The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (2009)

The word ‘inspiring’ appeared in 7 of the first 8 reviews I read of this book, and while I certainly don’t disagree with that description, forgive me for not jumping on it and riding the wave all the way through my review.  Kamkawamba—along with author Bryan Mealer—tells the story of his childhood in Malawi and how he created a windmill to capture energy so that he could bring electricity to his family, and eventually to make his family’s life easier by pumping water to their house and to their crops.  That’s the gist of the story, and the first several pages bring us to the climax where Kamkwamba stands on the windmill tower poised and ready to light a bulb while much of his village watches.  It is a good and fascinating story, though not very well told.  After those first few pages, the  next hundred pages or so contain various disconnected tales from his childhood: the toys he made from scratch, the school he attended when he could, the Magic many believed in, the food they ate, the crops they grew, etc.  The stories offer background information, but probably more than we need for a book about building a windmill.  The middle of the book goes into heart-wrenching detail about the famine of 2000-2001 (the stomach churning details reminded me of What is the What and Kaffir Boy).  And the final third chronicles the windmill building and how that led to an invitation to an international TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference, a private school, TV interviews, and eventually Dartmouth College.  The larger story is fascinating, but the writing feels sometimes disjointed and sometimes like a diary chronicling event after event.  Though all the information he includes is interesting in its own right, it feels rambling—as if he wasn’t sure which details were important to bring forth the story, so he included everything he could remember. Like most memoirs, the true story trumps the writing.  Still, it offers history, anthropology, sociology, politics, invention, and technology, so there is much to learn about in this book.  Not a great read, but definitely an important, intriguing, and yes, inspiring story.  (memoir)

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