In This Review

Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa
Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa
By Ousmane Oumar Kane
Harvard University Press, 2016, 296 pp.

Medieval Timbuktu was a wealthy city whose great libraries allowed it to flourish as a center of learning and scholarship. Kane’s compelling intellectual history of West Africa places Timbuktu within a much broader tradition of Islamic learning in the region, which was home to other medieval knowledge centers and which continues to advance the study of Arabic philology even today. Kane wants to show that West Africa has been much more central to Islam than has been typically understood. His wide-ranging book focuses on the intellectual traditions of the region and its role in the production and circulation of key Arabic-language texts regarding religion, law, and ethics. Kane is far less interested in the political and economic history of the area, making only passing references to the trans-Saharan slave and gold trades that enriched it and to its colonization by France and the United Kingdom.