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The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Here is a “Must Read” book if you want more information on understanding how the moderate form of Islam taught the world mathematics, medicine, science, literature, poetry, and a world view of religious thinking over a millennium. Author Joshua Hammer has made his career on reporting worldwide for a plethora of magazines and newspapers. Over a period of ten years, he followed and researched the life and work of Abdel Kader Haidara, a man who has dedicated nearly 50 years to the gathering, preservation, cataloging and saving hundreds of thousands of the world’s most precious books which had been written copied and hidden in and around the Sahara Desert city of Timbuktu, Mali. In the process, Hammer follows the paths that Haidara used as he traveled and traded for books as he worked to build world heritage libraries for UNESCO from the long-hidden in family libraries all over central Mali. Hammer understands the peoples of the area, their customs, histories, and religions. He describes how the moderate Islamic Sufis became the center of human knowledge, discussion, and new ideas over a tumultuous history of a thousand years. In the process, the families guarded their special libraries through a millennium of moderate and tyrannical government in order to preserve some of the oldest books of religious studies and critique as well as scientific learning. Author Hammer does an excellent job of describing the latest threat to world knowledge and learning, the Jihadi movement in Islam with its Saudi Arabian sect ideas of rule by strict Sharia Law. He follows the buildup of the movement in Libya which then spilled over into the central Sahara and entered Mali in the past ten years. He documents the anarchic rule of the foreign Islamic Jihadi warriors who eschewed the moderate Sufi ways and forced the people of Timbuktu and much of Mali to live in daily fear of their lives while capricious gangs of Jihadi enforcers thronged the city and meted out punishment in a medieval manner. As the threats to the populace grew, Haidara and the other librarians realized that the hundreds of thousands of books they had gathered over some fifty years, were in danger of being destroyed by fanatical gangs. At great risk to their own lives, these dedicated persons traveled overland by canoe, back roads and through checkpoints in the middle of a war zone to smuggle all the books in Timbuktu some eight hundred miles across the sub-Sahara to safe houses in Bamako, capital of Mali and far from Jihadi hands. The reader will learn an amazing amount of information about the ongoing work to save our world’s ancient literature as well as have a better understanding of the geopolitical problems facing frontline developing nations who are confronted with Jihadi movements that can take control of entire countries unless the western world and the African Union of States act decisively to stop this regressive movement that is spreading into any vacuum of power. Mr. Abdel Kader Haidara deserves a Nobel Prize. Author Joshua Hammer deserves all the awards and kudos he can get for this well documented and groundbreaking journalistic work.
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Definitely a 5-STAR READ! Excellent review, Rick.
Thanks. One of my best reads of the year.