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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Timbuktu is a city in central Mali near the Niger River. Founded in the eleventh century by the Tuareg, it became a major trading centerprimarily for gold and silverby 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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