Quando nel 1826 l’esploratore Alexander Gordon Laing arrivò a Timbuctù, primo europeo a mettervi piede, scoprì che la capitale del Mali era da secoli il cuore intellettuale dell’Africa subsahariana, un luogo di straordinaria ricchezza culturale nel quale era fiorito un tesoro inestimabile di testi religiosi, di algebra, fisica, medicina, giurisprudenza, botanica, geografia, astronomia, persino di educazione sessuale.
Testi preziosi anche perché vergati con varietà di stili calligrafici, di inchiostri e colori. È questo immenso patrimonio di manoscritti – recuperati rocambolescamente in tutta l’Africa da Abdel Kader Haidara, archivista e bibliotecario – che improvvisamente, nel 2012, si ritrova minacciato dall'avanzata della jihad. I fondamentalisti prendono Timbuctù, impongono la Sharia, distruggono le vestigia degli antichi templi e diventa chiaro che anche i manoscritti saranno dati alle fiamme.
Per salvarli Abdel Kader recluta un manipolo di coraggiosi bibliofili e organizza un’incredibile operazione: oltre 350.000 manoscritti vengono nascosti in casse e bauli, portati al sicuro su carretti trainati da muli, contrabbandati oltre i posti di blocco. E quando a Timbuctù arrivano i militari francesi, nel gennaio 2013, la gran parte del tesoro è in salvo. La biblioteca segreta di Timbuctù è una straordinaria storia vera, che si legge come un romanzo e che afferma il valore della cultura come unico baluardo possibile contro la barbarie del fondamentalismo.
**New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice**
“This is, simply, a fantastic story, one that has been beautifully told by Josh Hammer, who knows and loves Mali like some farmers know their back forty. At a time of unprecedented cultural destruction taking place across the Muslim world, Abdel Kader Haidara, the savior of Timbuktu's ancient manuscripts and this book's main character, is a true hero. If you are feeling despair about the fate of the world, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is a must-read, and a welcome shot in the arm.” (Jon Lee Anderson, author of The Fall of Baghdad)
“[The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu] has all the elements of a classic adventure novel [and] it is a story that couldn’t be more timely. . . . Suffice it to say that [the librarians] earn their “bad ass” sobriquet several times over. Riveting skullduggery, revealing history and current affairs combine in a compelling narrative with a rare happy ending.” (Seattle Times)
“The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu . . . vividly captures the history and strangeness of [Timbuktu] in a fast-paced narrative that gets us behind today’s headlines of war and terror. This is part reportage and travelogue . . . part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract and part out-and-out thriller." (Washington Post)
“I’ve long known that the versatile Joshua Hammer could drop into the midst of a war or political conflict anywhere in the world and make sense of it. But he has outdone himself this time, and found an extraordinary, moving story of a quiet—and successful—act of great bravery in the face of destructive fanaticism.” (Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost and To End All Wars)
“Part history, part scholarly adventure story and part journalist survey of the volatile religious politics of the Maghreb region. . . . Hammer writes with verve and expertise.” (New York Times Book Review)
"A picaresque and mysterious adventure that rushes across the strife-torn landscape of today’s Mali, The Bad-Ass Librarians tells the unlikely but very real story of a band of bookish heroes from Timbuktu and their desperate race—past dangerous checkpoints, through deserts, and often in the dead of night—to save a culture and a civilization from destruction. Josh Hammer has seen firsthand how ordinary people can respond with extraordinary heroism when faced with evil. He also gives us a dramatic example of what it means to stick with a story; he knows this one from the beginnings in the late 1300s up until the present day, with its extremism and acts of cultural repression and erasure. Hammer has an unerring sense of what matters and his storytelling is impassioned and fun at the same time." (Amy Wilentz, author of Farewell, Fred Voodoo)
"Gripping [and] ultimately moving. . . . History depends on whose stories get told and which books survive; in Timbuktu, thanks to Haidara and his associates, inquiry, humanity, and courage live on in the libraries." (Boston Globe)
"A completely engrossing adventure with a sharp--and prescient--political edge. Josh Hammer, a veteran correspondent of numerous conflict zones, tells a fascinating story about the quest to save Timbuktu’s priceless Islamic writings from the grasp of jihadists. This is an entertaining, and extremely timely, book about the value of art and history and the excesses of religious extremism." (Janet Reitman, author of Inside Scientology)
“Hammer has pulled off the truly remarkable here—a book that is both important and a delight to read. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is the wonderfully gripping story of Abdel Kader Haidara and the hundreds of ordinary Malians who, at great personal danger, endeavored to save the ancient fabled manuscripts of Timbuktu from destruction by Islamic jihadists. It is also an inspirational reminder that, even as the forces of barbarism extend their thrall across so much of the Muslim world, there are still those willing to risk everything to preserve civilization. A superb rendering of a story that needs to be told.” (Scott Anderson, author of Lawrence in Arabia)