Monday, July 12, 2010

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer

Summary: William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger, and a place where hope and opportunity were hard to find. But William had read about windmills in a book called Using Energy, and he dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village and change his life and the lives of those around him. His neighbors may have mocked him and called him misala—crazy—but William was determined to show them what a little grit and ingenuity could do.

Enchanted by the workings of electricity as a boy, William had a goal to study science in Malawi's top boarding schools. But in 2002, his country was stricken with a famine that left his family's farm devastated and his parents destitute. Unable to pay the eighty-dollar-a-year tuition for his education, William was forced to drop out and help his family forage for food as thousands across the country starved and died.

Yet William refused to let go of his dreams. With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach, a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks, and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to bring his family a set of luxuries that only two percent of Malawians could afford and what the West considers a necessity—electricity and running water. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, William forged a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption and small miracle that eventually powered four lights, complete with homemade switches and a circuit breaker made from nails and wire. A second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine that loomed with every season.

Soon, news of William's magetsi a mphepo—his "electric wind"—spread beyond the borders of his home, and the boy who was once called crazy became an inspiration to those around the world.

Here is the remarkable story about human inventiveness and its power to overcome crippling adversity. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual's ability to change his community and better the lives of those around him. (Summary from the book cover - Image from indiebound.com - Book from the library)

My Review: The summary, given above, is comprehensive and accurately describes the book's premise, so in the interest of time (mostly mine) I'll jump straight in to how I felt while reading it.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is more than just a feel-good tale, a simple biography, or an interesting human rights piece. It is, quite simply, amazing. Part historical and cultural study, part coming-of-age tale, I fell in love with William's story and marveled at his ingenuity and determination. I thrilled in his successes and all-out-gaped at his creativity (boiled goat poop, anyone?). While it was heartbreaking to read about the difficulties that his family, and in truth all of Malawi, suffered in the face of famine, drought, and extreme poverty, it was wonderful to watch William’s life transform from a hand-to-mouth existence to the life he has today. What a relief, to finally read a true, uplifting and inspirational story, instead of all the gloom and doom memoirs that have become so popular. Read it for yourself, you won't be disappointed.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars. My rating for this book is based on my admiration for William's story and his acheivements, rather than for Bryan Mealer's writing. It was okay, but really just the means of delivering the story, and not much else. For the sensitive reader: I did skim through some of the more technical paragraphs because I didn't understand them, but that was the only content editing I did. I guess if I ever need to build a windmill I am flat out of luck.

Sum it up: The story of someone who endured unimaginable hardships and still managed to defy the odds and build a better life for himself, his family, and his village. Anyone who liked Three Cups of Tea or The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio will love The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Click here for more about William Kamkwamba and his current projects.

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