Shelf Reflection: The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu by Charlie English

Shelf Reflection: The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu by Charlie English

Every once in a while, we need to take a step back from our avid reading and appreciate some of the beauties we have on our shelves. If writing is an art, then reading is too, and we need to take some time to appreciate that in our books and ourselves.

Title: The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu: The Quest for this Storied City and the Race to Save Its Treasures

Author: Charlie English

How I Found It: I was meandering around the British Library one day, and made my way into the bookshop (I know, you guys are shocked). At the time, I was working on my degree in Book History, and imagine my delight when I found that the bookshop in the British Library had a whole section on the history of the book! And, really, if there’s anything that rivals my love of books, it’s the love of a good adventure story. So, naturally, I was drawn to the book that puts those two together.

In a Nutshell: One of the most terrifying stories in the world is that the rich cultural heritage of Africa in general and Timbuktu in particular depended almost entirely upon an empty text message and a rogue librarian. Charlie English adeptly weaves two stories together: That of the “discovery” of the fabled and scholarly city of Timbuktu by European explorers and the scramble to save its priceless manuscripts from wholesale destruction by Al-Qaeda in 2012.

Why I Liked It: It’s a fairly well-known fact among my family and friends that I aspire to be Indiana Jones (totally serious – I even have the hat). This was the story of real-life Indiana Joneses, who risked life and limb to save books. And not just any books, but books that completely turned scholarly theories of African history on their head and the scandal surrounding their rescue. The book deals with important questions that librarians all around the world are facing: How do we protect these objects? Who should house and have access to these objects? and How far would you go to save these objects?

Book Smugglers of Timbuktu cover

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