Book Review: The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

This morning I just finished this incredible memoir called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. I saw the trailer for the Netflix film adaptation and wanted to see the movie, but I’m one of those people who has to read the book first then see the movie (Precious and For Colored Girls are the few exceptions where I saw the film adaptation, then read the book afterwards). So I went to the library, and lo and behold there’s a display for World Water Day smack dab in the middle of the library’s back section. Not only did I find the documentary Tapped (which I wrote about in an earlier post), about the bottled water crisis, but I found The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. I was interested in learning what I as a consumer could do to help the environment, and even just educating myself on these environmental issues such as clean energy and water consumption was a starting point.

It took me a while to complete this book not because of its length (it’s around 200 pages) but because I normally read fiction, so I was reading all these novels and kept renewing The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind because I was determined to finish every book that I checked out from the library, whether it was fiction or nonfiction. I devoured The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. It is an incredible read. William Kamkwamba takes us to his life in Malawi, a country that struggled with making education, clean water and clean energy accessible to its residents and was struck with famine in 2002, causing millions of deaths. William’s family struggled to pay for his school fees and because of this, he could not attend school, so he went to the library every day and read books. William came across some books on wind energy, and sought about making his own wind turbine to bring electricity and water to his village. People in his village laughed at him, and he often faced bullying from his classmates for going out every day and finding discarded materials to use for his wind turbine, but he persisted because it was the only thing that gave him hope. William takes us through the process of how he built his turbine out of recycled materials, and it is fascinating how he did it. What inspired me is that even though the parts of the turbine kept falling off (and even ripped off parts of his skin when he tried to reattach them to their proper places) he never gave up on himself. His first turbine powered people’s cell phones and radios, and brought clean energy to his village, and he was able to speak at a TED conference on clean energy and his journey to bring wind power to Malawi. Not only that, but he was able to go back to school later on in his life after many years of not being able to go to school.

This book inspired me too because it taught me that even things we throw away or think have no value can be used for many different things. Gay Hawkins, in her book The Ethics of Waste, says that value doesn’t exist in and of itself, but only when human beings give a thing a sense of worth and put it to use. William could have treated the old bicycle parts and PVC pipes like trash to never be touched or used, but he couldn’t afford new shiny parts, so he worked with what he had. Even though the parts had slime and weren’t the newest coolest parts he took lemons and made serious lemonade by using what he knew from reading books on renewable energy to create something useful from scratch. I read a New York Times Magazine issue on climate change and how we will need to adapt to rising temperatures, worsening natural disasters, and other consequences of burning up the planet. It talked about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ Green Deal plan, and how people were divided about it. However, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind reminded me that renewable energy is our last hope if we seriously want to, if not completely wipe out, at least mitigate the effects of climate change on our planet and our own individual lives.

Through sharing his experience, William also reminded me of the importance of education in one’s life. Even when he wasn’t in school, he read a lot of books, and this helped him unlock his potential more than anything else. Speaking for myself, I love reading to this day, and at a point in my life where I cannot afford graduate school, I am catching up on all the pleasure reading I didn’t make time for during my years in college (except for winter and summer breaks, where I inhaled books as if they were air). Growing up, I always carried a book around with me, even at the times when it wasn’t always called for, such as parties. When I read, I uncover new worlds that I didn’t think existed. It’s important to read and watch the news to stay aware of things, but it can be draining sometimes, so I sometimes have to switch it off and read a nice book instead. (I know if someone has to read the news for their job, that would be hard, but it might be doable, I dunno) Reading is not only one of my few forms of self-care I can’t get enough of, it’s also my education (besides, well, life, of course). I feel a lot less lonely, too. Friends in real life are a must, but friends come and go, so when that happens I try to stave off feelings of loneliness by reading. Reading reminds me that I’m not the only one with problems and that everyone in life struggles with something.

Overall, I highly recommend you read this book. It is incredible and I cannot wait to see the film adaptation! 🙂

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope. William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. 273 pp. 2009.

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