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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.

314 pages, Hardcover

First published October 3, 2006

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About the author

Wangari Maathai

39 books233 followers
Wangari Maathai was 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 the Right Livelihood Award, and in 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” Maathai was an elected member of Parliament and served as Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources in the government of President Mwai Kibaki between January 2003 and November 2005.In June 2009, Maathai was named as one of PeaceByPeace.com's first peace heroes.Until her death, Maathai served on the Eminent Advisory Board of the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA).Maathai died on 25 September 2011 in Nairobi while receiving ovarian cancer treatment. She was 71.Selected publications

The Green Belt Movement: sharing the approach and the experience (1985)
The bottom is heavy too: even with the Green Belt Movement : the Fifth Edinburgh Medal Address (1994)
Bottle-necks of development in Africa (1995)
The Canopy of Hope: My Life Campaigning for Africa, Women, and the Environment (2002)
Unbowed: A Memoir (2006)
Reclaiming rights and resources women, poverty and environment (2007)
Rainwater Harvesting (2008)
State of the world's minorities 2008: events of 2007 (2008)
The Challenge for Africa (2009)
Replenishing the Earth (2010) ISBN 978030759114
more info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wangari_...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 719 reviews
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,164 reviews511 followers
January 11, 2014
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 her book as gift in November 2013. It was one of those books lying here, begging to be read. I just finished. I wondered what happened to her and googled. Only to discover that she passed away in 2011.

This book is her autobiography and certainly one of the most inspirational reads in this genre that I have ever come across. A tribute in the New York Times stated:
"Dr. Maathai, one of the most widely respected women on the continent, played many roles — environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977. Its mission was to plant trees across Kenya to fight erosion and to create firewood for fuel and jobs for women.

Dr. Maathai was as comfortable in the gritty streets of Nairobi’s slums or the muddy hillsides of central Kenya as she was hobnobbing with heads of state. She won the Peace Prize in 2004 for what the Nobel committee called “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” It was a moment of immense pride in Kenya and across Africa.

Her Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and has helped nearly 900,000 women, according to the United Nations, while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.

“Wangari Maathai was a force of nature,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations’ environmental program. He likened her to Africa’s ubiquitous acacia trees, “strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions.”

In one of her interviews she compared herself to a hummingbird who tried to stop a forest fire. All the big animals were just standing there, watching the little bird spit drops of water on the fire. When they asked the bird what the idea was, the bird replied "It doesn't matter how small or big I am. I can only try my best."

She was offered an opportunity to study in America. A humble village girl from a remote village in Kenya got a chance to broaden her world. It inspired her to do her doctorate and achieve all her dreams.

"It is fair to say that America transformed me. It made me into the person I am today. It taught me not to waste any opportunity and to do what can be done - and that there is a lot to do. The spirit of freedom and possibility that America nurtured in me made me want to foster the same in Kenya, and it was in this spirit that I returned home."

This book is not an autobiography of a egocentric praise-grabber lightly pirouetting through the alphabet. It is a fascinating story of a humble, intelligent woman who found the link between deforestation and poverty and decided to make a difference - one seed at a time. She has lived through the stages of environmental degradation in the area she grew up in. She discovered the relationship between African Wild Fig trees(cracking rocks to allow water to bubble to the surface and form rivers) and deforestation(when these trees were cut down, the water disappeared resulting in famine and disaster).

"These experiences of childhood are what mold us and make us who we are. How you translate the life you see, feel, smell, and touch as you grow up -the water you drink, the air you breathe, and the food you eat - are what you become. When what you remember disappear, you miss it and search for it, and so it was with me. When I was a child, my surroundings were alive, dynamic, and inspiring. Even though I was entering a world where there were books to read and facts to learn - the cultivation of the mind - I was still able to enjoy a world where there were no books to read, where children were told living stories about the world around them, and where you cultivated the soil and the imagination in equal measure."

This book is not just about her life. It serves as an inspiration to all people who had to endure abuse, discrimination, prosecution, and incredible odds to reach a goal. But it is also a testimony to the world we love in a practical, down-to-earth voice of reason.

So I was thinking about the unbelievable work she has done in her life, the numerous obstacles she had to overcome, and the thought came up that she was not only a force of nature, she was mother Africa. She showed the world what love is really all about.

I recommend this book to EVERYONE!!!

Watch this tribute to her. I cannot, for the life of me, express how I feel right now.

Just read the book.
Profile Image for Claire.
652 reviews279 followers
February 22, 2015
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 living, was the Green Belt Movement, basically planting trees, collecting seedlings for replanting, developing seedling nurseries and empowering women to do the same in their villages and towns. She knew and practiced that one person can't change everything, it is through showing and empowering others that change happens.

The government for much of the 80's and 90's was against her, almost as if it were personal, she was an advocate for proper governance and management of public resources and as soon as she heard about abuses of powers that would remove public rights, she moved her supporters to action. Through perseverance she won many battles, to save the last big public park in the middle of Nairobi, Uhuru Park from urban development, preventing Karura Forest from being given to friends and political supporters of politicians, the release of political prisoners and even the lobbying of the World Bank to forgive national debt.

"When I see Uhuru Park and contemplate its meaning, I feel compelled to fight for it so that my grandchildren may share that dream and that joy of freedom as they one day walk there."

She was an amazing, inspirational and practical woman, who responded to the call for help on many significant issues that would benefit all Kenyan's and was an example to the world, rightfully acknowledged and awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 2004. Sadly she passed away in 2011 due to complications arising from ovarian cancer.

"Throughout my life, I have never stopped to strategize about my next steps. I often just keep walking along, through whichever door opens. I have been on a journey and this journey has never stopped. When the journey is acknowledged and sustained by those I work with, they are a source of inspiration, energy and encouragement. They are the reasons I kept walking, and will keep walking, as long as my knees hold out."

My complete review here at Word by Word.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,717 reviews2,311 followers
February 9, 2021
// Climate Justice = Social Justice //

▫️UNBOWED by Wangari Maathai, 2006

When land is protected, people are more secure. Food and water is available. When land is privatized by corporations and stripped of resources, people suffer. War and pollution, famine and landslides.

Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the first African woman - and environmentalist - to be awarded the Prize.

In UNBOWED, she shares her personal story, as well as post-colonial Kenya's biography. Her Green Belt Movement in 1970s - enlisting rural communities to plant millions of trees - and in standing up to authoritarian regimes that wanted to plow the forests of Kenya's highlands and silence all dissent. Her tireless work to raise awareness of desertification, water and air pollution, propensity to landslides, and lack of food security, and how planting trees and ensuring tree health was an important key to both ecology and human health.

The book details her childhood and Kikuyu culture, her faith, and the series of events that lead to her scientific education, and the birth of her movement.

Followed this reading with the podcast interview with Maathai from @onbeing podcast, "Marching With Trees" originally aired on April 6, 2006 and reposted in April 2019.

Short story "chaser":
▫️"Falling River, Concrete City" (essay) by Billy Kahora from TALES OF TWO PLANETS: Stories of Climate Change in n a Divided World, 2020.
Kahora's journalism focuses on the waterways in Nairobi, Kenya - the pollution and siphoning that have left a mere trickle to what he remembers in his youth just two decades before.

#ReadtheWorld21 📍Kenya
Profile Image for Tinea.
563 reviews259 followers
January 5, 2012
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 powerful people thereby giving oppressed people an epistemological advantage for understanding any given situation's power structure; and Forest Gump-- activist lives map out their generation's greatest hits. Fantastic advice. Maathai's autobiography tells the story of British colonialism in Kenya, the Mau Mau rebellion and Britain's subsequent torture and repression, the liberation movement and the heady days following, the fall into corruption and neoliberal poverty, and the Kenyan democratic movement in the 90s and 2000s.

Unbowed is the story of Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan woman who founded the Green Belt Movement and won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first African woman and the first environmental activist to do so. And that's about all I knew of her-- somehow her tree planting organization was groundbreaking enough to merit a Nobel; ok, sounds cool. But Maathai and her work is so much bigger than this!! It's criminal it is "tree planting" that has become the word association with her name.

She was an incredibly courageous democracy and land rights activist who used trees as a symbolic and tactical weapon to defend people's land from corporate and government land grabs, as a way to bring witness to ethnic violence, and as a weapon of attack to force the Kenyan government to release victims of torture and disappearances. Maathai was a trained biologist, so her choice of trees was both scientific and symbolic; planting diverse native trees combats environmental injustices and hunger from drought, soil erosion, and climate change caused by deforestation; trees are a long-term method to solidly plant something tangible on the land that she and her fellow activists and farmers used their bodies to defend-- from severe physical attack, like clubs and machetes and sometimes bullets.

Maathai was a professor and a mother, so she carefully draws out the lessons she wants us to learn from her life. So much to learn in here. There is the scientific, ethnobotanical foundation that she links to women's rural cultural traditions that taught respect for the trees found near springs. There is the stubborn dedication to her own definitions of what is right, rooted in respect for land and people, and the constant decisions to act, to take the practical, logistical steps and personal sacrifices that enable a movement to commence and sustain itself. There is that nimble navigation of becoming a public figure-- claiming it, staking out her expertise and the legitimacy of her opinions in a white rich man's world that would silence them-- and using growing international renown to constantly channel power and resources to the grassroots activists working alongside her and their struggles. There is the weaving of privilege and lucky blessings of her life which are what enabled her to do what she did; the lesson being in how she embraced and fought to use these gifts: the recipient of one of very few scholarships to study in the US offered by President Kennedy at the lucky moment she graduated high school, after the chance privileges and connections that enabled her to go to school at all, Maathai was able to become an educated, multilingual woman despite a rural poverty background and fight her way into doctorates and professorship and (I think?) ministry appointments, becoming the first woman everything in science in East Africa.

Maathai passed away in 2011. I'm mourning the world's loss right now.

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. (p.138)

On Direct Action and the importance of ecology as an intersection in social justice:
As long as the Green Belt Movement was perceived as just a few women raising seedlings, we didn't matter to the government. But as soon as we began to explain how trees disapear and why it is important for citizens to stand up for their rights-- whether environmental, women's, or human-- senior officials in the government and members of Parliament began to take notice. They soon realized that unlike some women's oranizations in Kenya, the Green Belt Movement was not organizing women for the purposes of advancing the governmemt's agenda, whatever that might be. We were organizing women (and men) to do things for themselves that, in most cases, the government had no interest in doing. That unsettled the authorities. (p.180)

On courage:
We always encouraged people to run when they were attacked. It was one thing to shout, "Leave the forest alone;" it was another to nurse a wound in the hospital. Some of us who joined our campaign for Karura [Forest] and who were with us that day [hired thugs attacked the activists stood and blocked logging equipment] were also young, and we didn't want them to be so afraid that they wouldn't protest again. In all our campaigns it was our persistence that won the day more than our bravery. (p. 269)
On that day Maathai was beat so savagely that a doctor in the hospital told her that if she had sustained one more hit to the head she surely would have died.

Many people assume that I must have been inordinately brave to face down the thugs and police during the campaign for Karura Forest. ... For me, the destruction of Karura Forest, like [other campaigns Maathai led], were problems that needed to be solved, and the authorities were stopping me from finding a solution. What people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focused on the solution, I don't see danger. Because I don't see danger, I don't allow my mind to imagine what might happen to me, which is my definition of fear. If you don't foresee the danger and see only the solution, then you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.

This is not to say we were reckless. We found ways to protect ourselves. ... In the end, what was important was that we showed we were not intimidated. We were in the right and had stood up for what we believed in. We were making a statement that this was a public forest and no houses should be built there. ... How did we register our protest? Well, you can talk all day about how something is wrong, but how do you tell a government in this situation that it is violating your rights? Our answer was to plant trees. Today, that beautiful forest is still there, helping Nairobi breathe, and more trees are being planted to reseed what was lost and restore its biodiversity and beauty.
(p. 272-3)
Profile Image for Tamara Agha-Jaffar.
Author 6 books247 followers
July 17, 2020
Unbowed by Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, begins with Maathai’s childhood and charts her growth into adulthood where she becomes increasingly politicized and involved in a variety of causes. It concludes with her election as a member of Kenya’s parliament. Her journey is fraught with challenges and obstacles. Her persistence and fierce determination to do what is right and to take on the powerful forces that oppose her is nothing short of heroic.

Unlike the majority of girls at the time, Maathai was fortunate to receive an education. After finishing high school in Kenya, she went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the United States. She later went on to earn a Ph.D., becoming the first women to do so in East and Central Africa.

Maathai credits her experience in America with increasing her political awareness. Upon her return to Kenya, she establishes the Green Belt Movement, which implemented a program of planting trees to combat the deleterious effect on the land and its people of deforestation and soil erosion. She recognized the connection between deforestation, clean water supplies, poverty, famine, and peace, seeing them as interlocking issues under the umbrella of social justice and gender equity. She valiantly and publicly opposed land-grabbing by the Moi government—the appropriation of public lands for private, economic benefit. She stood in line with women whose sons and husbands were illegally incarcerated and tortured by the corrupt Moi government. Through it all, she endured insults, incarceration, physical violence, abuse, threats, and ostracization. But she persevered, undeterred.

The memoir moves from her personal life as a child to her political activism and her involvement in environmental advocacy and causes of social justice and equity, especially gender equity. She becomes adept at using the media to further her goals and empower grassroots activists. She is at pains to explain how and why she got involved in various causes. She also goes to great lengths to express gratitude to her supporters in Kenya and to stress the pivotal role played by the international community in her success.

In simple, unadorned language, Maathai conveys her strong sense of justice and her passion and commitment for speaking out against injustice wherever she finds it. Her lasting impact continues to be felt throughout Africa and the rest of the world.

An inspiring memoir of an inspiring, courageous woman.

Highly recommended.

My book reviews are also available at www.tamaraaghajaffar.com
Profile Image for William.
218 reviews106 followers
August 11, 2010
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 person can contribute and make possible. Particularly for women and people of color around the world. Awarded the Nobel Peace prize for her efforts to reforest Kenya through the Green Belt program and working tirelessly for democracy and alleviation of poverty she was repeatedly jailed and censured. Over this she triumphed to win a seat in Kenya's Parliament to try and unite in peace the warring factions and tribes of Kenyan society. The book ends in 2006 on a hopeful note before the awful ethnic violence of 2007-8 in that country. One can only hope for other youth to read this book and give just half as much dedication and energy to the causes of enviromentalism, peace, and poverty elimination as she has.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,126 reviews1,202 followers
January 16, 2019
3.5 stars

I loved the first 50 pages of this memoir, covering the author’s childhood. Later on, though, it becomes more of a catalog of the many campaigns she was involved in and all her accomplishments – this is more an autobiography than a memoir – and it becomes rather impersonal and at times even a little self-righteous. Dr. Wangari Maathai seems like an amazing but complicated person, and I think I might have gotten more out of a third-party biography of her.

Born to a polygamous Kikuyu family in Kenya during British rule, Maathai grew up growing her own food and listening to stories around the fire at night. She was fortunately enrolled in a local school, and later went away to boarding school and then to college in Kansas. On returning home with her Master’s in biology, she proceeded to get a university job, marry, have three children, and become the first woman in East Africa to earn a Ph.D. She was heavily involved in women’s organizations as a young professional, which led to her founding the Green Belt Movement, meant to combat both deforestation and poverty by planting trees. She saw the two issues as intimately connected: Kenya’s loss of trees meant a loss of clean water and firewood, which meant health issues and the impoverishment of farmers who struggled to feed their families, as well as more landslides, poorer soil, and a host of other ills. Ultimately she devoted herself to the Green Belt Movement full-time – even having staff work out of her home when one of many run-ins with the government meant a loss of office space. She led campaigns to preserve parks and forests in Kenya, but also to free political prisoners, allow meaningful opposition in government, and more. At the time she wrote this book, she had become a member of parliament and government minister herself, as well as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But she didn’t get there without facing a lot of opposition throughout her life, including arrests, harassment and beatings by the police, and a nasty public divorce in which she was criticized for not being sufficiently submissive.

All of which is to say that Maathai was clearly an extraordinary person. And I loved the way she wrote about her childhood; take this passage for instance, set during her adolescence:

Three months later, when I returned home for the next holiday, it was time to harvest the red kidney beans I had planted earlier. I borrowed a donkey from a neighbor and went to our farm in the Gura valley. The harvesting and thrashing took most of the day and by late afternoon I had harvested about one and a half sacks of beans. “Well,” I thought to myself, “I’m strong and the donkey looks sturdy enough,” so one sack went onto the donkey’s back and the remaining half sack I took for my own. Off we went, two beasts of burden crawling up and down the hills on narrow paths, bent over trying to carry these heavy loads. By the time we reached the Tucha River, it was getting dark and I was very tired. I may not have guided the donkey properly and before I knew it she slipped and rolled down the slope.

I didn’t have a clue what to do. Gathering my senses, I found a place to leave my load of beans and rushed to assist the donkey, who luckily had not been hurt in the fall. I helped her up, loaded the bag of beans onto her back again, and encouraged her back onto the path. I heaved my own sack onto my back and off we trudged again. As we neared our homestead at Ihithe village, we both had had enough and collapsed in a heap. My mother ran out of the house and could not believe what she saw: a donkey and her daughter lying exhausted next to each other. “How did you make it?” she cried. “These are enormous sacks of beans! I never expected you to carry so many beans. You shouldn’t do that.” The donkey and I were too tired to reply.

I love that: her humor, and the passion and pride she finds in subsistence farming, which most readers are likely to dismiss as a miserable, empty existence. She portrays a full emotional life in what we would consider abject poverty. And with grace and humor to boot.

That said, as the book goes on, it becomes much more about her public life. Her many campaigns certainly deserve the attention they receive, and readers will learn a fair bit about modern Kenyan history from it. Maathai clearly had a lot of courage, as well as dedication and perseverance; she refused to let setbacks and failures stop her, whether this meant continuing to agitate after a protest was violently dispersed, pushing on after losing a job, or running for office three times before finally winning. I think activists looking for inspiration will find plenty here.

However, unsurprisingly from a politician, her candor about her adult life is limited. After her divorce as a young mother, the book is very focused on her public life. And whether bullheadedness was simply required to succeed in the ways that she did, or whether she had political reasons to not doubt herself in print, there’s not a lot of self-reflection. She never questions, for instance, whether becoming the head of a woman’s organization despite government opposition – ultimately causing the organization to splinter in two and her half to lose much of its funding – was the right move, or whether perhaps succumbing to pressure to withdraw her candidacy and working through a consensus candidate might have done more good. She glosses over the bit where she drops her kids off at their father’s for six months with no advance warning (it’s unclear whether the kids know how long they’ll be staying, but her ex definitely doesn’t). And I had my doubts about the bit where all the Green Belt Movement staff go on strike over their pay, supposedly all because of the agitation of her treacherous assistant and despite the fact that they’d all understood and accepted the organization’s precarious financial situation. They are grown adults who presumably would need a reason to strike beyond the fact that somebody suggested it.

I don’t actually mean this as a criticism of Maathai: everybody has their flaws, which tend to make people more interesting and certainly more human. However, by the end I felt that an objective biography would present a more complete view of her as both a person and an activist, and without the limitations inherent in Maathai’s public position when she wrote this book. Nevertheless, she seems like an incredible person and I do think this book is worth reading.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,050 followers
October 18, 2015
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 perspective.

The rest, I'd rather Wangari Maathai said in her own words, so here are the places I marked:

"These experiences of childhood are what mold us and make us who we are. How you translate the life you see, feel, smell, and touch as you grow up - the water you drink, the air you breathe, and the food you eat - are what you become. When what you remember disappears, you miss it and search for it, and so it was with me. When I was a child, my surroundings were alive, dynamic, and inspiring. Even though I was entering a world where there were books to read and facts to learn - the cultivation of the mind - I was still able to enjoy a world where there were no books to read, where children were told living stories about the world around them, and where you cultivated the soil and the imagination in equal measure."

"A general orientation toward trusting people and a positive attitude toward life and fellow human beings is healthy - not only for one's peace of mind but also to bring about change."

"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."

"When we go through profound experiences, they change us. We risk our relationship with friends and family. They may not like the direction we have taken or may feel threatened or judged by our decisions. They may wonder what happened to the person they thought they once knew. There may not be enough space in a relationship for aspirations and beliefs or mutual interests and aims to unfold. For a couple, this is particularly so because most people marry young and are bound to grow and change in their perceptions and appreciation of life."

"Humanity needs to rethink peace and security and work toward cultures of peace by governing itself more democratically, respecting the rule of law and human rights, deliberately and consciously promoting justice and equity, and managing resources more responsibly and accountably - not only for the present but also for the future generations.
Profile Image for Ruby Grad.
504 reviews4 followers
July 14, 2021
I loved this straightforward, down to earth autobiography. Wangari Maathai is one of my heroes. She is, among many, many other things, the founder of the Green Belt Movement, both in Kenya and internationally, and, of course, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Her love for Kenya and its people, and her sorrow at the deforestation that has caused great devastation there, is palpable. I also loved reading about her background and her personal struggles. I highly recommend this book to anyone concerned with environment, anyone wanting to know more about contemporary African, or anyone just looking for a great and inspiring read.
1,591 reviews87 followers
July 14, 2021
Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, the first African woman to be awarded this international recognition. This is her memoir. It is a wonderful account of a life lived in service to her country and its people. I was familiar with her work in ecology, but not as aware of her work for human rights and democracy in Kenya. This memoir increased my admiration for her.
Profile Image for Friederike Knabe.
398 reviews155 followers
September 27, 2011
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 experiences during the Moi regime, in particular, demonstrate the challenges a young educated woman confronted in the face of traditional prejudice as well as political oppression.

Raised in rural Kenya, Wangari Maathai never lost the deep connection with the land and its the natural beauty. Over the years, she noticed the changes and the increasing fragility of the environment. Trees for her became a symbol and a tool for protecting the vulnerable ecosystem and assisting rural population to stem the growing poverty.

Thanks to the intervention of her older brother and the support of her mother, she was able to attend school beyond the primary level, which was all girls at the time could reach for. As luck had it and, being a bright student, her convent school was one of those selected to send graduates to the US under what became known as the Kennedy Airlift: a program to send young Africans to American colleges for further education. These young people were being primed to become future leaders of their societies in the soon to be independent African states. Maathai returned to Kenya with a Master's degree in biology, a subject that for her combined her scientific interests with her deep love for her natural environment. She was encouraged in her research and added a PhD in veterinary medicine to her record. Life should have been easy after that with a good husband, a blossoming academic career and three wonderful kids. But women in Kenya were not supposed to be independent and strong. Her fight for women's equal rights broadened her environmental commitments. Eventually she lost her academic position, her husband divorced her and she ended up as poor as she was a child. Not deterred by the adversities she was facing, she continued fighting on several fronts. She started the Greenbelt Movement to plant trees to reclaim the land as a campaign for and with rural women. Over time it gained such prominence that it was perceived as a threat by the authorities. Public show of opposition, such as the demonstrations to save Uhuru Park in Nairobi from President-friendly developers, increasingly identified Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement as a focus for opposition forces. They fought for human rights and dignity, anti-tribalism and democracy. The details of these struggles, the friendships and solidarity that Maathai experienced, both in Kenya in internationally, supported her morally and probably saved her life more than once.

Maathai's memoir is very personal and written from the heart. We get to know her thinking and feelings as well as a detailed description of the difficult life women and men who opposed the Moi regime faced. Her easygoing and conversational style softens the impact of her description of the arduous and sometimes even brutal experiences that she relays. At the same time, her story is a stirring example of how one person's strength and perseverance can make a difference to a people and the world. The Greenbelt Movement is now a motor for tree planting around Africa and beyond. This is an inspirational book as well as a historical record. Reading it will make you feel enriched.
Profile Image for Krista the Krazy Kataloguer.
3,873 reviews267 followers
May 28, 2010
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 create something great. She showed that the people, if they care enough and work together, can make their government answerable to them. She never gave up, and always used peaceful methods and reason, even when the people she was dealing with were violent and unreasonable. I wish I could be like her.

The book also gave me insight into why there is so much turmoil in the countries of Africa today. The British, French, Portuguese, and whoever else colonized Africa drew boundaries for countries that cut across and divided tribes and grouped tribes together who were traditional enemies. The colonial governments tried to force western ways onto them and suppressed traditional ways, which had always kept them in balance with the environment. The colonial governments also persuaded them to see the natural resources around them not as something to live in harmony with, to use only as much as you need, but as something to be exploited and sold for money and not something to be protected. I see parallels with the Native Americans in the U.S.

I read this book for a faculty book discussion. One of our faculty commented that you could teach a whole course from this one book. I can't praise Wangari highly enough, and wish I could meet her some day. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the environment, trees, women's rights, human rights, and democracy.
Profile Image for Lulu.
844 reviews112 followers
January 8, 2017
"As I swept the last bit of dust, I made a covenant with myself: I will accept. Whatever will be, will be. I have a life to lead. I recalled words a friend had told me, the philosophy of her faith. "Life is a journey and a struggle," she had said. "We cannot control it, but we can make the best of any situation." I was indeed in quite a situation. It was up to me to make the best of it."
Profile Image for Doris Jean.
189 reviews29 followers
August 14, 2019
Names can confuse, and Wangari Maathai is the same person as Mary Josephine. 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 received many sponsors and free benefits. She was also sponsored to receive higher education with higher degrees. She returned to Africa head and shoulders above her peers. She became the head of a veterinary school in Africa even though she was not a vet. She was very ambitious and took full advantage of her good luck.

She married a politician and it seemed that he was jealous of his wife who was the superior politician. He divorced her, the kids went with him, and she proceeded on with her causes and careers. She took back her African name Wangari and left "Mary Jo" in the dust. She received many honors and grants. She got funding to plant trees and connected with environmentalists worldwide. She ran for public office and got into the parliament. She continued to receive good luck and was given many awards and honors, even the Nobel peace prize.

However, the writing was dry and self-serving, I wonder if there was a ghost-writer or a very strong editor helping her? The prose is not artistic, it felt robotic and formulaic. I admired Mary Jo and wanted her to talk more about her personal family sacrifices. I only gave the book two stars because I don't think she actually was speaking. I think one of her admirers wrote the book to promote her. This book feels to me like propaganda. Just my personal opinion, I may be wrong.

I liked the photographs in the middle of the book.
Profile Image for Grace.
110 reviews5 followers
December 26, 2020
Finishing this book on Christmas was a gift in and of itself. Wangari Maathai should be a household name, among the likes of MLK Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Her life story and advocacy demonstrates the interconnectedness of the environment, governance, and human rights. It is a story and mission I will carry with me for a long time.

We do the right thing not to please people but because it’s the only logically reasonable thing to do, as long as we are being honest with ourselves—even if we are the only ones.

However, I felt strongly that people needed to understand that the government was not the only culprit. Citizens, too, played a part in the problems the communities identified. One way was by not standing up for what they strongly believed in and demanding that the government provided it. Another was that people did not protect what they themselves had. “It is your land,” I said. “You own it, but you are not taking care of it. You’re allowing soil erosion to take place and you could do something about it. You could plant trees.” I would also remind them that they had stopped growing their traditional food that provided good nutrition. Instead, they were cultivating exotic crops that often didn’t do well in the local soils. I urged them to look at their problems and the solutions more deeply. “Even though you blame the government,” I said, “you really should also blame yourself. You need to do something about your situation. Do whatever is within your power.”
Profile Image for Stef Rozitis.
1,458 reviews70 followers
June 29, 2021
I don't know enough about Africa, despite having a couple of friends from there so I had never heard of Wangari Maathai. She's interesting and her memoir of disobediences in good causes is well worth reading. There's a bigger conversation to be had about things like "development", corruption and especially global debt. I'm a bit appalled that the cover of this book has an approving comment by Bill Clinton, yet Clinton for a while was in a position to do something to alleviate global debt and chose to keep pushing the agenda that keeps some countries horrendously poor. There's a lack of reflection right there!

Maathai is against global debt, against patriarchy, corruption, exploitation of the land and dirty politics. She's courageous in a practical low-key but pig-headed sort of a way that makes me simultanously think I never could be like her and think there's a core of me that wishes it was. I have no wish to be in an African gaol though, it's horrendous some of the things she's been through and some of her narrow escapes.

Wangari has the ability to laugh and the ability to very calmly tell difficult truths that I have found in some other African women- a resilience and an unassuming intelligence. I'd like to be as resourceful and independent as she is.
Profile Image for Alicia.
83 reviews15 followers
January 10, 2013
I have no doubt that Wangari accomplished a lot in a country that was determined to keep her in her place, however her memoir left me not particularly liking her as a person. She feigned humbleness and seemed to exaggerate her influence. One example: Wangari tells a short story of how she was not able to buy her children some chips at the hotel pool her family was at because she didn't have the money. Wangari said, "I can relate with those mothers that are not able to feed their children because of my experience." WHAT?
Profile Image for Patricia.
615 reviews16 followers
September 23, 2019
An inspiring story of what Maathai was able to accomplish with perseverance and imagination. It's more a plain-spoken account rather than an artful one, but it's full of thought-provoking points on grass-roots activism, hope, colonialism, language. There are plenty of put-the- book-down-and-think moments.
Profile Image for Anna.
77 reviews13 followers
March 15, 2008
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 forgivable.

Her observations about international development were right on target, in my view. It was refreshing to see someone use their American higher education to make a difference in their country of origin. If only there were more people willing to do the same, and if only indigenous NGOs received as much if not more financial support from abroad as American NGOs.

Some gems from her story:

She struggled to maintain international support because the Kenyan government ordered all foreign assistance to go through them (p. 196), as well as approval for nominations to certain posts such as to spots within the United Nations. At one point CARE Austria was reluctant to help her purchase an office for her NGO (p. 201) because it was not officially recognized by the Kenyan government. This policy of using foreign assistance to prop up (malevolent) governments is stupid and it upsets me. You can't eliminate the risk of failed states, you only delay the collapse. And in delaying, you're creating conditions in which conflict will foment, making the inevitable collapse even worse. UGH

"Ethnicity is one of the major strategies that politicians have used to divide Africans." (p. 236)

"...the Kenyan government could be completely untouched by the complaints of its people; but the minute the international community caught wind of what elements in the government were doing, it could move quickly, because it depended so much on foreign aid, military training funds, and goodwill overseas." (p. 243)

"The Green Belt Movement had provided a laboratory of sorts to experiment with a holistic approach to development that dealth with problems on the ground but also examined and addressed their individual and systemic causes." (p. 255)

"What people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focused on the solution, I don't see danger. Because I don't see danger, I don't allow my mind to imagine what might happen to me, which is my definition of fear. If you don't see danger and see only the solution, then you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless." (p. 272)

Recommended to anyone with an interest in Kenya, Africa, international development, etc.
Profile Image for Lyon6.
5 reviews
May 8, 2019
Unbowed is a book I read for school but I ended up loving it.
Profile Image for Shomeret.
1,050 reviews204 followers
July 16, 2012
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 stories about dragons. I wondered what these dragons look like. I know that Chinese dragons are conceptually different from European dragons. Kikuyu dragons are shapechangers which is interesting, but I wonder what else they are that's different from European or Chinese folklore.

Wangari Maathai's approach to the environmental degradation that Kenya has suffered is so simple and effective. It's also so applicable to any geographical area that has become deforested. What isn't simple or easy is the challenge of standing firm against the powerful corporate and political interests that seek to continue pillaging the land. That's why Maathai got that Nobel Prize.

Profile Image for Barry Morris.
29 reviews1 follower
September 16, 2009
Like most memoirs, it started strong then got more self-serving as the accolades piled up. Maahthai led an extraordinary life and had a considerable influence in the environmental movement. She definitely deserved her Nobel Prize and out respect. However, many memoir writers would be better served by biographers. At one point she goes into great detail about how her life revolves around her children. Soon after that we learn that she has to travel Canada to attend a conference, so she arranges for them to spend some time with their father (from whom she is divorced). A few pages later she casually lets it slip that the kids spend almost the entire next six years living with dad. It's a minor point in the story, but the inequality of her emphases (the agony of letting them go versus the matter of factness of how long they were gone) throws the objectivity of many of her other anecdotes into doubt.

By far the most affective part of the text is the first few chapters. Therein she describes the brutal efficiency with which the Europeans came in and destroyed her homeland and the passivity of the natives who allowed them to. So much wrong was done to so many people that one runs pout of people to blame. And it is the strict reportorial precision with which she describes it that makes it so effective. As time goes on and the ratio of description to evaluation shifts, the narrative becomes less effective and more self-serving.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Muhammad Arif.
18 reviews
December 1, 2022
Thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this gripping story of perseverance and grit. The book left me with the most important questions: who will access the resources? Who will be excluded? Can the minority have a say, even the majority have their way? Can powerful individuals in the communities bring change? Can we have green values in the South Asian Politics?
Finally, the book is an excellent account of success against greatest odds in a Sacred cause. One of the most wonderful paragraphs in the book is going to stay with me and I am going to share it here: “Trees are living symbols of peace and hope. A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches to the sky. It tells us that in order to aspire we need to be grounded, and that no matter how high we got it is from our roots that we draw sustenance. It is a reminder to all of us who have had success that we cannot forget where we came from. It signifies that no matter how powerful we become in government or how many awards we receive, our powers and strengths and our ability to reach our goals depend on the people, those whose work remains unseen, who are the soil out of which we grow, the shoulders on which we stand. “
Profile Image for Ravikiran Gunale.
8 reviews11 followers
July 24, 2018
During my school days, I read that Kenyan woman, Wangari Mathai, received Noble Peace prize for planting trees. I was puzzled, how would anyone get Noble Peace prize for planting trees, until I read her autobiography. The challenges she faced when working in authoritarian regime were extremely harsh. She had no idea when she could be arrested, killed. Its an uphill battle working for environmental restoration, poverty eradication and leading a mass movement, when dictator is against you. Her green belt movement planted 30 million trees with the help of hundred thousands of women, helped in restoring democracy in Kenya and poverty eradication. Many times running directly into thugs appointed by government, police and military.
During this time, her marriage failed, she supported 3 kids, govt made sure she lost her job as professor, she was jailed several times and injured multiple times. Inspiring story, well written, must read book. Lot of problems she fought still continue to plague our country like poverty, environmental degradation and women empowerment.
Profile Image for Brooke.
74 reviews5 followers
January 8, 2021
Wangari Maathai is an incredible human being - everyone should know her name and all that she has accomplished with regards to environmentalism, peace, feminism, and democracy in Kenya and around the world. That being said, the book was often quite dry, and for a good 1/3 it read more like a Kenya history textbook than a memoir. Still, I'm glad I read it and know more about this amazing woman.
Profile Image for George P..
375 reviews57 followers
August 5, 2018
Maathai's autobiography tells her life story well, however I felt as though it didn't give me that much understanding of what went on inside, of how she changed from a nice Catholic school girl to a militant defender of the environment, democracy and women's rights who became a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. From her writing it was evidently a gradual process in which one thing led to another. It would be interesting now to read a biography of her by an unbiased journalist/ writer.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,308 reviews758 followers
November 25, 2020
This is not a work that is going to do much to destabilize the typical white "Westerner's" viewpoint of Kenya/Africa/Third World countries. When Maathai isn't undermining the ability of the people of her country to govern themselves in a socially equitable and environmentally sustaining manner, she's ignoring the fruit from the disaster capitalism that former imperial empires shoved into the mouths of practically every African nation in the name of combatting communism. By the time she gets around to acknowledging the relationship, the words of the day are 'debt forgiveness,' 'global capitalism,' and 'democracy,' great for the white savior marketing plans of philanthropist/venture capitalist rock stars and horrible for any real chance of Kenya to take control of its own economy. As a result, the blame for the skyrocketing unemployment, the ethnic strife, the obsession with the country's leaders with constant privatization, all of that is the fault of 'the government' and President Daniel arap Moi, yet another useful target for international human rights organizations once he lived out his use of standing against "Eastern Bloc-aligned governments of Ethiopia and Tanzania": aka, ones not friendly to Euro/Neo-Euro corporations looking to swoop in and bleed out the country for cheap forevermore. I give two stars for what I did manage to learn despite having the handbook for US neoliberalism constantly shoved in my face (the Mau Mau anti-imperialism movement deserves especial attention), but I got to say, it's rather disappointing that my cynicism about anyone who's been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize was born out by this work.

This work started off more than decently, grounded as it was in a true sense of what was going on in the waning days of British colonialism. Even Maathai heading off to a US (read white imperialist) funded college education allowed me some insight into the status of Kenyan/African international students in the early 1960s, although I'm sure certain sections in both her life and those of her comrades have been carefully airbrushed out for violence and anything else that wouldn't be in tune with her pronouncements of approval of JFK and white figures of authority in general. From there I followed her into the patriarchy of academic bureaucracies in scientific fields, although how much was leftovers of the colonial state and how much was indigenous to the many cultures flung together in a single nation was left unclear. Soon after, Maathai's foothold in the white sphere of things alongside her husband's political ambitions gave her domestic troubles and pay negotiations a pseudo-mythical status in a country where such things that didn't have international recourse were almost always squashed, and amongst all the details, barely anyone would mind how discussions of how the IMF and World Bank got involved were simply passed by. Sure, Maathai's no trained economist, but considering how rampant corporate driven deforestation, devastating unemployment, and huge class wealth disparities all eventually fell under her purview, I would expect someone of her intelligence to do a little proactive thinking about why the money is acting the way it is, rather than hunkering down reactively whenever her neoliberal fantasies of nonviolent protest revitalizing Kenya's standard of living for all met the expected government backlash during the period when the "West" still needed petty capitalist dictators to block off Soviet Russia. After a while, it just became lists of esteemed appointment here and panicking international response there, and the fact that things started shifting in 1991 just after the collapse of the USSR is never overtly discussed. A nice bed time story for those who take First/Third World status as the natural course of things, but for the rest of us, Maathai's transcription is too superficial to be of much lasting use: for every fact she provides, another three questions must be asked. How much of this was intended, whether due to external pressure or sincere belief, is one of those questions, and that picture perfect candid camera shot of Maathai on the phone with the Nobel Prize board just raises suspicions further.

If you're anywhere near my stage of reading about the wider world and the architecture of its international miseries, you won't get much from this that doesn't need to be pulled apart and/or plumped up into something a lot more complicated than this narrative's rendering of a white savior complexed-world. If you're earlier on in your journey, it serves as a decent enough base for 20th c. Kenyan history in terms of facts and figures, but for not any of the behind the scenes mechanisms that transformed colonial mechanisms of wealth extraction from Third to First into the corporate ones of today. You could also always just read it as your standard 21st century environmental activist/feminist text, but that's barely half the actual story, and much of the author's choice of contextualization that is included functions more on the level of "Western" propaganda than anything else. So, yet another popular text carefully curated by the Anglo/wider Euro market to inform the general populace exactly in the way that corporate interests deem acceptable. Disappointing, but at least it was an easy enough read, as well as relatively short.
Profile Image for Zainab.
58 reviews10 followers
March 17, 2020
Wangari Maathai is not only exceptional in what she achieved as a Kenyan woman in the context of East Africa – but she should be a household name for environmentalism across the globe.
Fifty-one million trees have been planted in Kenya alone under her movement, which focuses on biodiversity, using local species and methods, and centring the indigenous villagers and farmers who know the land best.
This biography clearly demonstrates that Wangari Maathai (April 1940 – Sept 2011) was one of the early environmental activists who understood that nature must be politicised. It is her own traditional Kikuyu upbringing in proximity to Mount Kenya and, soon after, on a British settler’s farm in Nyeri town that “cultivates” both this love for sustainable practices and her understanding of colonial tactics. The most enjoyable parts, for me, were her reflections on nature in childhood and adulthood.
Although I’m not accustomed to reading memoirs, I found a lot of beauty in the simplicity of her storytelling. Even as her Green Belt project branches into much more dangerous campaigns – dealing with her own country’s authoritarianism, prisoners’ rights, gender inequality and privatisation – she still tells her tale in a pragmatic way, with a lot of conviction. She achieves a multiple set of “firsts” in succession, but is dismissed and threatened with quite concerted efforts from those in power. The hell-ish episodes in her life and the unimaginably vast reach of her good work are both contained within this straightforward tone.
The downside of this is that there is a failure to acknowledge the repercussions of Western colonial and cultural influence in its entirety. She holds back in her criticisms of historical decisions and moments. For example, there is a tangible tension between her fond memories in a Catholic boarding school and the Italian nuns who taught pupils to stamp out each of their tribal languages. This extends to the rest of her biography where neoliberal and sensationalised ideas of the American dream seep in – the message seems to be “work hard and you’ll get there” – which also explains the Bill Clinton endorsement on the cover. To compound this tension, there appears to be a naivety about things like racism, the Vietnam War and Western models of governance which she readily adopts.
With this criticism in mind, I think this is a very worthy book of a very worthy person who walked the earth and left her mark in a way we can only dream of. Everyone should know her name.
Profile Image for Aparna Singh.
57 reviews26 followers
October 18, 2020
At the beginning of this year, I resolved to read 12 memoirs/biographies of women, and with less than 3 months for the year to end, while I am not entirely sure of finishing the quorum, I am nonetheless glad that I made the resolution; for it is one of the things that pushed me to picking up Unbowed, a memoir by Nobel Laureate and Founder of Kenya's Green Belt Movement, Wangari Muta Maathai.

Unbowed is an incredible story, of a village girl from the Kenyan Central Highlands, who grew up to start a nationwide movement for saving her country's eco-diversity. It is also an extremely readable memoir, as Ms. Maathai (or Mama Wangari as I feel like calling her) tells her story. She starts from being a girl immersed joyously (but unthinkingly) in the forests, rivers, flora and fauna of her own land, to a life as a scientist/teacher, and finally, green activist and Parliamentarian, who sees consciously, how far the country has moved from the days of her childhood. The chapters around her tough but contented childhood spent in security of her mother's compound, listening to grandmothers and aunts narrate the stories of a rich oral culture over the evening's cooking fire, particularly resonated with me. The yearning for the lost past and indeed, the lost culture trampled by colonialism, tugs at your heart, even when she is matter of fact about it.

Indeed, the book itself reflects Mama Wangari's practical, can-do approach to life, where she sees her people's unending problems as big but not unsolvable problems. Unbowed is also a must-read for anyone working in the space of social change, as she talks about the persistence and building bridges approach needed to solve for many problems - courage or conviction alone is not enough. If there is one thing Mama Wangari makes very clear, it is that designating your opponents as your enemies and shutting yourself away from them, may make you feel righteous but does nothing for the problems you want to solve. Dialogue, persistent resolve and using every tool available to her, whether that is appealing to the vanity of the powers that be, or using international opinion to her advantage - her campaigns have the hallmark of strategy, not just action.

Over the years, I have read a few memoirs of and novels around African women from other countries such as Liberia, Nigeria and the Congo, but Kenya was also a completely new country to me, and one which I would like to learn more about.

I have no hesitation in recommending Unbowed by Wangari Maathai for all readers interested in well-told true stories. It may even inspire you on a dark day to hold on to that dream of a silver lining.
Profile Image for Laura Hoffman Brauman.
2,550 reviews34 followers
April 17, 2022
Unbowed is the memoir of a remarkable woman, Wangari Maathai. Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 and tells the story of her life as a woman growing up in Kenya, as an activist, and as an environmentalist. She founded the Green Belt movement, an organization that works with rural woman, paying them to plant trees in and around their villages and restoring indigenous forests. Her considerable courage and determination is an inspiration and everything about this reading experience was compelling. Going into this, I knew little about the history of Kenya or the political struggles that her country faced. I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about these events, but it was hearing about her decisions and actions and the steps she took, even at great personal risk, to work for the rights of her fellow citizens and the future of the environment that made this such a fascinating read. Since it’s founding in 1977, the Green Belt movement has planted more than 51 million trees and over 30,000 women have been trained in trades that allow them to improve their financial situation while protecting their natural resources. It is a grassroots movement and Maathai’s commitment to creating something done at a local level, by local people, to improve the local environment has had long lasting impact and has served as a model for other environmental organizations around the world. Highly recommend this excellent read about an amazing leader.
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