Book Review: “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” by William Kamkwamba

Posted on February 14, 2011

A people’s history of Malawi and the best kind of science.

I realize that I’m about a year and a half late. William Kamkwamba is no longer making the talk show circuits, wooing audiences with his pleasant broken English. However, his story of building a windmill in post-famine Malawi is no less fascinating.

It takes a long time for William to build his windmill. In fact, the point of “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” is not so much that some kid in the middle of Africa build a working windmill out of trash.

The point is that William, the son of a subsistence farmer, survived a horrible famine, couldn’t afford to go to school (he wasn’t a good student anyway) and then spent the next 5 years building a windmill so that he could stay up at night reading and also pump water so he and his family would never, ever go hungry again.

The meat of this book is the famine. Famine isn’t about being hungry. It’s about looking at slowly emptying sacks of corn and saying ‘This is going to be a problem’. It’s a problem of economics, where people sell everything they have to get a weeks worth of food. Famine is one of those things where you can tell who is going to die simply by looking at a person. There’s even a scene where¬†he takes his dog out into the woods to die because he can no longer care for it.

But out of this comes William’s desire to build a windmill. Everyone is against him. Even his own mother thinks he is crazy. But wouldn’t you know it, years after he last went to school, he and is family can stay up ‘like they do in the city’.

William’s take on the world is really what makes this book special. Not only will you gain some insight into the superstitions of Malawians. It’s also a pretty great insight into the life of subsistence farming.

My favorite part, though, is after he has been discovered and starts to learn about the modern technological world. The first thing he looks up on the Internet? Windmills. He often remarks on how clever things are. Using cards to keep track of money? Brilliant!

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” should be required reading for anyone in lower school, if only to broaden horizons. But moreso to show that even if you don’t get good grades, everyone thinks you’re crazy and things just suck in general, you can still be epic.


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