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An exemplary work of investigative journalism that is also a wonderfully colourful book of history and travel Observer Books of the YearA piece of postmodern historiography of quite extraordinary sophistication and ingenuity written with exceptional delicacy and restraint TLSTo Westerners the name Timbuktu long conjured a tantalising paradise an African El Dorado where even the slaves wore gold Beginning in the late eighteenth century a series of explorers gripped by the fever for discovery tried repeatedly to reach the fabled city But one expedition after another went disastrously awry succumbing to attack climate and diseaseTimbuktu was rich in another way too A medieval centre of learning it was home to tens according to some hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts on subjects ranging from religion to poetry law to history pharmacology and astronomy When al Qaeda linked jihadists surged across Mali in 2012 threatening the existence of these precious documents a remarkable thing happened a team of librarians and archivists joined forces to spirit the manuscripts into hidingRelying on extensive research and firsthand reporting Charlie English expertly twines these two suspenseful strands into a fascinating account of one of the planets extraordinary places and the myths from which it has become inseparableAn exemplary work of investigative journalism that is also a wonderfully colourful book of history and travel Observer Books of the YearA piece of postmodern historiography of quite extraordinary sophistication and ingenuity written with exceptional delicacy and restraint TLSTo Westerners the name Timbuktu long conjured a tantalising paradise an African El Dorado where even the slaves wore gold Beginning in the late eighteenth century a series of explorers gripped by the fever for discovery tried repeatedly to reach the fabled city But one expedition after another went disastrously awry succumbing to attack climate and diseaseTimbuktu was rich in another way too A medieval centre of learning it was home to tens according to some hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts on subjects ranging from religion to poetry law to history pharmacology and astronomy When al Qaeda linked jihadists surged across Mali in 2012 threatening the existence of these precious documents a remarkable thing happened a team of librarians and archivists joined forces to spirit the manuscripts into hidingRelying on extensive research and firsthand reporting Charlie English expertly twines these two suspenseful strands into a fascinating account of one of the planets extraordinary places and the myths from which it has become inseparableAn exemplary work of investigative journalism that is also a wonderfully colourful book of history and travel Observer Books of the YearA piece of postmodern historiography of quite extraordinary sophistication and ingenuity written with exceptional delicacy and restraint TLSTo Westerners the name Timbuktu long conjured a tantalising paradise an African El Dorado where even the slaves wore gold Beginning in the late eighteenth century a series of explorers gripped by the fever for discovery tried repeatedly to reach the fabled city But one expedition after another went disastrously awry succumbing to attack climate and diseaseTimbuktu was rich in another way too A medieval centre of learning it was home to tens according to some hundreds of thousands of ancient manuscripts on subjects ranging from religion to poetry law to history pharmacology and astronomy When al Qaeda linked jihadists surged across Mali in 2012 threatening the existence of these precious documents a remarkable thing happened a team of librarians and archivists joined forces to spirit the manuscripts into hidingRelying on extensive research and firsthand reporting Charlie English expertly twines these two suspenseful strands into a fascinating account of one of the planets extraordinary places and the myths from which it has become inseparable