- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (July 27, 2010)
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.
William Kamkwamba was born in Dowa, Malawi, in 1987 and raised in Masitala village along the central plains. One of seven children born to sustenance farmers who grew maize and tobacco, his childhood was often interrupted by drought and hunger.
At age twelve, Kamkwamba became fascinated with electricity—a luxury enjoyed by only 2 percent of Malawi. He taught himself radio repair and began tinkering with bicycle dynamos, hoping to understand the inner workings of generators. During a devastating famine in 2001 –02, William dropped out of high school during his first semester. As thousands died across the country, he continued his education by visiting a small library near his village that was funded by the American government. After seeing windmills on the cover of an 8th-grade science book, he set out to build his own machine using scavenged parts from a scrap yard. His first windmill was made from PVC pipe, a tractor fan, an old bicycle frame, and tree branches, and powered four light bulbs and charge mobile phones. A second windmill pumped water for a family garden.
Local news outlets discovered Kamkwamba in 2007, which led to a stage appearance at the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania. It was the first time he’d ever been on an airplane or seen the Internet. The appearance at TED, and a subsequent front-page feature in the Wall Street Journal, sparked a flood of international support, and soon William returned to school and completed much-needed improvements in his village farm, such as adding drip irrigation to shield his family against future drought. He’s now a student at African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Bryan Mealer is the coauthor of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind with William Kamkwamba, and author of All Things Must Fight to Live, which details his experience reporting the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 2003–07 for the Associated Press and Harper’s.
In 2003, Mealer left his job as an assistant editor at Esquire to become a freelance correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya. He sold his first story to The Chicago Tribune about a massacre in northeastern Congo’s Ituri district, one of the many flashpoints in a war that’s killed more than 5 million people. He spent the next year covering the wider conflict as a freelancer, eventually writing about the massacre for Harper’s. In 2006, after serving as AP’s staff correspondent based in the capital Kinshasa, Mealer traveled the vast country by barge, bicycle, train, and foot, to chronicle the conflict’s lasting devastation. He later returned home to his wife, playwright Ann Marie Healy, and began writing his book All Things Must Fight to Live. Upon its release in 2008, Time magazine wrote: “With the maturity and talent he displays in this book, Mealer…has already set a new standard by which all correspondents might approach other forgotten wars.”
In 2008, he began working with William Kamkwamba, a 20-year-old inventor in Malawi, who, after dropping out of high school due to a crippling famine, began building windmills from tree branches, tractor and bicycle parts to bring electricity and irrigation to his home and village.
Mealer was born in Odessa, Texas, and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS
Tuesday, July 27th: Books By Their Cover
Wednesday, July 28th: Chick With Books
Thursday, July 29th: Book Club Classics!
Monday, August 2nd: Find Your Next Book Here
Tuesday, August 3rd: The Zen Leaf
Thursday, August 5th: Eclectic/Eccentric
Tuesday, August 10th: Reviews from the Heart
Thursday, August 12th: Worducopia
Monday, August 16th: Rundpinne
Tuesday, August 17th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Wednesday, August 18th: Tales of a Capricious Reader
Thursday, August 19th: I’m Booking It
Tuesday, August 24th: Age 30+…A Lifetime of Books
Thursday, August 26th: The Road to Here
Monday, August 30th: Nonsuch Book
Thursday, September 2nd: Bookfoolery and Babble