The bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu and their race to save the world's most precious manuscripts
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that were crumbling in the trunks of desert shepherds.
His goal: to preserve this crucial part of the world's patrimony in a gorgeous library.
But then Al Qaeda showed up at the door. Joshua Hammer writes about how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist from the legendary city of Timbuktu, became one of the world's greatest smugglers by saving the texts from sure destruction.
With bravery and patience, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.
His heroic heist is a reminder that ordinary citizens often do the most to protect the beauty of their culture.
His story is one of a man who, through extreme circumstances, discovered his higher calling and was changed forever by it.