"The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts" By Joshua Hammer, (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

As part of the history of Spain, we’ve heard how the Muslim conquerors from Northern Africa had a flourishing culture of literature and science—and that much of it was lost when the Arabs were driven out of Spain.  But wait!  All was not lost.  Some of those priceless books, written in Arabic and other North African languages were hidden away by families and clans living in the desert and in the cities.  As were manuscripts written in Africa about astronomy, agriculture, religion, and poetry.  These were considered so valuable they hadn’t seen the light of day for centuries.

From the Simon & Schuster site:
“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, … 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.”

There are three parts to the book:  the first describes the history of the texts and Haidara’s harvest.  The second details the political background for the rise of Al Qaeda in Mali.  The third tells the story of the rescue.  It’s easy reading except for the middle, where the similar Muslim names continue to challenge me.  

The author, Joshua Hammer, spent years in Mali.  In 2014, he wrote an account of the manuscripts in National Geographic.  Here you can see a few photos to enhance the story.  The book itself has only one unreadable map and no photos.  What a shame.  It’s an interesting book that I recommend for history buffs. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/innovators/2014/04/140421-haidara-timbuktu-manuscripts-mali-library-conservation/