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Unbowed: A Memoir

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  2,253 ratings  ·  352 reviews
In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins with the Kenyan government and p ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 4th 2007 by Anchor (first published October 3rd 2006)
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I started out writing a totally different review for this book while reading the text in 'Unbowed'. By the finish line I just sat gobsmacked, and robbed of words.

A few years ago I watched a program on conservation work done in Kenya and saw Prof. Wangari Maathai explain the power of trees to a BBC tv audience. That prompted me to find more information on her work. I was rendered speechless when I discovered the amazing person behind this effort.

I was therefor anxious and excited when I was given
Claire McAlpine
An astonishing recollection of the life and work of Wangari Maathai, a woman who applied herself to everything she did with vigour and heart, the opportunity to be educated was a major turning point and was the first of many open doorways she walked through and made the most of, not for own benefit, but always for the good of all.

Though she was a scientist and part of the University for years, the work that she started that would embrace entire communities and develop an awareness of sustainable
This is not the most artfully or lyrically written book but it deserves 5 stars for the tale it tells..It's a story of one of the few true heroes of our generation. And to overcome the formidible obstacles that are put in the path of an African woman from a developing nation, by men, culture, tradition and the vestiges of colonialism to reach the hieghts of leadership and effectiveness that she has is simply astounding. It is a story that needs to be shared with all that want to know what one pe ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Wangari Maathai has an interesting story of growing from a Kikuyu child to a Nobel Peace Prize winner. I grew up surrounded by stories of the Swahili and Turkana peoples of Kenya because of friends we had living there, but I didn't know much about the Kikuyu or the forests. I learned a lot about the socio-political history of Kenya, how to work toward change (be "patient and committed," she would say), and how much one person can accomplish. I also feel like I saw education from a different pers ...more
Jan 05, 2012 Tinea rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Earth Firsters-- be grounded.
Recommended to Tinea by: Nobel Peace Prize, 2004
It was my professor of African American Women's History in college who taught me the lesson that one of the best ways to learn history is through studying the lived experiences of activists working in opposition to a system structured to oppress them-- a combination of Patricia Hill Collins's standpoint theory, which states (simplified) that the oppressed must be able to navigate both the dominant paradigm and the inner workings of the cultures oppressed people create outside the realm of powerf ...more
Friederike Knabe
When Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, questions were raised regarding her choice by the Nobel Committee. Why should an environmentalist receive a prize that was identified with peace and human rights, voiced the critics. Reading Maathai's memoir sets the record straight, and justifying her selection for the award. In this fascinating and very personal account, she paints a vivid picture of her life, embedded in the realities of Kenya before and since independence. Her e ...more
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
My introduction to Wangari Maathai was through the children's books by Claire Nivola and Jeanette Winter, which focused on her tree planting efforts. However, once I began reading Unbowed, I realized that she is about so much more than that. Her life has involved her in politics, human rights, and women's rights, as well as environmentalism. I can't believe all that she has accomplished! One idea, one activity, led to another. She showed that when many people together do one small thing, they cr ...more
The first half, about her childhood and even her experience as a university student in the U.S., lacked depth. The book became more captivating as I read on, but only because the subject matter became more interesting (her experiences in Kenya after she returned from university, Kenya's recent political history). Unfortunately, her writing style throughout is pretty dry; she probably should have worked on the book with someone. She also appears self-congratulating at times, which is annoying but ...more
The date July 7 or 7/7 is a significant one for Maathai's movement. It's called Saba Saba in KiSwahili. I'd like to note here that I was reading this book on Saba Saba.

Before reading this, my only exposure to the Kikuyu was Mike Resnick's Kirinyaga: A Fable of Utopia. Although I think that the Kirinyaga stories are powerful fiction, I am only now grasping that they are a dis-service to the Kikuyu in some important ways.

From a cultural standpoint, I appreciated learning that there are Kikuyu st
Mikey B.
Wangari Maathai is certainly a commendable and tenacious woman who overcame many obstacles in Kenya to become an activist in ecology. This subsequently led to political agitation and imprisonment in attempts to make her country become more of a liberal democracy.

She could easily, during her upbringing in the 1940’s and 1950’s have remained illiterate in rural Kenya. She describes well her school attendance and her higher education in the United States. I found her stories about the relationship
Barry Morris
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Doris Jean
Nov 04, 2014 Doris Jean rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: politicians
This is Mary Jo (Josephine) who got to go to a Catholic church school as a young child in rural Kenya where most did not get education. She was in the right place at the right time so she got an education and rose above her peers. Then she got lucky again and was chosen by sponsors to leave Africa for a free college education in Atkinson, Kansas.

Mary Jo lived in Kansas as a typical black American teen of the era, with straightened hair and bobby sox and the like. She was a lucky woman who recei
It probably helps to have lived in Kenya to enjoy this book. And perhaps enjoy isn't the perfect word - "searing," "heroic," and "tragic" might be more useful.

This memoir is actually a sweeping narrative covering 60 plus years, as the author probes back into her childhood when Kenya was a colony of Great Britain. She describes how things native were belittled, while things western were magnified; how land went to British settlers even as Kenyans were sidelined in numerous ways - language and tra
AdultNonFiction Teton County Library
Teton Co Library Call No: BIO MAATHAI W
Marisa's Rating: 3 Stars

Read this as part of the book group "A Revolutionary Book Group" - a very interesting life story. As with a lot of memoirs of non-writers, I feel the writing was a bit dry, maybe too straight forward. However, her story more than makes up for it. Maathai was born in Kenya to a large polygamist family in rural village. Her childhood sounds idyllic - and sets the tone for the rest of her journey. As deforestation created through coloni
The main theme between Three Cups of Tea and Unbowed were similar: Fixing a broken system that was doing wrong to its people. In one case, the people were neglected and forgotten. In the other, the people were exploited or trampled. Both protagonists in the books were headstrong, to say the least, and accomplished some amazing good on a large-scale level. But their ego also separated them at times from even those closest to them.

While reading Maathai's memoirs, I was really amazed at how often t
While I appreciated the introduction to Kikuyu culture and a bit of an introduction into Kenya's political climate over time, I missed having a narrative path to follow in Maathai's autobiography. Without a sense of Story to draw me through Maathai's life, I felt like I was tracing the bullet points version of her major achievements plotted along a timeline. History lessons and timelines are something I tend to avoid, and I felt myself turning away from what was a challenging life well-lived.

Thing Two
The very early chapters of this memoir were fascinating to me. Maathai explored her childhood in Kenya and laid out the historical backdrop that lead to the tensions in her country today. If she had kept this tone to present the rest of her manuscript, it would have been an awesome reading experience. But the story she had to tell - while harrowing for her personally - fell flat on paper. It's unfortunate, because in the hands of a more experienced writer, her story would be a masterpiece. Maybe ...more
Nov 09, 2008 Marcy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who revere courage against all odds
Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 in Kenya. Her saving of Kenya's forests won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Not only did Wangari Maathai found the Green Belt Movement, but she has fought continuously for human rights in her country. A corrupt undemocratic government has constantly tried to keep her down, in the press, and even through imprisonment. Wangari has never given up. She is revered by the people of Kenya, as she is all over the world. She fights for what is rig
Brittany Flittner
One of the most inspiring books I have ever read. A book filled with courage, persistence, and empowerment. If you're looking for a way to make a difference, this book has plenty of ideas.
beyond inspiring. i can't even speak to what she writes about; i think it is already too late for me to build the fortitude to challenge (and shift) the orientation of my government's moral compass. "but it is never too late," i'm sure maathai would say. and maybe she's right; we are all so comfortable believing that we are not the ones who can make a difference that it makes it infinitely harder to gather momentum for those who are willing to try.

r.i.p. wangari maathai; she died last friday at
Elliot Clissold
I originally picked up this book as I was heading out to a rural community in Kenya for a few weeks. Although it probably didn't massively enrich my experience of those communities, it certainly provided a profound backdrop to the attitudes of Kenyan citizens towards their past and present governments.

I initially expected the book to be very focused on environmental issues in both Kenya and globally. Although in a sense it is, it's scope expands far beyond this. Wangari Maathai is an astonishing
Kate Johnson
Unbowed: A Memoir is a fascinating autobiography about a relentless women and her struggles, her vision, and her work with the women of Kenya. 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Wangari Maathai, was a visionary environmentalist as well as a pioneer on the treacherous path to peace. Known as “mother of the trees”, she created a successful reforestation program in Kenya, while combating human rights violations and bad governance. Maathai is the epitome of endurance and self-sacrifice.

I was inspired
This memoir is about Wangari Maathai's extraordinary life. She established the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, earned the Right Livelihood Award in 1984, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

She grew up in a rural area of Kenya and was brought by the Kennedy student airlifts to the US. With research in Germany, she earned a doctorate in microbiology. After taking a teaching post in Nairobi, she joined with the church and fought against the then-corrupt government to protest deforestation. Th
Chiara Lilith
E’ un libro bellissimo, uno dei miei preferiti. E’ l’autobiografia di Wangari Maathai, soprannominata “Mamma miti” (madre degli alberi) è stata una donna straordinaria. Bimba di un povero villaggio kikuyu del Kenya che, grazie al programma “Ponte aereo Kennedy” per i migliori studenti africani, ebbe la possibilità di andare in America e diventare così una biologa, tra l’altro una delle prime donne africane a laurearsi. Ma Wangari tornò in Kenya, la sua terra, dove dopo vari avvenimenti fondò il ...more

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari already impressed me with her Green Belt Movement and its focus on women as it driving force. I did not however realize the full extent of her story and the story Kenya. Her character and her moral sense of what was right impressed me. Despite intimidation from men, governments, police, and society, she stuck to her cause and her beliefs and the world is a much better place because of it.
Aug 30, 2015 Connie is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Just sat down to start on the first chapter, and I am already moved to tears. I am triggered by some stuff on Maathai's Wikipedia entry which I quickly scanned through as I was trying to remind myself how exactly she died.

I realize now that I might have been avoiding the book. That's why for so many months, it has sat unread on my nightstand...

I recognize myself in Maathai and am scared of what I'm going to find in her memoir. The story of pain and hardship is all too synonymous with African wom
Michelle Hardy
Voy a comentarles "Unbowed", el libro que trata de las memorias de la Premio Nobel de La Paz 2004, Wangari Maathai.

Comencé a leerlo porque ella es un ícono en el movimiento ecologista, pero descubrí y disfruté mucho más que eso. Me dio la impresión que su trabajo en el Green Belt Movement fue una más de tantas causas que apoyó, sobretodo pro democracia y pro derechos humanos (principalmente, los derechos de la mujer). Lo más interesante del libro para mí fue su vida como mujer, y esa ventana que
This was a great book about a strong woman who triumphed over many adversities. It was a good read and inspiring. It was interesting to learn of the culture in Kenya. I rate it a 3.5.
For anyone interested in learning about Kenya and the Gikuyu traditions, this is a good read.
Found it interesting and insightful, and full of drama.
Wangari shared very intimate, interesting, informative experiences of her lifetime.
As much as she had a passion for the restoration and preservation of our country's most valuable attributes; it's captivating landscape, vegetation, wildlife, the freedom of it's people and enviornmental-friendly methods of providing energy-sources among others, she clearly had a talent in writing.
Pick it up to be inspired, to understand why something as simple as planting trees has a significant impact on seemi
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The Greener Reader: Overall thoughts on Unbowed 6 9 Nov 05, 2013 01:32PM  
Read by Theme: Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai 10 30 Aug 28, 2013 05:02AM  
Great African Reads: May/June: Kenya | "Unbowed" 35 50 Jul 02, 2012 01:45PM  
Wangari & Green Belt Movement 1 23 Feb 03, 2008 11:56PM  
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a Kenyan environmental and political activist. She was educated in the United States at Mount St. Scholastica and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the University of Nairobi in Kenya. In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women's rights. In 1984, she was awarded ...more
More about Wangari Maathai...
The Challenge for Africa The Green Belt Movement: Sharing the Approach and the Experience Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World Celle Qui Plante Les Arbres (French Edition) Indomável, Uma Luta pela Liberdade

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“Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don't need a diploma to plant a tree.” 14 likes
“In trying to explain this linkage, I was inspired by a traditional African tool that has three legs and a basin to sit on. To me the three legs represent three critical pillars of just and stable societies. The first leg stands for democratic space, where rights are respected, whether they are human rights, women's rights, children's rights, or environmental rights. The second represents sustainable and equitable management and resources. And the third stands for cultures of peace that are deliberately cultivated within communities and nations. The basin, or seat, represents society and its prospects for development. Unless all three legs are in place, supporting the seat, no society can thrive. Neither can its citizens develop their skills and creativity. When one leg is missing, the seat is unstable; when two legs are missing, it is impossible to keep any state alive; and when no legs are available, the state is as good as a failed state. No development can take place in such a state either. Instead, conflict ensues.” 13 likes
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