Jun 10, 2014

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

by William Kamkwamba

A remarkable story about a boy from Malawi, a poor village in rurual Africa, who built a windmill out of junkyard scrap- producing enough power to put lights and a radio in his family's home. But it starts out telling the story of his circumstance, which really opened my eyes. The daily struggle of poor farmers tied to the land, suffering incredibly when rain and crops failed them. He lived through famine and disease, his family surviving but left with no money for school. Burning with desire to learn, to know how things worked, Willima devoured books from the small local library, and experimented with things, taking apart and repairing radios. When he learned that windmills could generate power, he was fired with the idea to make one, to bring electricity and irrigation to his family and their village. At first his efforts were ridiculed; then people realized what he had done and the community came to stare in amazement at his achievement. They lined up to charge cell phones at his rigged outlets and draw water from his new well, pumped with wind power. He got the attention of journalists, became funded, travelled to New York (having never left his village at all before!), attended and participated in TED talks, gained his education, and returned home to continue building and inspiring people.

I was amazed at William's ingenuity, how he not only built the windmill, but wired it to his house, made wall switches and a circuit breaker from scrap materials, and tried many other inventions- some of course didn't work. But he didn't give up trying. Also opened my eyes to see how primitively the people live in many parts of the world, very hand-to-mouth, belief in things like witches and magic still strong- when things went badly in his village, some people actually blamed the windmill for causing it! As far as the writing goes, it is not particularly polished, but the substance of the story was what made this book great for me. I've seen other readers complain that it took too long to get to the windmill part- the first half of the book being about William's life and his family's struggles; but the context that gave for his achievement made the story all that more powerful.

I picked up this book from a free stack at the public library. I finished reading it on the airplane, then swapped with a friend I met on my trip, for a book that sounds most intriguing: The Golden Spruce.

Rating: 4/5        290 pages, 2009

more opinions:
Bermudaonion's Weblog
SMS Nonfiction Book Reviews
The Novel World
Ramya's Bookshelf


bermudaonion said...

I thought this book was wonderful. I loved William's tenacity.

Jeane said...

I'm glad you commented so I could add a link to your post! I knew I'd read about this on some of the blogs I frequent, but not much came up either in google blog search or a direct search in my feedreader...