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Joshua Hammer: "The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu" | Talks at Google

Authored by Joshua Hammer, one of today’s most seasoned journalists, THE BAD-ASS LIBRARIANS introduces readers to Abdel Kader Haidara, a mild-mannered historian and librarian from Timbuktu who morphed into one of the world’s greatest smugglers and pulled off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven. A true story, this “vivid, fast-paced narrative” (Kirkus Reviews) is a tale of triumph and positivity that takes place in the Islamic world—something that has sadly been missing in recent months, and arguably recent years. A recent review from Publishers Weekly sums the book up beautifully: “Hammer does a service to Haidara and the Islamic faith by providing the illuminating history of these manuscripts, managing to weave the complicated threads of this recent segment of history into a thrilling story.”

Haidara’s story begins in the 1980s when, as a young adventurer and collector for a government library, he journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River to track down and salvage thousands of ancient Islamic manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. Through his efforts, the city acquired 350,000 precious volumes, many written during the Golden Age of Timbuktu in the 1500s. Tragically, his efforts nearly unraveled when Al Qaeda militants seized control of Timbuktu and most of Mali in 2012. As the militants tightened their control, Haidara organized a clandestine and dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of Timbuktu, by road and by river, to the safety of southern Mali. THE BAD-ASS LIBRARIANS recounts Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s literary patrimony.

Today, the manuscripts are held in a dozen specially-prepared safe houses in Mali’s capital of Bamako, which were set up by Haidara with funding from several European countries, including Switzerland and Germany. Now that they’re safe, Haidara’s focus is digitizing and cataloging them, and fundraising for their eventual return to Timbuktu.

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