Book Review | The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

Not going to lie, this was a total title read. You say the words “badass librarians,” and I’m in, no questions asked. I was even more excited to find out that Joshua Hammer’s The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts was actually nonfiction.

25814351This book tells the story of Abdel Kader Haidara, a young collector for a government library who journeyed across the Middle East tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts during the 1980s. In 2012, Al Qaeda seized control of most of Mali, including the legendary city of Timbuktu and threatened, among other things, to destroy the great manuscripts. Haidara organized a heist to to smuggle all 350,000 volumes out of the city and get them safely to southern Mali. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the story of a heroic and ultimately successful effort to preserve Timbuktu’s literary heritage.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu told an interesting story. I was intrigued by the tale itself, but ultimately, I think the book failed to live up to its advertising: “To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.” (taken from Goodreads). The story about the heist itself was bogged down by centuries of history and facts. As a bit of a history buff, I do enjoy the occasional history book (though I am aware they can be pretty dry). I think this was simply a case of going into the book with high expectations, which is almost always a recipe for disappointment. I kind of wish I hadn’t read the synopsis beforehand. That said, the story was interesting, and, while I was occasionally bored, I did like learning about Timbuktu’s literary history.

Rating: ★★★✩✩

This book, unfortunately, didn’t wow me. But it did tell a great story. The writing was good and I thought the imagery Hammer used to portray the extent to which Al Qaeda took over was great! However, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more had I either known what this book really was going in, or gotten a book that was just about the heist, and not so much about the war.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu will be released April 19th, and you can order a copy here if you’re interested.

This book was provided to me by the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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