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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

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William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger, and a place where hope and opportunity were hard to find. But William had read about windmills in a book called Using Energy, and he dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village and change his life and the lives of those around him. His neighbors may have mocked him and called him misala—crazy—but William was determined to show them what a little grit and ingenuity could do.

Enchanted by the workings of electricity as a boy, William had a goal to study science in Malawi's top boarding schools. But in 2002, his country was stricken with a famine that left his family's farm devastated and his parents destitute. Unable to pay the eighty-dollar-a-year tuition for his education, William was forced to drop out and help his family forage for food as thousands across the country starved and died.

Yet William refused to let go of his dreams. With nothing more than a fistful of cornmeal in his stomach, a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks, and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to bring his family a set of luxuries that only two percent of Malawians could afford and what the West considers a necessity—electricity and running water. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves, William forged a crude yet operable windmill, an unlikely contraption and small miracle that eventually powered four lights, complete with homemade switches and a circuit breaker made from nails and wire. A second machine turned a water pump that could battle the drought and famine that loomed with every season.

Soon, news of William's magetsi a mphepo—his "electric wind"—spread beyond the borders of his home, and the boy who was once called crazy became an inspiration to those around the world.

Here is the remarkable story about human inventiveness and its power to overcome crippling adversity. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind will inspire anyone who doubts the power of one individual's ability to change his community and better the lives of those around him.

270 pages, Hardcover

First published September 29, 2009

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About the author

William Kamkwamba

11 books347 followers
William Kamkwamba was born August 5, 1987 in Malawi, and grew up on his family farm in Wimbe, two and half hours northeast of Malawi’s capital city. William was educated at Wimbe Primary School, completing 8th grade and was then accepted to secondary school. Due to severe famine in 2001-2002, his family lacked funds to pay $80 in school fees and William was forced to drop out in his freshman year. For five years he was unable to go to school. Rather than accept his fate, William borrowed books from a small community lending library, including an American textbook Using Energy, which depicted a wind turbine. He decided to build a windmill to power his family’s home. First he built a prototype, then his initial 5-meter windmill out of a broken bicycle, tractor fan blade, old shock absorber, and blue gum trees. He was able to power four light bulbs and two radios, and charge neighbors’ mobile phones. He then added a car battery for storage, as well as homemade light switches and circuit breakers. Subsequent projects have included clean water, malaria prevention, solar power and lighting for his family compound, a deep water well with a solar powered pump, a drip irrigation system, and the outfitting of the village team Wimbe United with uniforms and shoes. In September, 2008, William started as one of 97 inaugural students at the African Leadership Academy, a new pan-African prep school based outside of Johannesburg, South Africa whose mission is to educate the next generation with rigorous academics, ethical leadership training, entrepreneurship and design (africanleadershipacademy.org). William is the subject of the short film Moving Windmills: http://missingpiecesvideo.com/kamkwam.... William is currently finishing his autobiography The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope with co-author Bryan Mealer. Harper Collins will publish the memoir Sept. 29, 2009.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,031 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,284 reviews119k followers
March 7, 2019
William Kambkwambwa was always a curious child. His curiosity about the workings of the world took a hit when his family was unable to afford to keep him in school. But he tried to keep up, going to the library and reading everything he could. He was particularly taken with books on science and on how things work. In this engaging and uplifting story, the young inventor tells of his experience in Malawi constructing a working windmill from bits and pieces retrieved from junkyards, using a design based on a book he got from the library. But the story goes well beyond his personal experience.

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William Kambkwambwa - image from kickstarter

He tells us about his community, a small village reliant on agriculture for sustenance and imperiled by the vagaries of nature and a corrupt government. He introduces us to his family, his much-admired father, his friends, the village chief, and offers a real feel for what life looks like in this part of the world. There is a long section in which Kambkwamba reports the frightening details of when famine struck his village, how the families coped, or failed, how the government responded. It is riveting material. Also of considerable interest is the degree to which people in Malawi hold on to a belief in magic one would have thought had faded long ago. William was at risk of being persecuted as a witch for his invention. Some people were killed as the hungry sought a magical explanation for the lack of rain, and scapegoats were found. That is as chilling as his tale of drought and desperation.

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Chiwetel Ejiofor as Trywell Kamkwamba and Maxwell Simba as William - from the Netflix film

In the latter part of the book, the young inventor is finally discovered and we see some of his wonder as he is introduced to a much wider world and finally comes to gain a society of peers. There can be no doubt that William Kambkwamba is a remarkable young man, and that he will continue to achieve great things, for himself, for his family, for his village, nation and for Africa. This book should be counted among those achievements.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author's personal, Twitter, and Facebook pages

A film based on the book is available on Netflix as of March 1, 2019

A kickstarter campaign to finance making of a documentary of William's life
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,142 reviews486 followers
January 13, 2016
I once listened to an interview with Sydney Poitier, in which he said that the people who ultimately sent a man to the moon played cricket on the open fields and beaches with sticks and stones. They did not even know what a computer was as young children but they had the imagination to find their toys in the right places. They made something from nothing.

It is for this reason that I wanted to read this book of the young Malawian boy who made life better by using his intellect, despite being thrown out of school due to a lack of payment, and a devastating famine, which pushed their community to the ground and beyond. He persisted with his dream to create electricity for his family and community. And he did it.

A good inspiring read that made a difference to many lives. Young people should read this, if they can get over their own me-me-me-self-entitlements. The story speaks to the heart and highlight values that might be foreign to many young people nowadays.

I felt so happy when I finished reading this book. It gave me hope for the future.



Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,686 reviews14k followers
December 16, 2019
2.5 This book presented me with quite a challenge. I started out listening on audio, but had trouble understanding the narrator. His accent is probably authentic yet his sing ding voice and rise in dramatically storytelling, sent me to the pages of print. Luckily, I had that option.

I found my enjoyment of the story varied I different sections. I enjoyed learning of their culture, their storytelling tradition, but there was some information that I wish had been left out. The famine was awful, it was difficult to read, but the part that included the demise of the dog, I am having a hard time getting it out of my head. It's only a small part, so if I knew it was coming i could have skipped that section. Unfortunately, it colored everything I went on to read from that point forward. Silly I know, but something I was unable to conquer.

The importance of libraries, where William checked out books that he used to learn how to build his windmill, was wonderful. This young man's persistence and curiousity is beyond admirable. Even with books I could not have done what he did. I also loved his family who surrounded him with love and acceptance. So, a rather mixed read for me, again. I am glad though to have met William and glad he was able to tell his story.
Profile Image for Kenny.
485 reviews814 followers
October 1, 2019
“I went to sleep dreaming of Malawi, and all the things made possible when your dreams are powered by your heart.”
William Kamkwamba ~~ The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope


1

I loved this book. But, I felt too much time was given over to the famine in Malawi and the superstitions of witchcraft, and not enough time to William. The last 1/3 of the book was rushed as we learned about the windmill, and his accomplishments.

1
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,002 reviews351 followers
April 27, 2020
Nós os Deuses Adormecidos


Se há livros que põem o meu entusiasmo nos píncaros, são aqueles que retratam personagens que por força da determinação, coragem e persistência fazem acontecer impossíveis!

O caso concreto, aborda um episódio passado no Malawi, ao longo dum ano de seca:
Está-se em 2002, e a fome grassa como a peste negra, enfraquecendo e dizimando as populações.

William Kamkwamba, um jovem que logo em pequeno se deixou fascinar pela electricidade, sonha estudar Ciência nas melhores escolas do país. Porém, vê o seu projecto gorado ao ser impedido de prosseguir os estudos devido ao súbito empobrecimento da família.

Não obstante, William não abdica do seu sonho. Com uma fome de aprender que excede a de comer, enfia-se numa biblioteca e estuda vorazmente. Um dia dá de caras com um livro sobre moinhos e uma ideia germinou-lhe no cérebro. Com pouco mais que um punhado de sucata, cria dois moinhos capazes de proporcionar à sua comunidade algo a que só 2% da população do seu país tinha acesso — electricidade e água corrente...

Alguém disse um dia que "os homens são deuses caídos". "Caídos" não direi — adormecidos, talvez. E ao que parece, as Crises são os melhores Despertadores! 😊😉
Profile Image for Kinga.
475 reviews2,123 followers
December 22, 2015
Finally good news.

I can't begin to tell you what a joy to read this book was. Every adult and every kid should read it (except for those kids whose parents are not ok with them reading vivid descriptions of someone dying from gonorrhoea - but even those kids should probably rebel against their parents and read it anyway).

As any review will tell you 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind' is about a boy who did just that - he built a windmill from junk using some second-hand book about physics that was donated to his village library. He then became one of the TED speakers and basically put Malawi on the map.

Make no mistake, though. This book is definitely not a boring account of how one makes electricity from trash (although there are plenty of practical tips should you need them). It's a vivid memoir, written in a simple but compelling way. windmill

It starts, like any good African narrative with some ancestral tales and a little bit of magic. William's first years are lived in the fuzzy area between science and magic. His curiosity and ingenuity is obvious from the first chapters which describe the games he used to play with his friends and the little radio fixing business he set up with his cousin when they were just little boys.

It goes on to the painful part where William is forced to drop out from the secondary school after it barely started because his parents can't afford the fees. This chapter is followed by a harrowing account of the famine in Malawi in 2001. I don't think I will forget it any time soon. It starts out benignly enough - the family decides to skip breakfast and have only two meals a day. Pages later they can barely get up and all look like their own shadows. As I mentioned in my review of Mindless Eating I do have this very unreasonable fear of dying from hunger and this chapter affected me deeply. I still can't get over it. One day I will probably forget all the intricacies of building a windmill but that vision of whole villages dying of hunger will stay to haunt me forever.

(I remember reading this romantic novel 'The Bronze Horseman' which turned out to be almost entirely forgettable except for those chapters dealing with the famine during the siege of Leningrad. Even just thinking about this makes me hungry.)

Despite all odds, William survives and thrives. It's not only poverty he is up against, it's the children who still go to school who mock him for spending all his days at the scrapyard digging through trash and reading 'Using Physics'. Everyone thinks him a madman until he triumphs. Now, this is what I call heart-warming! Not some bullshit stories about cats.

Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,651 reviews1,485 followers
June 22, 2020
My rating is of the book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, not William Kamkwamba and what he has accomplished. I praise the man for his curiosity, his indefatigable spirit and what he has achieved with little help and against all odds.

The book is co-authored by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. I wish it had been clearly stated how the two split their work; exactly who did what should have been explained.

It is the prose style, the language, the writing of the book that gives me trouble. It is simplistic, to the extreme. We are to imagine a young William Kamkwamba telling us how he at the age of fourteen made a windmill from scratch, although he had no education and was ridiculed and laughed at by family, friends and villagers. What he achieved and his success is both inspiring and admirable. This is not debatable. The authors chose to have the story told by a child. One might argue that this explains the simplistic prose style, but the book was first published in 2009, when William Kamkwamba was twenty-two. It needn’t have been written from a child’s perspective. This was a choice that in my view was wrong or in any case unsuccessfully carried out.

The writing might appeal more to a child. Nothing is said for whom or for what purpose the book has been written. Has it been written to inspire kids? It seems so to me.

With the choice having been made that the young William is to tell his own story, when fame and success have been achieved it is he that informs us of his success. He speaks not with a humble tone but in a braggart, self-promotional manner. This too is not to my liking.

William speaks of his childhood. In this way readers are acquainted with his home environment and what has shaped him. Witchcraft and religion are two forces that predominate in the Malawian village community of his childhood. The author was born in 1987. The extent to which belief in witchcraft still held sway at the beginning of the 21st century is eye-opening. Prevailing male chauvinism and the tendency to resolve disputes through violence are blatantly visible. The poverty, the mindset and the famines that plague Malawi are not shied away from, and rightly so, for this was the boy’s life, his reality.

The book gives the reader an informative view of daily life in the community--traditions, customs and beliefs, the horror of the 2001 - 2002 famine, inadequate education and healthcare facilities and infrastructure. It is by observing the villagers’ lives that we learn about the community. The grave illness of William’s mother, the death and subsequent funeral of his best friend’s father, the mysterious beasts that are believed to be attacking and eating villagers are but a few examples.

William’s battle to return to school, his inquisitive mind and his continued attempts in using science to improve life in the community are inspiring. After building the windmill, he works with installing lights and pumping water into his home, increases his knowledge of bio-gas and transformers and involves himself in informing about HIV and AIDS, always speaking out for more and better educational facilities.

A lot of time, too much time, is spent on describing exactly how William went about building the windmill and his later inventions. Despite the simplicity of the language employed, I still failed to understand the step by step procedures detailed. Failing to bring clarity, they could have been shortened. Better editing is in my view warranted, not just here but in other parts too.

The audiobook is narrated by Chike Johnson. It is read so we hear that a young African boy is speaking. I want to hear words clearly, and this is not the case here. I do not like the narration and so have given it one star. I’ll take clarity over ambiance any day.

This book provides interesting information about the author’s Malawian community and the devastating famine of 2001-2002. Had it been written as a straightforward biography rather than being told as a young boy’s tale, I would have liked it much more. My giving the book two stars indicates that although not bad, for me it is merely OK.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews580 followers
December 27, 2013
No more skipping breakfast; no more dropping out of school. With a windmill, we'd finally release ourselves from the troubles of of darkness and hunger. In Malawi, the wind was one of the few consistent things given to us by God, blowing in the treetops day and night. A windmill meant more than just power, it was freedom.


This story about a boy who grows up in poverty in the farming villages of Malawi, survives famine and diseases, drops out of grade school because of poor grades, and ends up becoming one of the world's inventors and later a college graduate, is uplifting. Exceptional protagonist--and I only use the word protagonist because this book was co-written.

The story about how William Kamkwamba discovers a way to give his house free electricity is fascinating: his discovering the difference between alternating and direct current by flipping a bike upside down, pedaling, and stacking batteries from a radio and running a wire from batteries to bulb; his collection of windmill pieces (i.e: shock absorbers, tractor fans )in his bedroom, and how he educated himself through books like Explaining Physics, Integrated Science, and Using Energy:

Energy is all around you every day, it said. Sometimes energy needs to be converted to another form before it is useful to us. How can we convert forms of energy?


Kamkwamba came of age during controversial Malawian President Muluzi's administration, where the country's maize supply (the main food staple) was at an all-time low allegedly due to the administration's corruption. Yet, he was still determined, despite knowing that this energy project wasn't putting food on the table nor paying his tuition.

It was this determination while in the midst of poverty and famine, this stubborn self-education from used library books, as well as the people who supported him throughout the process, (like the local African intellectual and historian who marched to the Ministry Of Education demanding that this young inventor be accepted back into school despite his grades and age), that were the highlights for me.

Reading a memoir co-written by another is tricky though, because you're never too sure when you're actually hearing from the protagonist or the writer. Did William Kamkwamba really want to utilize a few pages making generalizations of Africa or Malawi, or did he want to simply talk about the village that he loved? Did he want chapter after chapter of brutal, descriptive, elaborate imagery of hunger and sickness or did he see hunger as smaller pockets in his larger narrative of human strife? Did he want the information about how his knowledge of energy prompted him to drill his mother a well for drinking water, and assemble a solar-powered pump for his father's field to only appear in one paragraph of the book? We'll never know.

Nonetheless, this is a book I would highly recommend for readers of inspirational non-fiction, and one I really hope more middle and high school teachers will adopt.
Profile Image for PDXReader.
262 reviews77 followers
August 17, 2010
This book sat on my shelf for over a year mostly due to its unfortunate title. It certainly sounded boring! I only read it because it filled a challenge need. I was delighted to find, though, that it was far from dull, and I can honestly say that it's become one of my new all-time favorites. It's one of those books I want to hand to all my friends and say, "Read this. You'll love it!"

Although the book is certainly about Kamkwamba creating a way to generate electricity, that part of his story comes well past the midway point. First readers get to enjoy African folk tales, which are followed by the harrowing story of William's life in famine-stricken Malawi. THEN comes the part about electricity. It's very entertaining, interesting, and exceptionally well-told. The first-person account is by turns moving, funny, horrifying, and, yes, inspiring. I completely enjoyed it and highly recommend it, even to people who don't generally read non-fiction.

Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 109 books694 followers
January 12, 2010
This is one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. It's the true story of a Malawian teenager named William Kamkwamba. When forced to drop out of school by poverty, he used library books to teach himself enough about electricity and engineering to construct a windmill and bring electricity to his family's farm. His ingenuity, thirst for knowledge, perseverance and strength of character are truly inspiring. The co-author manages to write with transparent prose, allowing Kamkwamba's own voice to shine through.
Profile Image for neverblossom.
288 reviews1,050 followers
July 7, 2020
update 070720.

4/5

Trong lúc thế giới sục sôi với phong trào hoạt động quốc tế Black Lives Matter chống lại nạn phân biệt chủng tộc và thể hiện khao khát muốn được đối xử bình đẳng của cộng đồng người da màu thì nhân đây, tớ muốn giới thiệu cho các bạn một cuốn sách ngập tràn những điều phi thường này, và tác giả của cuốn sách chính là một người da màu – một tấm gương sáng mà có lẽ dùng từ “ngưỡng mộ” thôi là chưa đủ.

Cậu nhóc gặt gió ban đầu tớ nghĩ là truyện dài nhưng không phải thế, đây là một câu chuyện có thật với nhân vật chính là William Kamkwamba – tức tác giả của chúng ta. Dù dung lượng ngắn nhưng Cậu nhóc gặt gió lại chứa đựng những điều phi thường, bật khỏi giới hạn của bản thân mà thỏa sức vẫy vùng cùng đam mê và sáng tạo. Là câu chuyện kể về sức mạnh của niềm tin và hy vọng ngập tràn mà ngay cả tớ sau khi đọc xong cũng chỉ biết há hốc mồm không thể tưởng tượng nổi. Bên cạnh các cuốn self-help thì các bạn có thể tham khảo Cậu nhóc gặt gió nhen, trời ơi siêu truyền cảm hứng.

Về nội dung, Cậu nhóc gặt gió là câu chuyện cuộc đời của William – được sinh ra và lớn lên tại Malawi “một đất nước bé xíu xiu và nằm lọt thỏm đâu đó ở miền Đông Nam Châu Phi”. Người dân Malawi chủ yếu làm nghề nông dân, cũng chính bởi vậy họ gắn liền với từ “nghèo”. Thật thế, họ luôn túng thiếu không chỉ những vật phẩm trong đời sống mà còn trong cả những kiến thức xã hội thường ngày, khi tất cả mọi người đều đắm đuối tin vào thần linh, hay để mặc việc chữa trị bệnh tật vào tay những ông thầy bói xem voi. Với họ, khoa học không tồn tại mà chỉ lấy suy nghĩ cổ hủ làm gốc rễ. Tác giả đưa chúng ta trải qua hàng loạt những khó khăn của đất nước ngay từ những trang sách đầu tiên, mùa màng thất thu, bệnh tật kéo dài, không có điện, nhà vệ sinh chỉ là một cái hố bẩn thỉu, nạn đói tàn sát, vv… như thể Malawi đã phải hứng chịu cùng cực của cái khổ sở và đói nghèo. Nhưng hoàn cảnh ấy không hề đủ sức dập tắt ham muốn được ham học và được tiếp cận với tri thức mới của William – ngay từ nhỏ đã là một cậu nhóc tò mò và ngập tràn những thắc mắc về cuộc sống. Lớn lên dù không có tiền nộp học phí, song William vẫn tự học, dành hàng giờ để đắm chìm trong các trang sách khoa học nơi thư viện, cặm cụi lật giở tìm những kiến thức mới không biết mệt mỏi.

Điều tớ ấn tượng nhất ở đây cũng chính là hành trình đi tìm con chữ của William, biết nói sao nhỉ, cuốn sách này bản thân đã là một điều kỳ diệu rồi, nó không hề giống các cuốn sách khác. Mọi người phải hiểu đối với một cậu nhóc da màu từ nhỏ đã phải sống trong cái lạc hậu, bị chì chiết bởi mọi người xung quanh vì mơ ước quá viển vông, vậy mà William vẫn tiếp tục vươn lên sáng tạo, không ngừng nỗ lực tìm tới khoa học, góp nhặt từng phế liệu một để mày mò làm ra chiếc cối xay gió với mong ước góp phần giúp đất nước mình thoát ra khỏi cái nghèo. Chính cái chặng đường gian nan ấy đã làm tớ siêu nể phục luôn, hoàn toàn ngả mũ cúi đầu. Và nỗ lực của cậu ấy đã được đền đáp, William đã đem lại ánh sáng và cải thiện cuộc sống cho cả một cộng đồng bằng chiếc cối xay gió của mình. Quá trình William làm ra chiếc cối xay gió này thật sự thật sự thật sự choáng ngợp ấy, đặc biệt lúc ấy William chỉ là một cậu nhóc 12, 13 tuổi thôi, sốc và khâm phục hết sức.
Đặc biệt, tớ cũng siêu ấn tượng trước tình bạn cao cả của William và Gilbert. Mặc cho cả xã hội khinh thường bạn thân nhưng Gilbert vẫn trung thành và tận tụy hết sức ủng hộ William với dự án cối xay gió. Cậu giúp đỡ William hết lòng hết sức hết khả năng luôn. Thật vậy, đọc mà kiểu trời ơi tình bạn thiêng liêng và cao cả là đây chứ đâu nữa.

Vì viết nữa chắc spoil hết cả cái hay ra mất nên thôi xin gác chữ tại đây. Cuốn này Huy Hoàng dịch ổn, bìa đẹp, có kèm cả hình ảnh chân thực của chính tác giả và hơn hết, Cậu nhóc gặt gió đã đem lại một thông điệp cực kỳ cao cả và ý nghĩa về niềm tin cũng như sức mạnh và ước mơ về sự tự do của con người nên tớ highly recommend cho cả nhà nhé, nhất là những bạn nào yêu thích khoa học, vật lý thì đừng chần chừ cứ thế mà nhích luôn ha. Cậu nhóc gặt gió cũng có cả phim chuyển thể trên Netflix nữa, các bạn có thể xem cho trọn vẹn cái hay nhen.
Profile Image for Jay French.
2,032 reviews74 followers
June 24, 2014
I was surprised that the boy who harnessed the wind didn't get around to that wind harnessing until well into the second half of the book. Prior to that, the book might have been titled "Growing Up in a Small Village in Africa" - the first half of the book really is there to set the stage on the location, the people, and the situation. What the reader will remember is the description of the famine that hit the author's country. When the author finally gets around to his windmill, I was pleased to read the detail around how he thought about his project and how he was able to put the pieces together. To me, that made the book worthwhile, seeing an example of someone being resourceful in his situation. The ending of the book was a bit of a fish out of water story with the author presenting at a TED conference, but I was disappointed that the author's plans for using wind power to provide irrigation was covered in a measly page or less, and was accomplished not through his proven mechanical know-how, but through donations from the West. And using solar cells, not wind. The author uses donations to provide power and water to his village - it sounded like he chose for who and where he had projects done. The last 10% of the book could have been called "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wealthy Donor". I hope Kamkwamba perseveres in his mechanical talent and avoids settling for the money -- his ingenuity can take him far.
Profile Image for Rachel.
559 reviews21 followers
October 4, 2022
“I went to sleep dreaming of Malawi, and all the things made possible when your dreams are powered by your heart.”

“Cool! Where did you get such an idea?” “The library.”

This is the memoir of a boy who grew up in rural Malawi and taught himself how to build a windmill to provide electricity and water to his village. William Kamkwambe was born in 1987 in Wimbe, Malawi, where his family grew maize and tobacco. William grew up in poverty, exacerbated by the terrible famine of 2001-2002. His parents were unable to afford for him to complete highschool. He spent 5 years unable to attend school, so spent much time in the library educating himself. From reading something in a book he had the inspiration to build a windmill. As a penniless but determined 14-year-old, he set about building his windmill out of local scraps and materials, despite the villagers calling him crazy. Eventually his success led to recognition and he was sponsored to finish his schooling. A movie has been made about William’s amazing achievements.

The book gives considerable insight into life in rural Malawi. The devastation of the famine and perpetual hunger was heartbreaking. The belief in witchcraft was widespread and entrenched even in the 2000s, and could lead to revenge killings. There is also some discussion of politics. Hastings Banda was president of Malawi for the 30 years between 1964 to 1994. Having grown up as a farmer himself he was very pro farming and provided fertilizer and seed at subsidized prices. The next President, Bakili Muluzi, was more concerned about business than agriculture, and removed many of the subsidies. He also sold off the government reserves of food used to supplement the families in times of crisis, with tragic consequences during the famine. William does not shy away from pointing out corruption and mismanagement where he sees it.

The book was written in conjunction with Bryan Mealer. The style was extremely simplistic and not overly well written, but still does not fail to deliver an amazing, inspirational story. I am embarrassed to say that despite the incredible human suffering portrayed, the scene that made me cry was the story of William’s dog, Khamba. 3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 28 books387 followers
April 6, 2017
A debate has been raging for years within that rarefied global community that earns its keep from the business of what we Americans call “foreign aid.” (Others, less afflicted by an aversion to international engagement, call the field “overseas development assistance.”)

On one side are the advocates for large-scale bilateral and multilateral aid, insisting that huge grants from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and their ilk are the only source of real hope for the many desperately poor nations of what is broadly, though incorrectly, called the Global South (Asia, Africa, and Latin America). The advocate-in-chief for this perspective is Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, who has argued that massive infusions of aid to the governments of the poorest nations can lift them out of poverty in short order. In 2006, Sachs published his seminal book, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, a work that provided the rationale for the Millennium Development Goals.

Arrayed against Sachs and his colleagues are the born-again critics of government-to-government aid, most noticeably William Easterly, a long-time World Bank economist who came in from the cold in recent years to testify to the widespread failure of “foreign aid.” His 2007 book, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, set off the debate between the two opposing camps.

The gist of the difference between the two perspectives is simple: One side insists that the problem of poverty is far too big to be addressed through anything other than large-scale action carried out within each poor country on a national scale. The other side contends that top-down, nationwide development programs rarely work and that only solutions crafted at the grassroots and adopted by those who are most affected by them can bring about genuine social change.

Though I’ve read a number of other books taking one side or another in this debate, the work that has cast the most light on the topic is one that paid no attention whatsoever to “foreign aid” or economic development schemes, whether large or small. It’s an extraordinary, first-person tale by a young man from Malawi entitled The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

William Kamkwamba, the narrator of this awe-inspiring story, was a seventh-grade dropout who mastered fundamental physics by reading an out-of-date English textbook in a local, three-shelf library near his village and using his knowledge to construct a working windmill out of junkyard parts to generate electricity to irrigate his father’s farm. He was 14 years old.

You can read news reports and even the most perceptive magazine articles about the challenges of development, but you won’t get nearly as close to the essential truth of the challenge as you will from reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Kamkwamba’s tale is unsparing of himself, his community, and his country. Through his all-seeing eyes, we witness the tragic consequences of the profound official corruption that held sway in Malawi for so many years after it gained its independence from Britain in 1964. We feel the unrelenting hunger he and his family experienced for months on end in the famine of 2001-2002. We see the darkness descend all around us as William is hounded by fearful villagers who can only explain his windmill as magical. But, most of all, we observe the steady evolution of his brilliant young mind as he confronts one setback after another, and prevails over them all.

If there is hope for Africa, as I firmly believe, it lies in the minds and hearts of William Kamkwamba and other young people whose innate genius is unlocked by the spread of education and opportunity for self-expression at the grassroots. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of William Kamkwambas across Sub-Saharan Africa. And it will be a combination of top-down aid – to build schools, train teachers, and buy textbooks – with the local action of countless NGOs, with both local and international support, that will provide them with the tools and the freedom to solve the problems that have held down their forebears for generations past. I don’t think genuine development – thorough-going social change – will come any other way.
Profile Image for Arwa Khalil.
248 reviews110 followers
February 26, 2016
الكتاب من أغرب ما قرأت ! ولأول مرة يخيب إحساسي في كتاب ..

بعدما كان مملاً وبائساً في البداية ، وكنت قد فقدت الأمل منه ومن أسلوبه الطفولي وأفكاره الغريبة .. تغير كلياً عند منتصفه فأصبح شيقاً وممتعاً وعلميا جداً

الكتاب يحكي عن طفل من دولة مالاوي الفقيرة التي لا تصل الكهرباء إلى أكثر من 2% فقط منها ، وبالتالي قريته تقبع في ظلام دامس ، ظلمة الجهل والفقر والليل المعتم .. فيقرر أن يثقف نفسه من مكتبة المدرسة ويقرأ عن الطواحين الهوائية المولدة للكهرباء ويصنع واحدة تولد الكهرباء لبيته وهو بعمر لا يتجاوز 14 عاماً ..

مرّ زمن منذ أن أعجبني كتاب بهذا الشكل ,,
الكتاب ملهم جداً ويستحق القراءة مع الصبر على بدايته الطفولية والآتية من أعماق أدغال أفريقيا
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
429 reviews1,335 followers
December 28, 2018
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is an astounding, inspiring story told with natural humor and candidness. William Kamkwamba was born to poor farmers in Malawi, a southeastern African country at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley. If you're not one of the two million who have already seen his TED presentation, you can find it here, or see his later talk here. William starts by describing superstitions he was raised with, and what led him to question them. His natural inquisitiveness leads William to wonder how things work. He builds a simple-but-effective bird trap, and disassembles radios so he can fix them for others. He helps with running the family maize farm, but his father is never able to save enough to send William to school. This problem is compounded horrendously by a national famine, described in excruciating detail, in which people die and fight for dwindling food scraps after the government sells grain stores to neighboring countries for profit. This particular part of the story is agonizing to read.

While struggling to survive on a single meal per day, William tries to piece together his own education by visiting a local library with three shelves' worth of books. Physics in particular interests him, and he begins to get a feel for magnets, AC and DC power, and designing circuits. This real magic he has found? Turns out it's called science. He eventually discovers the book Using Energy, an American textbook with a row of windmills on the cover. As he borrows the same few books repeatedly, he begins to suspect that he can construct his own windmill to provide nighttime lighting and mechanized irrigation for his family. Over many months, he patiently scrounges parts from bicycles, a local scrapyard, and makes strategic purchases with the help of his generous and ever-so-slightly-less-poor friend Gilbert.

It's not just that William is self-taught in a foreign language, or that he's persistent, or that he continues despite naysayers who go out of their way to discourage him. William's intelligence can't be overstated: he intuitively knows to test out ideas first at smaller scales, to seek out effective materials, to apply abstract concepts from diagrams to real-world construction, to question durability and safety, and to iterate on his ideas based on results. He's not happy with something that simply works, and constantly revises, rebuilds and improves. The moment of his first windmill success is worth the price of admission alone, but I was even more floored by his creation of a circuit breaker, among other modifications.

The details are worth the read, and there are many more twists and turns along the way. I kept waiting for William to find ways to monetize his invention, but that's just not where his head was at. It is extremely gratifying when his brilliance is finally recognized and he is equipped with resources to improve his town and nation. I'm excited to learn more about his ongoing efforts (this book was released in 2009, and he is now in his early 30s), which you can support at his website. My wife had been recommending this to me as one of her favorites, and I pass along the recommendation. The audio version, read by Chike Johnson, is delightful.
Profile Image for Overbooked  ✎.
1,452 reviews
December 12, 2019
Engaging story about a young African man who, defying the odds, manages to build a wind power generating turbine to help his family and village. William grows up in the corrupted country of Malawi, in farming village and without education. His story of survival is no exaggeration: illnesses like malaria and aids are endemic in the region, famine is a common occurrence, poverty is the norm, with no help from the government William and his people are facing daily struggles just to survive.

It’s an inspiring story, like the other biography I read this month Educated, it shows the power of one, a dreamer who can change his future and, in William’s case, his family’s too. I have rated this book lower because of the inclusion of superstition and cruelty against animals which were a turn off for me, also I would have liked to know more about his long term plans to help his people beyond his success in the TED conference but overall it’s a worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Calzean.
2,581 reviews1 follower
November 15, 2017
There's a lot of books about the problems in Africa; this memoir does contain the usual list of corruption, poverty, subsistence farming, disease and the impact of droughts. But it is one staggering story of uneducated William, with little English, and with the help of a couple of text books he finds in the local primary school library makes a windmill to generate electricity using pieces of junk. He figures out solutions to numerous problems (including working out what AC and DC means, building a step up transformer, how to manage friction, and so on). He is one impressive guy. And he did it all without Mr Google.
The chapters dealing with the drought are so raw. William is just not an inventor he is also an author who can write.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,095 reviews1,132 followers
March 5, 2016
This is one of those reviews for which not having a half-star option bothers me. This is better than a 3-star book (which is okay), but it is not at the 4-star level (which for me means excellent).

So, this is a memoir by a young man from Malawi who, as a teenager, built a windmill – with only a book to guide him and using materials he was able to scrounge locally – to bring electricity to his home. William Kamkwamba is born one of several children in a farming family in rural Malawi, grows up without electricity or running water, and endures more than his share of hardship as a boy, including a severe famine and having to drop out of school (which is a real hardship for a smart and ambitious kid who loves science) due to his family’s inability to pay the fees. But he perseveres and ultimately gains international recognition and support.

All that makes a great story, and ultimately a triumphant one, though readers shouldn’t expect a feel-good book from start to finish – the section on the famine is long and detailed. But it is a quick and easy read. In fact, the matter-of-fact writing style is perhaps too simple; it is unclear to me why there is a separate young-adult version of this book, when this is about as YA as a memoir can get. It is also most definitely written for an American audience: for instance, by explaining Malawian holidays in terms of American ones. But, I suppose the co-author’s job was making the story accessible, and in its content it feels true to the way a technologically-minded boy views the world. There is a lot of discussion of Kamkwamba’s projects (though again, written in a very accessible way) and much less insight into the people around him, only a few of whom get much notice.

But I don’t want to criticize this book too harshly for not being a literary memoir, when it isn’t meant to be. It is meant to be the story of a talented kid who achieves his dreams in the face of incredible odds, and in that sense it’s a success.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,709 reviews325 followers
January 31, 2022
Subtitle: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

This is the memoir of an extraordinary young man, the son of a Malawian farmer, struggling in poverty and through famine and drought, but following the spark of inspiration, his own thirst for knowledge, and a desire to help his family and community. William saw a need and thought, “What if?” As he explained to a TED conference, “I tried, and I made it.”

What he did was electrify his family home with his makeshift windmill, constructed from miscellaneous parts he scavenged from a scrapyard. Unable to attend school because his parents lacked the funds to pay tuition, William relied on the library, and one specific book on physics which he read over and over and over again. He did not despair that he lacked this or that device or material, rather he saw possibilities in the least likely bits and pieces. And he remained focused on his goal of improving his family’s life and ability to succeed.

Brian Mealer co-authored the memoir, as Kamkwamba’s English was pretty basic at the time he sat down to tell his story. Still, it’s not the best-written book I’ve read, but the emotion of the story is what elevates it, in my opinion.

His story is inspiring and uplifting. Bravo!

(Note: There is also a young adult edition of his memoir, which, I assume, has less of the technical science / engineering in it. In his life, Kamkwamba has since gone one to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from Dartmouth College. He continues to work to improve the lives of his countrymen.)

Profile Image for Bibliobites  Veronica .
133 reviews15 followers
January 24, 2022
Amazing and world-changing . A book everyone should read, and one that all my (homeschooled) high schoolers will be reading.

ETA: A little more detail about what I liked/why: It warmed my heart to read about the times William’s friend helped him, either with work or money or encouragement. The same with the adults who believed in him and stepped up and used their influence to get others to help him. So many small helps here and there added up to life changing opportunities for William. I loved that William did all this with what was essentially trash - innovating and re-using and making do, which I options that I do not see útiles enough in modern America. And finally, I appreciated William’s vision for the future of Malawi and Africa - a grassroots approach, rather than top-down Western solutions. It is just such a good story on so many levels.
Profile Image for Dihia .
134 reviews46 followers
December 22, 2020
It's about will and hope...

“Thinking of them reminds me of a quote I read recently from the great Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. that says, "If you can't fly, run; if you can't run, walk; if you can't walk, crawl." We must encourage those still struggling to keep moving forward.”

A story full of motivating messages ... I recommend it especially for people who let go of their dreams quickly and who need a morale boost to follow their efforts ...

77 reviews
January 23, 2010
"I try, and I made it!"

That quote from William Kamkwamba pretty much sums up this book. It is an amazing, inspirational, and deeply humbling story of a teenage boy from an impoverished farming family in Malawi. The first part of the book gives you insight into Kamkwamba's life and struggles. His challenges are the type that you can already imagine in broad strokes, but Kamkwamba and co-author Mealer help you experience them in a visceral way. The description of the famine was nearly too much to bear. At the same time, you see the sparks of curiosity, resourcefulness, determination, and intelligence that eventually lead him to try to build a windmill. His dream is to create electricity to help his family and maybe even his whole village. But this is no naively idealistic Quixote. Kamkwamba may be visionary but he has an ability to balance that with an acceptance of the realities he faces. I think that makes you want to root for him even more. I realized that I was holding my breath much of the time I as I read about the day he first hooked up the windmill and waited to see whether it could power a light bulb. A fabulous story and a well-written book.
Profile Image for Rita.
578 reviews69 followers
January 31, 2019
I n s p i r a d o r

William Kamkwamba nasceu no Malawi em 1987. A sua família, extremamente pobre, vivia da agricultura de subsistência. É num período de seca e fome que William se vê obrigado a abandonar a escola - os pais não conseguiam pagar as mensalidades (cerca de $6/mês).
Numa tentativa desesperada de manter a sua educação começa a frequentar a biblioteca da vila e é ao ler um livro chamado Using Energy que decide fazer um moinho de vento.
Com materiais adaptados e peças recolhidas em sucatas consegue montar dois moinhos de vento que fornecem água e energia à sua pequena aldeia.




Uma história verdadeira e muito bonita de um rapaz que teve um sonho e, contra todas as adversidades da vida, conseguiu torná-lo realidade.

William Kamkwaba - TED

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind | Offical Trailer [HD] | Netflix

15/198 - Malawi
Profile Image for Darla.
3,145 reviews448 followers
October 13, 2018
4.25 stars for this inspiring story from Malawi. William Kamkwamba has faced so many more hardships in his life than we can even imagine, yet has overcome and conquered. His dream of bringing electricity to his family's home was realized when he was just a teenager and was unable to go to school due to financial difficulties. He used a local library to learn about science and figured out how to use junk from around their farm and in the city junkyard to build a windmill and light a small light bulb. Through God's providence word spread of his achievement and he was invited to apply to be a part of a TED conference in Tanzania. From then on his life and the life of his family and friends improves dramatically. The book drags a bit in providing too much detail for this nonengineer. Looking forward to seeing Kamkwamba speak at Avila later this month.
Profile Image for La Crosse County Library.
545 reviews120 followers
May 18, 2022
Review originally published January 2010

William Kamkwamba lives in a small farming village in Malawi, a country in the southeast part of Africa. People in his village called him "Misala," which means crazy, but after reading his story you can see that he is anything but crazy.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer is a true story of inspiration, perseverance, and faith.

William was raised in a poor farming village where they mainly grew corn and tobacco. As children, William and his friends loved any kind of trucks, as many children do; however, instead of being able to go to a store and buy one, they had to be creative and find things to make them with, like wire and empty booze cartons.

William points out in his book that no matter what part of the country a child lives in, they have the same basic needs and wants and that people are not so different. William and his friends were very proud of the trucks they made.

Ever since William heard sound coming from a radio, he was instantly curious about how they worked. By age 13, he and a friend would start taking apart broken radios to try to figure them out. Williams’s interest in electronics escalated from there.

He was hugely interested in science and knew he wanted to be a scientist, which he considered worlds better than farming. He knew the hard work of farming, and that the only way of survival was if you had a good crop that year.

In 2002, William’s country was stricken by a horrible famine. With no help from their government and no money coming in from their crops, people were dying every day; everywhere you looked there was devastation. William and his family eventually were down to one meal a day, if you could call it a meal, but they never gave up hope or their faith in God.

Because of the famine, William’s parents couldn’t afford to pay the fee for him to attend school. This devastated William, but he never complained. William’s savior at that time was a small library located in a school that was stocked with books donated by the American government.

The book that changed his life and started him on his path to great things was found in that library. It was an American textbook called Using Energy. The cover of this book had a long row of windmills. At that time, William had no idea what a windmill was or that it would be a windmill and the wind, the one constant that God provided them in Malawi, that would come to change his life.

I loved this book! Although it was hard to read about the horribly difficult times the people of Malawi went through, you can also see how one boy, with the help and support of his friends and family, can make a difference because of his strong desire to learn and to make things better for his village.

Find this book and other titles within our catalog.


Profile Image for Chi – cuddle.thereader.
420 reviews69 followers
October 14, 2020
「Cái cối xay gió không chỉ là điện, là năng lượng đâu. Nó là tự do. Là tự do.」

Hồi sinh viên, Chi là một fan của TED talks, vì cách các diễn giả chia sẻ, kể chuyện và phân tích thật thú vị, chưa kể họ cũng toàn những người siêu đỉnh chứ. Bởi thế nên khi biết tác giả cuốn này cũng là một diễn giả TED talks, Chi đã rất háo hức đi đọc. Đừng để tiêu đề giản đơn đánh lừa nhé anh em, đây là một cuốn sách siêu thú vị mà lại rất dễ đọc đấy.

Một xã hội những năm 2000 nơi quốc gia Malawi nhỏ bé ở Châu Phi với nạn đói, bệnh tật, lạc hậu và thiếu thốn hiện lên rất chân thực qua lời kể hồn nhiên giản đơn của nhân vật chính, người dân Malawi sao mà thiệt thòi quá. Phần đầu sách có thể sẽ khiến người đọc hơi nản khi thiên nhiều về sự bất công cũng như những hủ tục ở Malawi và cũng hơi ít chi tiết liên quan tới nhân vật chính, nhưng càng về sau câu truyện sẽ càng đẩy hấp dẫn hơn đó.

Phải nói thật là ban đầu tớ không mấy hứng thú với những phần kĩ thuật lắm, nhưng không hiểu sao càng về sau lại càng thấy mấy phần lắp ráp cối xay gió rồi kéo theo đèn điện và máy bơm thú vị, dù không bao giờ làm theo đâu nhưng vẫn muốn đọc. Phải chăng đây là thứ cảm giác thích thú hài lòng giống khi xem video dạy nấu ăn làm bánh nhưng không bao giờ làm theo? 😂😂😂

Em nó truyền cho tớ một nguồn cảm hứng vô tận về sự kiên trì vượt qua khó khăn và không ngừng nỗ lực, khi tác giả vốn là một cậu bé da đen ăn còn không đủ no, nhưng cậu bé ấy lại có thể tạo ra nguồn điện chỉ bằng cách lắp ráp cối xay gió, từ những vật bỏ đi qua những cuốn sách cậu đọc ở thư viện. Cảm giác cứ phi thường làm sao ấy, giỏi quá là giỏi huhu.

Lại thêm một cuốn nonfiction cho anh em đổi gió giữa muôn trùng fiction nhá, hoặc khơi gợi cảm hứng cho anh em sáng tạo đó, vì một cậu bé thiếu thốn đủ điều còn làm được những điều phi thường, chúng ta đây sao lại không thể chạy kịp deadline 😂
Đáng thử lắm anh em ơi 🙆🏻‍♀️
Profile Image for Missy J.
559 reviews81 followers
October 14, 2018
"If you want to make it, all you have to do is try."

A very inspiring book.

William Kamkwamba is from Malawi and grew up in the countryside where his father worked as a farmer. Right before the start of his secondary education, a drought and then floods destroyed the family's and much of Malawi's crops, sending the country into a terrible famine. The family didn't have money to pay for William's school fees, so he had to drop out. After the terrible famine, William tried to catch up with his studies by visiting the library regularly. His natural curiosity for electricity and how to generate it, led him to read science books and think about building his own windmill.

Like I said, it's a very inspiring book. I loved learning about Malawi, their modern history, how people live there and their customs. I also enjoyed reading the words in Chichewa language, which is related to Zambia's Nyanja. The parts regarding the famine and how the family struggled to get through it, was truly heartbreaking. And I could totally feel that the author felt very bad about having to drop out of school. He was truly traumatized by that experience. I felt very sad, but I'm glad that his natural interest for electricity led him to the right path. Unfortunately the last third of the book, when the author explains his inventions and electricity, was a bit too scientific for me and kind of boring. I really wonder what William is up to now.

"On any given day, you can visit the trading center and see a lot of boys who've dropped out of school and are now doing nothing. Instead of farming or trying to return to school, they're hanging outside the CHiPiKU store in their dirty, tattered clothing, working ganyu all day and drinking it away all night. Many of them become only dark shapes through the open door of the Ofesi Boozing Centre, or the zombies who stumble home each morning from the kachaso dens.
In Malawi, we say these people are "grooving" through life, just living off small ganyu and having no real plan. I started worrying that I would become like them, that one day the windmill project would lose its excitement or become too difficult to maintain, and all my ambitions would fade into the maize rows. Forgetting dreams is easy."
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