The Storied City

The Storied City

The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past

Book - 2017
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The story of how a team of librarians and archivists joined forces to spirit tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts into hiding when al-Qaeda-linked jihadists surged across Mali in 2012, threatening the existence of these precious documents. Relying on extensive research and firsthand reporting, Charlie English expertly twines a fraught and fascinating account of one of the planet's extraordinary places, and the myths from which it has become inseparable. -- from dust jacket.
Publisher: New York : Riverhead Books, [2017]
ISBN: 9781594634284
Branch Call Number: 966.23 EN362S 2017
Characteristics: 400 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm


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Dec 18, 2017

The search for the legendary city of Timbuktu baffled European scholars and adventurers for centuries. It was only in the nineteenth century that the race buy the British, French and Prussians resulted in its "discovery" happened even though Arab camel caravans from Egypt and Sudan has been well aware of the scholarly reputation of the learned men of the remote western desert.

Charlie English intersperses the story of the European "discovery" with the modern day effort to save priceless manuscripts that document the history of this cultural treasure. Forces of the Islamic fundamentalist AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) close in with the intent of destroying thousands upon thousands of parchments from pre and post Islamic history.

Filled with exciting information about Mali, its past and its unfortunate present. A work very well done.

Dec 05, 2017

I listened to this on audiobook from another library. It is fascinating history. Timbuktu . . .
what does that name conjure in your imagination. Storied City is a grand history. A history of empires perhaps going back to the 1100s CE. There was another book a year ago (which I listened to and liked) called The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. The principal character in the Bad-Ass book is present in The Storied City but only in the years of the recent past. He was the librarian and with wit and derring-do he hid manuscripts - national treasures - to save them from the Islamicists who wanted a return to pure Islam, the Islam of the prophet, which made these priceless manuscripts trash to be destroyed.

Timbuktu was believed to be the golden prize for whoever could get there first. Getting there was not easy - it was inland, the geography and topography had yet to be mapped with any accuracy. The culture was hostile to Europeans. Most Europeans fell ill to diseases of the African lands. England and France were the main contenders. 17th-18th-19th centuries.

The book moves from distant past to near past, back to distant past but maybe 50 years later, as each expedition sets forth, and so on. Easy to follow the chronology. I learned so much. Oh - a wonderful anecdote. Henry Louis Gates came to Timbuktu in 1998 in prep. for a PBS doc on African history and culture. Haydera showed Gates the library and Gates began to cry. He was so overcome because in the West it was believed that there was no written history from Africa. And here he was in the presence of about 300,000 manuscripts as far back a 1100s and when Timbuktu had a university in the 1300s.

Sep 13, 2017

English is a British journalist, attempting to write a history, which causes him some problems. The writing itself is often excellent, and often his research is good. But the book is confusing because he's putting together several stories. First is the Western view of how Timbuktu, in what is now Mali, and how it was hidden from Western eyes for thousands of years. Another is the late 18th and 19th c. story of Western attempts to find Timbuktu and exploit its resources for Western purposes. Finally is the story of the 2011-2013 war between the Mali government and Jihadists to take over that government. The jihadists wanted the treasures long believed to exist in the town. But that treasure turned out to be not streets paved with gold, or roofs sheathed in gold, but manuscripts, some dating back nearly 1000 years. The local librarians, some with the help of aid agencies, spent anxious days getting hundreds of thousands of manuscripts to safety in the country's capital. Others were hidden in plain sight under the noses of the jihadists, many of whom were illiterate and didn't know what they were searching for. English goes back and forth between all these stories, which is often confusing even though he tries to date each chapter and provide a heading for where it takes place. The story is an important one; I just wish it were better written.


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