserved, protected and saved a fabulous collection of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts. Designated the guardian of his father's extensive collection upon his death in 1981, Haidara grew to appreciate their value. Funded by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, he traveled for years throughout the Sahara and along the Niger River seeking out and salvaging tens of thousands more texts on behalf of the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu. The collection eventually totaled 377,000 manuscripts in 25 libraries and conservation centers in the capital, Bamako. In 2012 al-Qaeda in Maghreb and northeastern Mali. Haidara knew the irreplaceable manuscripts faced destruction, so he and his fellow librarians hatched a high-risk plan to spirit the entire collection to the safety of the capital in the southwest. Dodging militants' check-points, intrepid drivers smuggled out 270,000 manuscripts in metal trunks; 100,000 more went by donkey cart and boat. Not one was lost.