Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Synopsis: To save ancient Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven in this “fast-paced narrative that is…part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract, and part out-and-out thriller” (The Washington Post). 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 were crumbling in the trunks of desert shepherds. His goal: to preserve this crucial part of the world’s patrimony in a gorgeous library. But then Al Qaeda showed up at the door. (from the online description)

Review: Abdel Kader Haidara spent a lifetime collecting and guarding the ancient scrolls and books of his culture – only to see them threatened by Islamic extremist. Calling upon the librarians of the collections, and their families, he organized a daring and clandestine operation to move the priceless relics to safety.
I expected this book to get more into the actual operation. Instead, Hammer starts with the life of Haidara and moves into the history of the region and the rise of the Islamic extremist. While the focus is on the libraries, the story encompasses more than just the fate of the scrolls. Hammer gets into political and social context of the event and why these people would feel threatened by the knowledge contained in these works of art.
Despite being more a history book, the prose is lively and fast-paced, uses easy to understand vocabulary, and reads more like an article in a general magazine than a history book. It is easily readable by someone with a middle school reading level and possibly for elementary age children. There is mention of violence and some of the atrocities committed by the Islamic extremist, but nothing gory.
 It wasn’t what I expected but I enjoyed it, and found it enlightening. 

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-1-4767-7740-5
Year Published: April 2016
Date Finished: 3-27-2017
Pages: 277

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