...vividly captures the history and strangeness of this place in a fast-paced narrative that gets us behind today’s headlines of war and terror. This is part reportage and travelogue, part intellectual history, part geopolitical tract and part out-and-out thriller.
...part history, part scholarly adventure story and part journalistic survey of the volatile religious politics of the Maghreb region. The title is quite irritating; the rest of it is very good ... Hammer writes with verve and expertise, but there are two problems with the thriller tone that underpins his story. The first is the question of just how 'bad-ass' Haidara really was. While his teams were removing manuscripts, he had evacuated himself to Bamako, offering coordination and encouragement from a distance. This is a perfectly acceptable decision for a middle-aged scholar with two wives and lots of children, but it doesn’t quite make him Indiana Jones The level of threat posed to the manuscripts is also debatable.
There’s no need to reveal here just how these brave librarians and citizens managed to smuggle 377,000 intact manuscripts out of harm’s way past a brutal totalitarian regime, through lawless wilderness and war zones to Mali’s capital city of Bamako far to the south. Suffice it to say that they earn their 'bad ass' sobriquet several times over. Riveting skulduggery, revealing history and current affairs combine in a compelling narrative with a rare happy ending. So far.