The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind By William Kamkwamba And Bryan Mealer
A Literary Review

United States of America By: Jase Luttrell on 27 July 2010
Category: Books > Reviews Comments View Comments

Most reviews of this book include the word "inspirational". While this is certainly true, there is far more to William Kamkwamba's story than inspiration, so you won't find that word in this review. Instead, you will find others that are equally glowing.

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind By William Kamkwamba And Bryan MealerAnthropologists have posited that the evolutionary successes of mankind are due to our unique ability to manipulate the environment around us to suit our needs. William Kamkwamba's success lies with this same principle as he changed his situation through the ingenious re-tooling of scrap metal and junk wire to modernise his Malawian village.

I first took notice of William Kamkwamba when he was interviewed on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and I was immediately won over by his charm, good humour, and unbridled excitement for explaining his inventions. It is hard to ignore someone who is so passionate and enthusiastic, and even harder to ignore someone who successfully changed the lives of hundreds of people by looking at a difficult situation and envisioning the future in a positive light.

The first 100 pages of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind tell of William's childhood in Masitala Village, Wimbe, a small, rural community in central Malawi. You quickly learn a great deal of Malawi's history, beginning with the spoken history of the indigenous people and the government of the late 1990s and early part of this century, but, more importantly, you learn of the Chewa culture. William introduces you to words and phrases in Chichewa and these are used throughout the book. The effect is that you feel involved with the people and the result is an experience of being a member of the community and understanding some of the cultural aspects of the Chewa way of life.

As an oversimplified summary of the book, William's family consists of farmers growing tobacco, small crops, and the all-important maize, the dietary staple of most Malawians. Through changes in government, a severe drought, and poor prevention and aid efforts, you become gripped in the suspenseful struggle of William and his family through impending starvation. As the family's stock of maize flour dwindles, the family eats only a small handful of nsima a day. It is during this strife that William is forced to drop out of school because his family can't afford the tuition. As a result, he and a cousin spend their time in the small, unorganised library (which is really a small building with a handful of old, out-dated books and textbooks, mostly from the United States and in English, which the two struggle to read). Because of William's autodidactic abilities and his imagination, he envisions a windmill that could generate electricity for his family, as well as a windmill to pump water from the well in his family's land. Both of these creations would save his family time and money, and would increase their productivity as they would not be limited by the light from the sun (whereas most Malawians go to bed at sundown). Eventually, his hope becomes to return to school and, as his success is fateful, he does return, but only after an absence of several years.

To accomplish his goals, William scrounges through a junk yard for scrap metal, wires, ball bearings, and other tools to create his windmills. He reads the library’s books about alternating and direct current, how electricity works, and how batteries store energy. With the help of two of his cousins he builds a windmill that generates electricity and attracts the attention of thousands. In the process, you learn a great deal of science, most of which I never learned in school. At first the villagers believe he is crazy or is creating something for wicked magical purposes but, as they witness his success, the villagers applaud his efforts and assist him in improving his inventions.

As word spreads of his achievements, he is offered a place at a school, and travels to Tanzania for the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference. It is at this conference that he first encounters the Internet, Google, and a wide variety of people who have heard of his story (in fact, they refer to him as "the Windmill Boy"). Through the help of his newfound friends he is able to meet people who invest in his future and the book concludes with him heading to the African Leadership Academy, a pan-African high school in Johannesburg, South Africa. The remainder of his story is yet to unfold but will undoubtedly include more ingenuity, selflessness, and exploration of anything that piques his curiosity.

The story is obviously written by William because of its simple, matter-of-fact style and the lack of literary flourishes of symbolism, metaphors, and similes. Bryan Mealer, the co-author of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, assisted William in shaping the narrative. As such, it is very quick to read, and is thoroughly enjoyable as you can imagine William telling the story to you in person. Furthermore, the inclusion of photographs of William's family, the early stages of his inventions, and his photos during his travels draw you in more and include you in the story.

While reading The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind I found myself impatiently waiting for the parts that told of William's creations but the first half of the book regarding his childhood is important and develops the impact of his achievements. If the story only featured his inventions, it would be flat and almost uninteresting. As a narrative whole, the inclusion of the Chewa culture, the history of Malawi, and the tales of William's family cannot be divorced and separated from William's experience. His success is made up of his experiences in life and his ingenuity and ability to tinker with and re-utilise scrap metals. It is certainly true that his story is inspirational (there's that word!) but it is much more: it is triumphant, exuberant, and a necessary reminder of the success man is capable of creating if we all take the time to think beyond our needs and use our imaginations for the benefit of others.

The review copy of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer was provided by Penguin Books (South Africa). It is available from leading book stores and online retailers, including,,, and Opinion Share/Bookmark
Rating: 8/10

Key Facts (Review Copy)
Title: The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
Author: William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
ISBN/EAN: 9780061730320
Publisher: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins
Edition: First
Year: 2009 (29 September 2009)
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 288
Dimensions: 620x850x120mm (WxHxD)
Genre/Keywords: Africa, non fiction, science

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