Two tales of a city: The historical race to reach one of the world's most mythologized places, and the story of how a contemporary band of archivists and librarians, fighting to save its ancient manuscripts from destruction at the hands of al Qaeda, added another layer to the legend.To 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, the climate, and disease. Timbuktu was rich in another way too. A medieval centre of learning, it was home to tens 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 hiding.Relying on extensive research and firsthand reporting, Charlie English expertly twines these two suspenseful strands into a fascinating account of one of the planet's extraordinary places, and the myths from which it has become inseparable.
The little-known story of Hitler's war on modern art and the mentally ill. In the first years of the Weimar Republic, the German psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn gathered a remarkable collection of works by schizophrenic patients that would astonish and delight the world. The Prinzhorn collection, as it was called, inspired a new generation of artists, including Paul Klee, Max Ernst and Salvador Dali. What the doctor could not have known, however, was that these works would later be used to prepare the ground for mass-murder. Soon after his rise to power, Hitler-a failed artist of the old school-declared war on modern art. The Nazis staged giant 'Degenerate Art' shows to ridicule the avant-garde, and seized and destroyed the cream of Germany's modern art collections. This action was mere preparation, however, for the even more sinister campaign Hitler would later wage against so-called "degenerate" people, and Prinzhorn's artists were caught up in both. Bringing together inspirational art history, genius and madness, and the wanton cruelty of the fanatical "artist-Fuhrer", this astonishing story lays bare the culture war that paved the way for Hitler's first extermination programme, the psychiatric Holocaust.