Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind:
Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope
By William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer

I've already written a little about The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, but I've just finally, finally finished the reading. I did not finish a single book, last week (actually, for nearly 2 weeks) so even if I hadn't had limited computer access I wouldn't have had much to say on the blog.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the memoir of William Kamkwamba, a Malawian who was forced to drop out of secondary school after a crippling drought that killed many of his countrymen and left his family struggling for several years. Because they were barely making enough money to survive, they didn't have any excess to pay for school fees and a uniform. Kamkwamba was a drop-out for five years. He was already one of those curious little boys who take radios apart to figure out what makes them work, as a youngster.

During the drought, as he starved and watched others around him starve and die, young William thought that if only he could make a windmill like he'd seen in the science books in the library, he could power his family's home and create a pumping system to water his father's crops, so that a complete loss of crops would never happen, again. William may have been unable to attend school, but he did his best to keep up with the work on his own and read and reread books on science and physics. Eventually, he began drawing up plans for the windmill he'd dreamed about building and started collecting parts.

Building the windmill was an arduous task. He had to melt plastic and hammer it into shape, salvage yards and yards of wire and metal bits and have pieces welded together, find wood for the frame (no easy task in a country that has been heavily deforested) and locate various working parts I don't quite understand -- a dynamo, a battery. I can't say I fully followed the mechanics of this rather basic device.

Kamkwamba was teased and called "mad" but he ignored people or explained his plan and forged on. Eventually, he managed to power three rooms in his family's house and news spread about the boy who had built a windmill ("electric wind" is what he called it -- the closest words in his language). The press wrote about young William's invention, someone blogged about it, and he ended up attending a conference for scientists and inventors. With help from investors, he was able to attend a better school and build even more to help his family and villagers, including a fresh-water pump that is shared by women in the village, lights and new roofs.

What I loved about the story:

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is truly amazing story of determination, creativity and a big heart. William Kamkwamba is not an egotist. He was driven entirely by the experience of starving and watching those around him starve, resort to stealing, or die if they couldn't acquire food. He wanted to make the lives of the people around him better and prevent starvation. I was impressed by his attitude and his heart. He could have simply gone off to enjoy the opportunities given to him in education, but instead he spent his time off making improvements in his village, just as he had planned.

When he attended the inventors' conference, he still didn't speak much English so upon being asked how he realized his dream to build a windmill, he said, "I get information about windmill . . . And I try, and I made it." Everywhere he went, people shouted, "I try, and I made it!" after his speech. Yes, I do believe that's worthy of a refrigerator magnet. It brought tears to my eyes, if you must know.

What I disliked about the book:

The only thing that frustrated me about The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is that there was never any mention of his age. How old was he during the drought and starvation? What was his age when he started gathering pieces and parts to make his windmill? That was something I wanted to know. Obviously, he was young, but how young? I have not read the supplementary material at the back of the book, so I'm hoping there will be some mention of his age.

Bottom line:

Highly recommended. A wonderful tale about a fellow with a huge heart and a massively energetic, creative mind. I would recommend this book to anyone, but it would also make an excellent addition to a school curriculum because it is both inspiring and instructive.

More bookfoolery to come, tomorrow. I have much to share, but no time to post it right this moment.

My thanks to TLC books and HarperPerennial for the review copy.

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post at Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Keep reading such good things about this one, I feel sure I'll cave and get my hands on a copy.

  2. I added it to my wish list on Amazon. This sounds like a fantastic read!

  3. I thought this book was fantastic too! There were parts that were a little technical for me, but that didn't keep me from enjoying it.

  4. Great review! I'm really intrigued by this book and have been since I first heard of it. Some of it would definitely be over my head, but I still think I'll read it at some point.

  5. This is sitting on my TBR Shelf (the ARC!), and I still haven't read it. With all it's terrific reviews, you'd think I would have picked it up by now. I'm happy to see that you are among the same glowing crowd of happy readers.

  6. According to Wikipedia, which I think I trust for something like this - he was born in 1987, which makes him 23 now. It also say his tuition was the equivelent of $80 US.

    Sounds like an amazing story, Nancy, and it sure makes me appreciate what we have.


  7. Oh my goodness! Please forgive me, Bookfool. I spelled its wrong!!! It just must be a typing habit.

  8. Andi,

    I think it's a really inspiring story. I was impressed with young William's determination and his kind heart. We could all learn a lesson from him. Too bad I'm too dim to follow the technical bits, though. He's got an engineer's brain, for sure.


    It is, indeed. Definitely go for it. :)


    Same here. Not understanding the technical bits didn't affect my enjoyment of the story at all. And, actually, I'm pretty sure I learned a few things.


    Some of it was definitely over my head, but that didn't matter. You can just skim through those bits, if necessary. The story is still an excellent one and I definitely recommend it. It's very inspiring.


    I'm having a little more trouble getting myself to read nonfiction, this year, so I can see why you put it off if you're not a big fan of NF. But, it's excellent. Don't put it off too long! :)


    Wow. And, any of us could probably have just sent him $80, no problem. It makes you think, doesn't it?

    Okay, so if he's 23 now, then he was 20 when he went to the conference and back to high school, if I remember right. The book says he's in college in the U.S., now. I guess he was a youngish teenager when he built his windmill, then. Very cool. It's definitely an amazing story that will make you think about how much we have and how little it takes for one person to make a huge impact.

  9. Joy,

    What did you spell wrong? I don't see a thing. Am I that tired? LOL

  10. I'm glad you enjoyed this one - I did as well. It was amazing to me what he was able to accomplish.

    Oh and for some reason I'm thinking he was around 14 when he finished the windmill, but I'm not sure why I think that ...

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  11. Heather,

    I still haven't read the extra material, so maybe it's in there somewhere. Hopefully, I'll get to that, soon. It seems like I'm actually busier since I became an empty nester. I haven't quite puzzled that out, yet. LOL

    Thank you! I enjoyed touring this one. It's awesome.

  12. I have heard nothing but good things about this book, and have even recommended it to someone even though I haven't read it yet myself. :) Nice review!

  13. Alyce,

    I think it's really an amazing story. You can't help but admire his determination and the way he's used his skills to help others.


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