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Timbuktu: The Sahara's Fabled City of Gold First U.S. Edition Edition

4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0802714978
ISBN-10: 0802714978
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For the Victorians, Timbuktu, a town in central Mali, evoked visions of mysterious, faraway lands, but in fact it has been in a gradual decline since the Moroccan invasion more than 400 years ago. Although today it is rife with malaria, dengue fever, poverty and corruption, Timbuktu boasts an illustrious, lucrative past as a nexus for the gold and salt trades from the 14th through the 16th centuries. Timbuktu was also a center for Islamic scholarship, as evinced by the 14,000-manuscript Mamma Haïdara Library; its owner unlocks a storage closet in his home to reveal to one of the authors piles of priceless ancient manuscripts (one dating to 1204), some gathering dust on the floor. The nomadic Tuareg herdsmen, pegged by some legends as Timbuktu's 11th-century founders, practice an unorthodox brand of Islam in which the men are veiled and the women are not, and women can divorce their husbands. This history-cum-travelogue gives a legendary city its due with an abundance of cogent, rich anecdotes, but falls short with a lack of narrative tension as the authors (Sahara) remain remote from the action, never venturing on a daring quest of their own, as writers of the best books in the genre do. Illus., maps. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

Timbuktu is a city in central Mali near the Niger River. Founded in the eleventh century by the Tuareg, it became a major trading center—primarily for gold and silver—by the fourteenth century. It was invaded by a Moroccan army in 1590 and later was seized by Tuareg nomads. In their copiously researched book, the authors write of the city's origins, its relation to the Niger River, its first and second golden ages, the coming of the Moroccans, and its long decline. De Villiers and Hirtle are co-authors of Sahara: The Extraordinary History of the World's Largest Desert (2002) and Sable Island (2004), and this book, with maps and 12 black-and-white photographs, is a work of large scope, absorbing in its detail. Cohen, George

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; First U.S. Edition edition (August 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802714978
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802714978
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,481,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Tim F. Martin on November 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
_Timbuktu_ by Marq De Villiers and Sheila Hirtle is an engaging history of that fabled Saharan city, its name once synonymous in the West with both remoteness and as a place of wealth beyond imagination, of golden spires and wise and tremendously rich kings, exerting a "hypnotic attraction on the Mediterranean world." It was similarly revered in the east as a major urban center in the Islamic world, for centuries a nexus of caravan trade in Saharan salt, gold from Ghana, and slaves as well as a center of learning and scholarship.

Surprisingly (at least for Western travelers past and present) for all its great fame Timbuktu has always been a city made largely of mud and unpaved streets of sand. Not a city made of gold, reflecting its local earthly origins, the city is "all beiges and dun, shading into the desert and scarcely distinguishable from it." Though there are a few mosques and houses made of brick and some stone, most buildings are mainly made of dried mud (pisé or pounded clay, which the locals call banco). Even the newer parts of town, laid out in a grid, are made of mud brick. Sadly, a shrinking population in the city has no money or manpower to repair an entire city of mud, one that melts in the wet-season rains unless protected by fresh plaster. By the way the spines that appear on Timbuktu buildings "like porcupine quills" are actually stone beams which serve as in-place scaffolds to help repair buildings when the rains come.

Timbuktu is even today a multi-ethnic city, reflecting its cosmopolitan past.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By kaioatey on October 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book has been a pleasure to read. In addition to providing a superb historical overview of a fabled (if little understood) region, the authors also supply snippets from their own visits, spiced with tales and information gleaned from friendly local families. Anyone who has interacted with or is interested in the Tuareg, Bambara, Fulani, Mande/Mandinko, Jews, Moors and Songhai (still living between Mali and Niger) or medieval history will find the book of value, if not irresistible.

While Europe was still stewing in darkness that followed the fall of Rome, the Sahara was brimming with vitality and power. Timbuktu and Central/West African kingdoms traded across the continent but also with Europe (through Moors and Turks), India, Yemen and the Arab peninsula. Their aristocracy was as cosmopolitan as they come. Timbuktu itself was founded strategically on the banks of Niger between the kingdoms of old Ghana (Djenne and Walata) and Gao (Songhai). This enabled its merchants to profit from 3 immense streams of wealth: salt coming from mines in the north; gold from Ghana, Ife/Yoruba and Hausa city states in the south and slaves from Djenne and Sudan. Other trades of interest included spices, cereals, fabrics, dates, cola nuts, shea butter and ivory; unlike today, the city was surrounded by immense forests and grasslands that supported both animal life and agriculture. The trees were cut down to make navies - and never grew back. Instead, the desert moved in, and animals moved away.

The city grew rich, allowing it to invite scholars from Mecca and Cairo; famous universities were founded, thriving for centuries. When the 13th century emperor Mansa Musa visited Cairo on his way to Mecca, he brought with him 60 000 slaves, each carrying 3 kg of pure gold.
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By Charles J Caes on January 7, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Informative and ideal for researchers, but not paced well and hard to stay with.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Colin Wright on April 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Perhaps unlike the city itself, 'Timbuktu' is more innocuous than anything else. There's little analysis, precise description, criticism, or even telling anecdote. To top it all off, the author -- of a book about an Islamic city -- reveals an astonishing ignorance of Islam.
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