Authored by Joshua Hammer, one of today’s most seasoned journalists, THE BAD-ASS LIBRARIANS introduces readers to Abdel Kader Haidara, a mild-mannered historian and librarian from Timbuktu who morphed into one of the world’s greatest smugglers and pulled off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven. A true story, this “vivid, fast-paced narrative” (Kirkus Reviews) is a tale of triumph and positivity that takes place in the Islamic world—something that has sadly been missing in recent months, and arguably recent years. A recent review from Publishers Weekly sums the book up beautifully: “Hammer does a service to Haidara and the Islamic faith by providing the illuminating history of these manuscripts, managing to weave the complicated threads of this recent segment of history into a thrilling story.”
Haidara’s story begins in the 1980s when, as a young adventurer and collector for a government library, he journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River to track down and salvage thousands of ancient Islamic manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. Through his efforts, the city acquired 350,000 precious volumes, many written during the Golden Age of Timbuktu in the 1500s. Tragically, his efforts nearly unraveled when Al Qaeda militants seized control of Timbuktu and most of Mali in 2012. As the militants tightened their control, Haidara organized a clandestine and dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of Timbuktu, by road and by river, to the safety of southern Mali. THE BAD-ASS LIBRARIANS recounts Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s literary patrimony.
Today, the manuscripts are held in a dozen specially-prepared safe houses in Mali’s capital of Bamako, which were set up by Haidara with funding from several European countries, including Switzerland and Germany. Now that they’re safe, Haidara’s focus is digitizing and cataloging them, and fundraising for their eventual return to Timbuktu.
Why do we get so embarrassed when a colleague wears the same shirt? Why do we eat the same thing for breakfast every day, but seek out novelty at lunch and dinner? How has streaming changed the way Netflix makes recommendations? Why do people think the music of their youth is the best? How can you spot a fake review on Yelp?
Our preferences and opinions are constantly being shaped by countless forces – especially in the digital age with its nonstop procession of “thumbs up” and “likes” and “stars.” Tom Vanderbilt, bestselling author of Traffic, explains why we like the things we like, why we hate the things we hate, and what all this tell us about ourselves.
With a voracious curiosity, Vanderbilt stalks the elusive beast of taste, probing research in psychology, marketing, and neuroscience to answer myriad complex and fascinating questions. If you’ve ever wondered how Netflix recommends movies or why books often see a sudden decline in Amazon ratings after they win a major prize, Tom Vanderbilt has answers to these questions and many more that you’ve probably never thought to ask.
Tom Vanderbilt has written for many publications and is a contributing editor of Wired (U.K.), Outside, and Artforum. He is the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) and Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America. He has been a visiting scholar at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, a research fellow at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, a fellow at the Design Trust for Public Space, and a winner of the Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant, among other honors. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.