Sunday, August 30, 2009

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

I am excited and honored to share my excitement about William Kamkwamba and his book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. It tells the true story of William's boyhood in Malawi, the challenges that his family faced and how William's curiosity and dedication enabled him to imagine and create the windmill that would change his life.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

About the book, courtesy of Amazon:

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.


Even if you don't usually read nonfiction or memoirs, I still think that you'll love this book for the writing, the story, and because of William Kamkwamba.

William tells the story of his childhood in the small agricultural village in Malawi. From the the general bias towards magic and superstition over science, the crippling impact of the drought, and the isolation and difficulties that William, his village, and Malawi, the obstacles that they face are huge and clear. Reading the book, I first thought that my experiences in the "Third World" helped me understand the William's life from the superstition to the the impact of the drought and the opportunistic price gouging during the famine. But that interpretation fails to give enough credit to William and his book. The power of his story and the clarity of the writing surely guarantee that The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will speak to people regardless of their experience and their home country. I cannot recommend this book more! I look forward to more news from William Kamkwamba and to meeting him during his book tour stop in NYC.

Publisher: William Morrow (September 29, 2009), 288 pages.
Courtesy of the Harper Collins and the author.

William Kamkwamba

About the Author, courtesy of Amazon:

William Kamkwamba was born in Dowa, Malawi, in 1987 and raised in Masitala village along the central plains. One of seven children born to sustenance farmers who grew maize and tobacco, his childhood was often interrupted by drought and hunger.

At age twelve, Kamkwamba became fascinated with electricity—a luxury enjoyed by only 2 percent of Malawi. He taught himself radio repair and began tinkering with bicycle dynamos, hoping to understand the inner workings of generators. During a devastating famine in 2001 –02, William dropped out of high school during his first semester. As thousands died across the country, he continued his education by visiting a small library near his village that was funded by the American government. After seeing windmills on the cover of an 8th-grade science book, he set out to build his own machine using scavenged parts from a scrap yard. His first windmill was made from PVC pipe, a tractor fan, an old bicycle frame, and tree branches, and powered four light bulbs and charge mobile phones. A second windmill pumped water for a family garden.

Local news outlets discovered Kamkwamba in 2007, which led to a stage appearance at the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania. It was the first time he’d ever been on an airplane or seen the Internet. The appearance at TED, and a subsequent front-page feature in the Wall Street Journal, sparked a flood of international support, and soon William returned to school and completed much-needed improvements in his village farm, such as adding drip irrigation to shield his family against future drought. He’s now a student at African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, and recently completed a biography: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope with coauthor Bryan Mealer.

Bryan Mealer is the author of All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo, which chronicled his experience covering the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mealer is a former Associated Press staff correspondent and his work has appeared in several magazines, including Harper's and Esquire.

To read the BBC article about William Kamkwamba visit

Visit William Kamkwamba's blog at

Here are a few of the upcoming book tour events:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
ABC/Good Morning America

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
97 Warren ST New York, NY 10007

Thursday, October 01, 2009
Museum of Science and Industry

Thursday, October 01, 2009
WAMU-FM/Diane Rehm Show

Friday, October 02, 2009
1218 South Halsted Chicago, IL 60607

Thank you so much to Tavia, Harper Collins and William Kamkwamba for the opportunity to review the book!


  1. I saw the trailer for this book and immediately requested a copy. I'm so glad you enjoyed it so much, because I've been really looking forward to reading it! Do you think it'd be appropriate for teens?

  2. Hi Ali,

    It's absolutely appropriate for teens! I'd love to know how you find it.


  3. Great review. I added this to my wishlist a few weeks ago. I may request it from the publisher, *crossing my fingers*.

  4. What a great review!

    Thanks for the support. I hope you win the Amazon Gift Card!


  5. I'm a total science nerd and this one sounds like my cup of tea. Thanks for the review!

  6. Great Experience ! Thank you for sharing with us ! It sounds like you have enjoyed it lot . I would like to say thank you for sharing your feeling with us.