A chilling portrait of a country under siege and one man’s defiance.



The tale of a devoted collector of manuscripts who outwitted militant jihadis.

Throughout Timbuktu’s tumultuous history, writes Hammer (Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire that Helped Forge the Path to World War II, 2006, etc.), the city “seemed to be in a constant state of flux, periods of openness and liberalism followed by waves of intolerance and repression” involving the killing of scholars in the 1300s, the banishment and imprisonment of Jews in the 1490s, and the implementation of Sharia law in the 1800s. In this vivid, fast-paced narrative, the author recounts another period of devastating repression when extremists took over the city in 2012, threatening both inhabitants and Mali’s cultural heritage. As a former bureau chief for Newsweek and current contributing editor to Smithsonian and Outside, Hammer draws on many—often dangerous—visits to the city and interviews with major players to chronicle the efforts of Abdel Kader Haidara to save priceless literary and historical manuscripts. Since the 1980s, working for Mali’s Ahmed Baba Institute, Haidara traveled by camel, canoe, and on foot, crossing perilous terrain, to acquire ancient manuscripts that had been hidden for safekeeping, sometimes in caves or holes in the ground. Some had decayed to dust or been eaten by termites, but in Mali’s dry climate, many thousands had been preserved. After nearly a decade at the institute, he had collected 16,500 manuscripts. Eventually, he amassed hundreds of thousands. As Hammer portrays him, Haidara was tireless, ingenious, and single-minded. Besides recounting Haidara’s efforts as collector, fundraiser, library builder, and publicist, Hammer conveys in palpable detail the rise and radicalization of al-Qaida militants. By 2006, Timbuktu had evolved into a modern city, with five hotels catering to growing tourism and three Internet cafes. Six years later, hundreds of extremists took over, arresting, executing, holding foreign hostages for exorbitant ransoms, and determined to purge the city of music, art, and literature.

A chilling portrait of a country under siege and one man’s defiance.

Pub Date: April 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-7740-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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