Summary and book reviews of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

by William Kamkwamba

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2009, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2010, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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About this Book

Book Summary

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is the immensely engaging and inspiring true account of an enterprising African teenager who constructed a windmill from scraps to create electricity for his entire community.

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.

Prologue

The preparation was complete, so I waited. The muscles in my arms still burned from having worked so hard, but now I was finished. The machinery was bolted and secured. The tower was steady and unmoving under the weight of twisted steel and plastic. Looking at it now, it appeared exactly as it was—something out of a dream.

News of the machine had spread to the villages, and people were starting to arrive. The traders spotted it from their stalls and packed up their things. The truckers left their vehicles along the roads. Everyone walked into the valley, and now gathered in its shadow. I recognized these faces. Some of these people had mocked me for months, and still they whispered, even laughed. More of them were coming. It was time.

Balancing the small reed and wires in my left hand, I used the other to pull myself onto the tower's first rung. The soft wood groaned under my weight, and the compound fell silent. I continued to climb, slowly and assuredly, until ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction
As a young boy, William Kamkwamba read about windmills and dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village in Malawi, a country withered by drought and hunger. In 2002, when his country was stricken with a famine, William's family's farm was devastated and his parents were left destitute. With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach and his own determination, William used scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, to forge a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption complete with homemade switches and a circuit break made from nails and wire. Eventually it powered four lights. In time, a second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

William Kamkwamba's story is important, sad and beautiful. Despite the degradation of his and his people's suffering, his story reminds us - especially those of us in the West whose intellectual and physical appetites have been deadened by plenty - that being human is a constant striving for the possible and the wonderful.   (Reviewed by Jo Perry).

Full Review Members Only (618 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This exquisite tale strips life down to its barest essentials, and once there finds reason for hopes and dreams...

Author Blurb Al Gore, former Vice President and Nobel Laureate
William Kamkwamba's achievements with wind energy should serve as a model of what one person, with an inspired idea, can do to tackle the crisis we face. His book tells a moving and exciting story.

Author Blurb Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein and Benjamin Franklin
This is an amazing, inspiring and heartwarming story! It's about harnessing the power not just of the wind, but of imagination and ingenuity. Those are the most important forces we have for saving our planet. William Kamkwamba is a hero for our age.

Author Blurb Chris Anderson, TED Curator
I first met William on stage at TED.... His story, told in just a couple of minutes, was both astonishing and exhilarating. This book proves what those few minutes hinted at: a remarkable individual capable of inspiring many to take their future into their own hands.

Author Blurb Ethan Zuckerman, cofounder, Global Voices
I was moved first to laughter, and then to tears by William's explanation of how he turned some PVC pipe, a broken bicycle and some long wooden poles into a machine capable of generating sufficient current to power lights and a radio in his parents' house.

Author Blurb Seth Godin, author of Tribes
A moving, touching, important story. One more reminder of how small the world is and how powerful the human spirit can be.

Reader Reviews

BookLover

Beautifully crafted story
Charming and inspiring, about a boy who perseveres through hardship, bullying, and poverty to accomplish his dream.

Alice

Love the book
This book really left an impression on me. In the beginning I thought it would be boring but I really got into it. With all William went through, I felt for him. One day when I went to eat lunch and saw my friend throw out food because she didn't ...   Read More

Sarah

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a very inspiring story. It made me think that we live such a great life. William the main character within the story has such innovative ideas and just luxurious dreams that he wanted to achieve to make his village ...   Read More

aishu

The book I loved
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a very inspiring story which makes us think about the innovative ideas of the future generation. it not only says says about the difficulties of a boy who wants to achieve his dream of living a luxurious life but ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Moving Windmills Project
Inspired by William Kamkwamba's story, the Moving Windmills Project was founded in 2008 to support rural economic development and education projects in Malawi. The nonprofit group works with local leaders to provide food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, health, education and community-building.

Completed projects include:

  • wind and solar power for village homes
  • re-roofing village homes
  • protection from rain and fire
  • water sanitation and hygiene education
  • disease prevention
  • anti-malarial bed-net distribution
  • bedding distribution
  • warmth and pest protection
  • a water well and solar-powered water pump
  • drip irrigation
  • improved food supply with multiple maize crops and vegetable gardens
  • running water taps ...

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