Unbowed
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Unbowed

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  1,679 ratings  ·  308 reviews
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 e...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 3rd 2006 by Knopf
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Margitte
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...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
William
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
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
Tinea
Jan 05, 2012 Tinea rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
Anna
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
Shomeret
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...more
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...more
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...more
Barry Morris
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Johanna
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...more
Esther
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.

My...more
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
Marcy
Nov 09, 2008 Marcy rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Eszter
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...more
Gordon
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...more
Bernadette


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.
Aleena
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.
Wanjiku
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.
Yeshasvi
The book (written by a non writer) is a bit dry and sometimes feel like you are reading a sort of historical records but the book deserves the 5 stars for the story it tells, for the accounts of courage, perseverance, persistence and conviction and for answering the question that why an environmentalist should be awarded a Peace price.
Wangari Maathai a Nobel Peace Prize winner was much more than an environmentalist, Unbowed is a simple and honest account of her struggles she met with while doin...more
Sue
The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner has written of her experiences growing up in Kenya and then her 30+ years of working in the country on environmental and political issues.
I'm blown away. I couldn't put this down. I'm pretty stingy about giving a book 5 stars but this one qualifies. This isn't just a memoir of her experiences growing up, it is a commentary on the social and political struggles of a nation before and after Independence. I found myself repenting for my British ancestors who impo...more
Judith
Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai brings together civil rights, especially women’s rights, and environmental restoration retelling the career of this Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2004. From her childhood on the land to her lucky chance, as a girl, to get an education, Wangari Maathai always hoped to help her people and her beloved land of Kenya. With a Ph.D. in Veterinary Anatomy she earned a professorship at the University of Nairobi. Empowered by her role in the leadership of the National Co...more
Emily
Maathi passed away recently and this is how I came to know about her, even though she had won a Nobel prize in 2004 for environmentalism, and her establishment of the Green Belt Movement. I enjoyed most the early section of the book that traces the origins of her deep love of nature and how miraculously she received a science education, unlike most girls of her generation. She tells the story of Kenya's days under the yoke of the English, very dispassionately, without hatred, but detailing the h...more
Julia
I'm so impressed with this woman; Wangari Maathai began the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and won the Nobel Peace prize in 2004: http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/wang...

I'm also planning to watch the video about her, "Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai". It is available for free on youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNIQL...

I love her "voice" in the book--really human and down-to-earth. At 8 years old, she walked 3 miles to school and did not yet know how to read and write!

Bill...more
Andrea
There is a lot of interesting history in this book, but I found the writing "clunky." I don't think it's reasonable to put this down to "it's not her native language" when the author is highly educated and had the means and opportunity to have this edited for style. That said, I also found the early parts of the memoir cliche and trite. Maathai promotes the "pre-colonial Eden" view of Africa that is neither true, nor particularly interesting to me. However, this is, after all, a memoir, and it m...more
Emily
Imagine if you suddenly discovered that your favorite book character was alive... like if you were told that the real Nancy Drew lived next door. It happened to me with this book.

I read this book after Wangari Maathai died earlier this year. She was an amazing environmentalist and I knew of her work with the Green Belt Movement, but I knew little else about her life, so I decided to read her autobiography.

Now to let me go back further, last year I read a wonderful book by Ngugi wa Thiongo called...more
Susan
I rarely read memoirs but I have long been an admirer of the late Prof Wangari Maathai and her work, so I decided to pick this one up. It was a compelling read and I almost had to pinch myself so I would remember this was not a novel! It's hard to imagine that anyone could live through and overcome some of these trials and tribulations and not give up!

I especially enjoyed the description of her childhood and her years in school.These experiences shaped her and would influence her throughout the...more
Carol Kuniholm
While the writing sometimes falters, and the story sometimes stalls, this is a moving, challenging autobiography of a woman who said "yes" to the demanding situations that confronted her. She tackled deforestation and soil erosion with creation of the Green Belt Movement, and stood for the environment, for public parks, for the rights of women. She faced public ridicule, imprisonment, tear gas, beatings, and endless threats with grace, courage, and apparent good humor.

Two long quotes:

"I don’t...more
jen
Wangari Maathai is an exceptional person. Her dedication and persistance to righting issues in equity and the environment are inspiring. The tone of the book reflects what I believe her personality must be like; calm, insistent and honorable. At times, her tendency to understate her own accomplishments made me almost miss the enormity of her impact and work. Reading about her life reminded me that each person's actions truly can have a profound impact on the world in which we live. This was a bo...more
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The Greener Reader: Overall thoughts on Unbowed 6 7 Nov 05, 2013 01:32PM  
Read by Theme: Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai 10 24 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) The Other Side of Prison: The Role of the Women Left Behind.

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“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.” 8 likes
“There are opportunities even in the most difficult moments.” 7 likes
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