The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past by Charlie English

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

Two tales of a city: The historical race to -discover- one of the world's most mythologized places, and the story of how a contemporary band of archivists and librarians, fighting to save its ancient manuscripts from destruction at the hands of al Qaeda, added another layer to the legend. To Westerners, the name -Timbuktu- long conjured a tantalizing paradise, an African...

Title:The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1594634289
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:432 pages

The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past Reviews

  • Cody

    For hundreds of years, Europeans heard whispers about the wealth of a large city deep in the heart of Africa. Timbuktu was essentially the African version of El Dorado, so it is not surprising that, starting in the late 18th century, England, France and Prussia began to search for the mythological city in earnest. The history of these explorations was the highlight of this book for me, although the historiography of Timbuktu and its manuscripts was very well done.

    My problem was two fold: the mi

    For hundreds of years, Europeans heard whispers about the wealth of a large city deep in the heart of Africa. Timbuktu was essentially the African version of El Dorado, so it is not surprising that, starting in the late 18th century, England, France and Prussia began to search for the mythological city in earnest. The history of these explorations was the highlight of this book for me, although the historiography of Timbuktu and its manuscripts was very well done.

    My problem was two fold: the mission to save the city's manuscripts from the Al Qaeda invasion of 2012-2013 was not as interesting as I hoped, and secondly, much of the book felt a little rushed. This is not to say that I do not appreciate the fact that the conflict in Mali was unfortunate, but I think the author was forced to depend on inconsistent sources to sculpt his narrative. As to the rushed nature of the book, I felt the author could have spent more time on the European quest to find the city as well as the history of the town itself. The are several interesting characters mentioned who had fascinating experiences during their travels, but English, maybe for the sake of page count, rushes through these parts of the story.

    A solid three stars for a good book that could have been so much better. It's a good thing when your readers want more of what you write, so props to English for finding an interesting story. We just needed more of it!

    Also of note; apparently Timbuktu suffered from a severe case of 'acute bibliophilism'-something I can relate to and appreciate full heartedly.

  • Lori Tatar

    The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past by Charlie English paves the way toward understanding the differences between Westerners and other cultures, particularly Arabian. It explores multiple expeditions fraught with all kinds of peril from disease to hunger, murder to insufficient water. Attempts to discover and exploit a whole other, seemingly hidden culture and city are met with tremendous resistance from men as well as from environmental factors.

    T

    The Storied City: The Quest for Timbuktu and the Fantastic Mission to Save Its Past by Charlie English paves the way toward understanding the differences between Westerners and other cultures, particularly Arabian. It explores multiple expeditions fraught with all kinds of peril from disease to hunger, murder to insufficient water. Attempts to discover and exploit a whole other, seemingly hidden culture and city are met with tremendous resistance from men as well as from environmental factors.

    The book blends early travels with current sentiments and hardships on both sides as it takes the reader on a journey for a destination very similar to El Dorado, with similar findings once discovered. Timbuktu has always had an identity of its own, full of beauty, mystery and secrets. Very few outsiders get to know her. This history offers great insight into understanding why.

  • Catherine

    I loved this book! The history, in and of itself was mind-boggling. I am very impressed with this author and the research they put into this project. Bravo!!!

  • Paul

    The city of Timbuktu with its ancient history has long captivated people. Just the very name conjures up images of an oasis in the desert, a city full of exotic people and a place where the mysteries of the East meet the gateway to the dark continent of Africa. It is a place that drew travellers in the Eighteenth century seeking the legendary place where even the slaves wore gold, but the desire to reach there was not always met with success, history shows us that the roads there were littered w

    The city of Timbuktu with its ancient history has long captivated people. Just the very name conjures up images of an oasis in the desert, a city full of exotic people and a place where the mysteries of the East meet the gateway to the dark continent of Africa. It is a place that drew travellers in the Eighteenth century seeking the legendary place where even the slaves wore gold, but the desire to reach there was not always met with success, history shows us that the roads there were littered with failed expeditions as they succumbed to the hostile landscape, disease and attack.

    There is another side to Timbuktu, it has always been a world centre in the Islamic world for learning from as far back as the 13th Century. As they became a centre where knowledge was pooled. This has left a lasting legacy of thousands and thousands of documents, books and manuscripts in public and personal libraries throughout the city on subjects as diverse as astronomy, religion, law and history as well as cultural subjects like poetry. These vast libraries came under threat from destruction in 2012 as al-Qaeda–linked jihadists poured across Mali wreaking havoc and destruction as they went. After destroying several mausoleums the librarians and archivists of the city were forced to consider the fate of their precious papers. So began the race to either hide the manuscripts or in the case of large collections, to move them to another city where they would be safe.

    At times this reads like a thriller, as he tells the stories of how the manuscripts were moved from Timbuktu to a place of safety in Bamako using secure networks of couriers. Much of it was carried out in secret as the least amount of people that knew about it, the safer the operation. Charlie English recounts the stories he’d been told, before travelling to the city to see for himself the lockers and their precious cargoes. Whilst I think that it was important to set the context, for me it felt like there was too much emphasis on the past events. I didn’t like the switching around of the old and the new, I would have preferred the current day and historical events to be in separate sections. With its history, contemporary world issues and focus on ancient books, it is a difficult book to pigeonhole. It is a fascinating and very readable account of a small but significant part of world history.

  • J.J.

    Was kind of one of elusive squid books. You invested all this time to find out what happened and then it closed with but did it?!

  • Siria

    Timbuktu is a name that's had a hold on the western imagination for centuries. In this book, Charlie English traces the history of foreign fascination with the fabled city, drawing parallels between the dangers faced by the European explorers who tried to find it and the attempts by the city's modern inhabitants to save their priceless manuscripts from destruction at the hands of Islamists. English describes past and present in vivid detail, and pushes further than the standard popular history a

    Timbuktu is a name that's had a hold on the western imagination for centuries. In this book, Charlie English traces the history of foreign fascination with the fabled city, drawing parallels between the dangers faced by the European explorers who tried to find it and the attempts by the city's modern inhabitants to save their priceless manuscripts from destruction at the hands of Islamists. English describes past and present in vivid detail, and pushes further than the standard popular history account in not being content to accept the mythology of the manuscripts and their rescue at face value. His scepticism, and the way in pushes back against the easy but adrenaline-filled narrative, is refreshing. Overall an engrossing read.

    I do wish the photo inserts had been printed in colour, though. It's so difficult to get a decent grasp of the materiality of the manuscripts when they've all been flattened out into black and white.

  • Kerry Hennigan

    Having read “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu” by Joshua Hammer previously, I approached this one with interest to see what different light author Charlie English might shed on the rescue of priceless manuscripts from the fabled Malian city.

    The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu is different from that earlier title in that it looks at both the historical quest for Timbuktu by the West and the 21st century battle to save its epigraphic treasures from possible destruction by jihadists.

    While the details

    Having read “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu” by Joshua Hammer previously, I approached this one with interest to see what different light author Charlie English might shed on the rescue of priceless manuscripts from the fabled Malian city.

    The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu is different from that earlier title in that it looks at both the historical quest for Timbuktu by the West and the 21st century battle to save its epigraphic treasures from possible destruction by jihadists.

    While the details of the covert operations by librarians and scholars to protect the precious collections bog down the narrative at times, the intervening chapters on the various explorers who tried, failed or partially succeeded (and were sometimes disbelieved) in their quest to reach Timbuktu are enthralling.

    English clearly highlights the different mythologies that have cloaked Timbuktu over the centuries - as a fabled city of gold (it’s mostly mud-brick) as the storehouse of priceless treasures (its treasures being - albeit priceless - collections of medieval manuscripts) an enlightened university city or “Cathage and Alexandria combined”.

    Even in the wake of the modern-day capture and occupation of Timbuktu by jihadists, and international effort was launched to save the very real treasures of the city from possible destruction.

    Hammer spent hours talking with some of the local scholars, librarians and, in terms of the title of his book, smugglers who risked their lives to ensure the manuscripts were removed to safety.

    But, that isn’t the end of the story - or Hammer’s book. What followed would be questions on the costly rescue effort and criticism of some of those who had been responsible for it.

    The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu is a fascinating volume and provides plenty of resources and web site suggestions for further investigation. Like those explorers of old, I found it impossible to resist!

    Kerry Hennigan

    13 July 2017

  • Kat

    *** I received a copy of the book from the New Zealand publisher Harper Collins, this review is my honest opinion and I was not requested nor rewarded in any way for it***

    I first started this book in June, and I enjoyed reading the history of the old explorers and also the rise of modern Timbuktu before the rise of 'Al Qaeda' but then the London terrorist attacks happened and I couldn't pick it back up.

    The book sat on my coffee table, it's cover taunting me to pick it back up. I love the cover,

    *** I received a copy of the book from the New Zealand publisher Harper Collins, this review is my honest opinion and I was not requested nor rewarded in any way for it***

    I first started this book in June, and I enjoyed reading the history of the old explorers and also the rise of modern Timbuktu before the rise of 'Al Qaeda' but then the London terrorist attacks happened and I couldn't pick it back up.

    The book sat on my coffee table, it's cover taunting me to pick it back up. I love the cover, it's what initially pulled me in when I was perusing the upcoming releases from the publisher and then the description had me requesting it, as I was ready for another nonfiction book. I'm not really a nonfiction reader, I read to escape, but I have lived in Africa as a child, and have always been fascinated by its history.

    So by August and having finished working full time I picked it up to finish.

    Having felt enough time had passed for me to read with an unbiased opinion.

    On conclusion after finishing I guess it is true what people tend to say of written history - it's written by the victor and often is biased towards the side who wrote it. And of course a record of an event can be interpreted differently by he individual. And I think the author has tried to put this across with his interpretation of the facts gathered.

    My personal view is that the librarians and the many contributors of the savings of the manuscripts were brave and courageous. It matters not the numbers saved, but in the fact they actually did it in such adverse circumstances. When saving themselves was hazardous enough, to risk life and limb for books is what every bibliophile reading this book will understand.

    To save the written history of an ancient history and culture that has been preserved and revered by the people of Timbuktu and the world itself even to the average fiction reader like myself, and in that I mean, that I personally don't read nonfiction regularly, but have an interest in the history of the written word.

    This book created a visual interpretation of a land of mystery and history of the early European explorers who set out to find the fabled city. I was astounded at the lack of provisions some of the early explorers had. And also how the descendants of Timbuktu preserved the history of their people throughout the constant upheaval of foreign and domestic invaders.

    By the end of the book I was left with the thought of... Who knows what history has been lost in the centuries of war and religious conflict. And I'm glad that the author chose to stick to the story of the manuscripts and not go into the ideologies of a very secular group of what to the outside world seems to be a corruption of an otherwise peaceful religion.

    The book is an interpretation of the facts gathered, I'm sure there will be those who will wonder if the numbers were correct, of whether the danger was exaggerated, but when you look back at the treasures lost in the Nazi occupation I could understand the librarians fear for their treasures.

    I also thought adding the photographs was a good touch, and the notes at the end are also worth reading.

    Overall I've enjoyed it even with the break in between.

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