In his upcoming book “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts” journalist and author Joshua Hammer, NF ’05, tells the story of a herculean attempt to protect endangered texts from destruction in Mali.
“Bad-Ass” draws on Hammer’s many years of reporting from Mali for a narrative that takes place primarily during the period of 2012-2013, when Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other radical groups seized control of a large swath of the country.
The book tells the story of Abdel Kader Haidara, an intrepid archivist in Timbuktu, who organized the secret removal, by land and by river, of 350,000 valuable secular and Islamic manuscripts, some dating to the 11th century, from the extremist-occupied north to the safety of government-held territory in the south.
The story weaves together a clever smuggling operation with the history of Timbuktu and its intellectual traditions; Haidara’s intriguing back story; and a detailed look at life under the jihadis’ brutal occupation.
Hammer reported for Newsweek as a business and media writer, bureau chief and correspondent-at-large on five continents. He now is a contributing editor to Smithsonian and Outside, and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. His other nonfiction books are “Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire that Helped Forge the Path to World War II” and “A Season in Bethlehem: Unholy War in a Sacred Place.” “Since 2007 he has been based in Berlin, Germany