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Joshua Hammer

Author of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

13+ Works 1,950 Members 83 Reviews

About the Author

Joshua Hammer is the New York Times bestselling author of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, GQ, Smithsonian, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, National Geographic, and Outside. He lives in Berlin.

Includes the name: Joshua Hammer

Image credit: Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden moderates the "Essential Libraries" panel with Joshua Hammer and Alberto Manguel at the National Book Festival, August 31, 2019. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress. By Library of Congress Life - 20190831SM1159.jpg, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82899309

Works by Joshua Hammer

Associated Works

The Best American Political Writing 2008 (2008) — Contributor — 37 copies
The Best American Magazine Writing 2016 (2016) — Contributor — 18 copies


Common Knowledge

Country (for map)
New York, USA
Places of residence
New York, USA
Berlin, Germany
Nairobi, Kenya
Los Angeles, California, USA
Jerusalem, Israel
Horace Mann School, New York, New York, USA
Princeton University (English literature)
Flip Brophy
Short biography
Joshua Hammer was born in New York and graduated from Princeton University with a cum laude degree in English literature. He joined the staff of Newsweek as a business and media writer in 1988, and between 1993 and 2006 served as a bureau chief and correspondent-at-large on five continents. Hammer is now a contributing editor to Smithsonian and Outside, and a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books< and has written for publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveler, The Atlantic, and The Atavist Magazine. He has won numerous journalism awards. Since 2007 he has been based in Berlin, Germany, and continues to travel widely around the world. [adapted from The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu (2016)]



Look, let's not pretend...this was a high probability like for me, right from the start. The title alone makes me happy. That said, I think there are two things this book does really, really well. First, I learned a lot about north African scholarship and philosophy, both current and historical. Hammer, in describing the titular librarians and archivists, delves into the backstory of the collection they protect. In these passages, I was exposed to some really interesting ideas about Islamic scholarship that I never see discussed in mainstream media. Second, Hammer strikes an impressive balance between recounting the central events of archival heroics and the geopolitical chaos which erupted around his main characters and caused the threat to the manuscripts. In describing the jihad fighters, especially their commanders, the book could have gotten away from the author and become something else entirely. Hammer, however, manages to make the insurgents seem really, really bad without losing sight of the story he was trying to tell.… (more)
Library_Guard | 69 other reviews | Jun 17, 2024 |
Very good book, and a good one to read. The librarian(s) are, indeed, badass, but I had to ding the for one thing, perhaps unfairly: the librarian angle of the title only takes up less than a third of the text. The overwhelming bulk is about both the north African history with Islam and the rise of Al Qaeda. Both topics are interesting and important but aren't directly related to what is expected from the title.

Great book though.
llysenw | 69 other reviews | May 15, 2024 |
Enjoyed learning about the manuscripts themselves and learned a lot about how al Qaeda operates in countries like Mali. Wish there had been more detail on the manuscripts themselves
cspiwak | 69 other reviews | Mar 6, 2024 |
Some days I just feel like screaming.

Reading Joshua Hammer's story about how Abel Kadeem Haidara risked life and limb to save hundreds of thousands of books and manuscripts from destruction at the hands of Al Qaeda operatives is one of those stories that just stops me in my tracks.

Haidara follows in the steps of his near mythical father in finding, fixing, cataloguing, and preserving Arabic books and manuscripts which reach back into the early days of Islam and the origins of Empire in West Central Africa.

And when the collection appears threatened by an Arabist coup, he takes matters into his own hands by coopting friends and family to move the collection to a safe haven.

That such world treasures are at risk boils my blood. Reading as Haidara has to resort to bribes to protect the collection drives me to the edge. These people ought to get on their knees and thank the man, not threaten him with extinction.

"Skip" Gates plays a cameo in this story as an important link to the west and western foundations for protecting the heritage.

Equally as valuable in this story are the close-up portraits of the jihadis who take over Timbuktu with their own brand of Salafist Islam. That each of the leaders has a unique personal, sometimes political or cultural agenda shouldn't come as a surprise. History and colonialism plays as big a role in this story as the Islamist revivals.

Here we have principally Sunni financing with a little kidnapping, drug running, sabotage, and smuggling mixed in for good measure. All elements that we see playing themselves out in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen.

And there is the settling of scores aplenty.

This is a near lawless part of the world. I don't see how you separate out religion from domestic corruption and centuries of tribal behaviours.

I don't live in one of these hot, dangerous places but if I did I'd probably keep my head low.

… (more)
MylesKesten | 69 other reviews | Jan 23, 2024 |



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