It's safe to say these guys are absolute legends.
In the summer of 1826, a Scotsman named Alexander Gordon Laing became the first European to set foot in Timbuktu, a city that would become synonymous with mysterious remoteness. The inhabitants of Timbuktu would have been amused by the British imperialist assumption that their city had been “discovered.” By the time Laing reached the place, it had been a thriving international center for centuries, the economic and intellectual heart of the sub-Saharan world, where travelers, traders and thinkers, Africans, Berbers, Arabs, Tuaregs and others gathered to trade gold, salt, slaves, spices, ivory — and knowledge.
While Europe was still groping its way through the dark ages, Timbuktu was a beacon of intellectual enlightenment, and probably the most bibliophilic city on earth. Scientists, engineers, poets and philosophers flocked there to exchange and debate ideas and commit these to paper in hundreds of thousands of manuscripts written in Arabic and various African languages.
That ancient literary heritage, and the threat it faces from radical Islam, is the subject of Joshua Hammer’s book “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu,” part history, part scholarly adventure story and part journalistic survey of the volatile religious politics of the Maghreb region.
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