Summary and book reviews of Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

Unbowed

A Memoir

by Wangari Maathai

Unbowed
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2006, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2007, 352 pages

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Book Summary

Hugely charismatic, humble, and possessed of preternatural luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai, recounts her extraordinary life as a political activist, feminist, and environmentalist in Kenya.

Hugely charismatic, humble, and possessed of preternatural luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and a single mother of three, recounts her extraordinary life as a political activist, feminist, and environmentalist in Kenya.

Born in a rural village in 1940, Wangari Maathai was already an iconoclast as a child, determined to get an education even though most girls were uneducated. We see her studying with Catholic missionaries, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the United States, and becoming the first woman both to earn a PhD in East and Central Africa and to head a university department in Kenya. We witness her numerous run-ins with the brutal Moi government. She makes clear the political and personal reasons that compelled her, in 1977, to establish the Green Belt Movement, which spread from Kenya across Africa and which helps restore indigenous forests while assisting rural women by paying them to plant trees in their villages. We see how Maathai’s extraordinary courage and determination helped transform Kenya’s government into the democracy in which she now serves as assistant minister for the environment and as a member of Parliament. And we are with her as she accepts the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in recognition of her “contribution to sustainable development, human rights, and peace.”

In Unbowed, Wangari Maathai offers an inspiring message of hope and prosperity through self-sufficiency.

Beginnings

I was born the third of six children, and the first girl after two sons, on April 1, 1940, in the small village of Ihithe in the central highlands of what was then British Kenya. My grandparents and parents were also born in this region near the provincial capital of Nyeri, in the foothills of the Aberdare Mountain Range. To the north, jutting into the sky, is Mount Kenya.

Two weeks into mbura ya njahi, the season of the long rains, my mother delivered me at home in a traditional mud-walled house with no electricity or running water. She was assisted by a local midwife as well as women family members and friends. My parents were peasant farmers, members of the Kikuyu community, one of forty-two ethnic groups in Kenya and then, as now, the most populous. They lived from the soil and also kept cattle, goats, and sheep.

At the time of my birth, the land around Ihithe was still lush, green, and fertile. The seasons were so regular that you could almost ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

"Wangari Maathai's memoir is direct, honest, and beautifully written—a gripping account of modern Africa's trials and triumphs, a universal story of courage, persistence, and success against great odds in a noble cause." —Bill Clinton.

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's conversation about Wangari Maathai's Unbowed, an autobiography that offers a message of hope and inspiration through one woman's achievements on behalf of women, the environment, and democracy in Kenya.


About This Book

In this deeply affecting and inspiring memoir, Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Unbowed is a powerful tale of one woman's life. Maathai's simple, straightforward style is entirely in character and appropriate with the story she has to tell.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (764 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Despite workmanlike prose, this memoir...documents the remarkable achievements of an influential environmentalist and activist.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Starred Review: Nobel laureate, visionary, and hero, Maathai has restored humankind's innate if nearly lost knowledge of the intrinsic connection between thriving, wisely managed ecosystems and health, justice, and peace.

Author Blurb Nelson Mandela
Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement demonstrate the intimate connection between sustainable management of Africa's rich natural resources, democracy, good governance and peace. Such are the solutions that will bring new light to Africa. I hope the world will support her vision of hope.

Author Blurb Bill Clinton
Wangari Maathai's memoir is direct, honest, and beautifully written–a gripping account of modern Africa's trials and triumphs, a universal story of courage, persistence, and success against great odds in a noble cause.

Author Blurb Jonathon Porritt, Co-Founder and Programme Director of Forum for the Future
This is an extraordinary account of an extraordinary woman's life. The courage, compassion and natural wisdom that shine out from these pages are hugely inspiring for campaigners the world over. And for those who are still struggling to find what ‘sustainable development' really means in practice, you need look no further than Wangari Maathai's own life, and the astonishing success of the Green Belt Movement.

Author Blurb Ngugi wa Thiong’o, author of Wizard of the Crow
Concrete and mesmerizing, Unbowed is the story of resistance, a refusal to be bowed down by oppression and humiliation in the pursuit of the excellent and the heroic in society.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, 8 October 2004

Wangari Maathai will be the first woman from Africa to be honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize. She will also be the first African from the vast area between South Africa and Egypt to be awarded the prize. She represents an example and a source of inspiration for everyone in Africa fighting for sustainable development, democracy and peace.

Reader Reviews

Charles Mulisa

Wonder woman
Incredibly brilliant book that is beset with relevant history and a story of courage, conviction and triumph. Wangari Maathai is indded a wonder woman whose story will inspire many, especially arousing the conscienceness of environments role to ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Short History of Kenya
Kenya is located on the East Coast of Africa, bordered by the Indian Ocean, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia (map). The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was the first European on record to visit the area in 1498. Portuguese rule officially began in 1505, bringing the Portuguese a useful revenue source from tribute payments, but also strategic control of the Indian Ocean allowing them to extract high tariffs on items transported by sea.

By the 17th century, Portuguese influence in the area was on the wane due to British, Dutch and Arab incursions. Omani Arabs colonized the coastal areas in the 19th century, even moving their capital to Zanzibar (an island off the coast of Tanzania) in...

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