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Monday, July 19, 2010

Summary and Review of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

This book summary and review of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was prepared by Frederick Maher while a General Business Major Student in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University.

The Top Ten Things Practicing Managers Should Take from This Book

1) Every managers job is to encourage and to assist in helping everybody to be the best they can be. From the first time William took apart a radio he did not just look at ot he wanted to learn everything about it and what he learned from it use it later on in life. William did not just settle for a radio fixer he wanted to be something more.

2) All managers should always learn from people who have experienced the stuff you are trying to learn or teach. William always was at the library reading what other people have done, he could not get enough info.

3) A good manager should never let you give up. William is a perfect example of never give up he could not afford school but that did not stop him.

4) Every manager should show leadership. William showed leadership by doing something that no one else would even try to do. He showed leader ship to his family

5) A good manager is always observant. William observed from the books he read and the radios he took apart.

6) Managers should always be good decision makers. William knew there was a problem with electricity and he solved that problem.

7) A good manager will always find a way to make it work. There are so many examples of this in the book William would make it work know matter what.

8) A good manager always sets goals. William knew what his goal was and that was to creat power and he was determined to accomplish that.

9) One of the main things managers do is recognize problems. William knew that his village had a electricity problem and he fixed that.

10) And finally to be a mentor. William is a mentor to his family friends neighbors and to anybody who read his book including me.

Full Summary of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”

The book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is a true story about William Kamkwamba a young boy who grew up poor, on his family’s farm in Malawi Africa. William who was very uneducated defied the odds and built a Windmill to harness energy and bring electricity to his family’s farm. William was the only son of his father and would have to stay home from school and help his father especially when it was planting season. The village where the Kamkwambas lived was prone to floods and also extreme droughts. When Mother Nature decided to turn her back on the village of Malawi the people where at the mercy of the Government, who did not care as the people were starving and eventually started stealing from each other.

With the farm not being able to make any money because of the weather Williams Dad could not afford to pay for School. William and his friend started their own business fixing radios, William wanted to know how things work and spent most of his time figuring that out. He becomes furious how much electricity costs and how much easier it would be if his farm could be run off electricity. Around this time Williams family was down to one meal a day, William was waking up at Four A.M. to work the fields and then had to skip breakfast because there was not enough to go around.

William wanted to get back in school so he applied to one of the top school but did not get in. A few of the kids started making fun of William but he retook the test and got in. William could not afford the books so he shared with one of his friends. A few weeks later the school fees where due, he could not afford it and had to drop out. At the start of the semester there were seventy something students but at the cutoff date only twenty something remained.

William starts spending all of his time at a library donated by the US government. He is determined to keep up with the students who are still attending the school. William discovers a book on physics and eventually found a book on windmills and how they can provide power. William makes a model of a windmill and it works, so he begins looking for parts to build his windmill. Eventually William finishes the windmill and is ready to try it out, people come from all over the village came to see Williams invention most of them are mocking him and laughing at his windmill. William proves them all wrong when he lights up a light bulb from the power of his windmill. After a few more improvements the windmill is the talk of the town and William even gets a interview on the radio. It was a long, hard journey that most could not dream of but eventually persistence and determination paid off and he is able bring back money to help out his people and make his family proud.

Chapter one starts off with William Kamkwamba the main character talking about his childhood, and how important and how much they believed in magic in his home town of Malawi Africa. William idolized his father and grandfather like most kids do at his age. William also describes his town and the people who lived there like the chief of the village, who did not dress in feathers and jump around a fire like most people think of, when you think of a chief. He actually dressed like a professional business man in a suit and tie. Williams’s village was extremely poor but they did have some essentials like bars, and you’re typical market place where they sold food. Most of the people owned or worked on farm as their way to make a living. Other people made a living at the market and some as teachers.

Chapter two really gets into how much William looked up to and respected his father, who use to be a heavy drinker and would always be getting into fights. At one time in Williams fathers life he got into a fight with 12 men and we won, the fight was at a reggae concert where there was a lot of drinking being done. He also received his nickname the pope from back in those days. Williams father eventually changed his life around and became a Christian and quit drinking. He eventually met his wife at the market and realized that he wanted to become a family man. A little while later his brother gave him some land and he built a house for his family with his own hands.

Chapter three starts off with the death of Williams uncle John, this was the first time he saw his father cry. This was a shock to William who considered his father as the strongest man in the world to be shedding tears like a women. After the passing of uncle John Williams father was forced to give the land to Jeremiah the oldest son of uncle John and within a few years there was nothing left he wasted everything. William starts hunting and becomes pretty good at it he starts killing birds with a sling shot which is not easy. William is starting to become a man and already providing for his family.

Chapter four is when William starts to get interested in radios, he loves to take them apart and try to fix them. The first time he took apart the radio he wanted to see what parts controlled different parts of the radio and ever since then was addicted. He even opens up his own business fixing radios. This is the first time he realizes what he wants to do he wants to be a scientist unlike everybody else who settles for being a farmer. His father is having trouble with the crops because of a sever drought his farm and they have not been doing well for the last few years.

Chapter five is about how some people in Williams village have electricity running to their house but most people don’t because it is so expensive. Also if you want electricity run to your house you have to draw a map to your house and even if you do they might not find it. Williams family is having a extremely hard time feeding the family everybody was only eating one meal a day. William was waking up at four in the morning and working the fields and when he was done could not even eat breakfast. Everyone in the village was starving and the president would not help the people. So eventually the chief went to talk to the president and ask for help from the government. Even at this time William was trying to get into another school but it was expensive but William was determined to become something other than a farmer, and he knew he had to be educated to become someone in this world.

Chapter six Williams family is still only eating one meal a day which is dinner. This is the first time that the family eats together. In their culture the son is not allowed to eat with the daughter and the father is not allowed to eat with the mother. Williams sister leaves and gets married and that is looked down upon by Williams father because she did not go through the process that is required by their culture. Later their mother has another daughter which is another mouth to feed.

Chapter seven shows how dedicated William is because he did not get into the school that wanted to and the kids start making fun of him but William eventually gets in. William cannot afford the books the school requires so he shares the books with one of the other students. A few weeks later William has to drop out because he cannot afford the school dues like many of the other students. This shows how poor there community is because the people who are willing to learn cannot afford the school dues.

Chapter eight could be one of the saddest chapters so far William has grown very attached to his dog Khamba who is vey sick. All of Williams friends are telling him he needs to put his dog out of his misery. William does not want to do it because he thinks the dog will get better if it can just eat some food but the food source is still very slim. William decides to chain his dog up on a tree and leave it to die. The dog is not the only thing that is starving people are starting to get desperate and start stealing from each other. The people who get caught are dealt very harshly. Williams father said he would just forgive them desperate times call for desperate measures.

Chapter nine starts off with all students taking a leave because the famine is so bad the people are starving to death. After a little while the people start getting and eating pumpkins which their village needed very badly. Now that the people have some food the students return to school but William cannot attend. William did not just give up on his dream everyday he would walk to the public library that was donated by the US government. It was at this library where he came across a book called Using Energy that explained how electricity is created thru a windmill he decided to build a model of a windmill. He built the model from a motor that he got from a old radio and the mill worked. After this experiment William knew he had to build a bigger windmill.

Chapter ten William eventually got back into the school that he has been wanting to be in for quite some time. For the next few weeks was catching up with all the other students. William still did not pay the fees for the semester he was currently in. Williams dad went and talked to the school and asked for a extension on the pay until he could sell his tobacco plants he was growing. A few weeks later they could not afford the payments so William was asked to leave again. After this William focused most of his time and energy on building his windmill. He started looking behind his old school at a scrap yard and found most of the stuff he needed. The only thing left he needs is a dynamo which his friend bought for him.

Chapter eleven William finally puts the finishing touch on his windmill. By this time the whole village hears about it and everybody wants to see it for themselves. Most of the people there think it’s a joke and want to see it fail and the other half have no idea what it is. Williams family stays in the back of the crowd and want to see it for themselves. He has the windmill hooked up to a light bulb and sure enough he gets the light to turn on and the crowd is amazed. His next goal is to get a light in his room but this is more difficult because the wire needed to connect the two is expensive.

Chapter twelve William finds another way the windmill can help out the people in the village. His cousin comes in and has a phone that needs to be charged and William decides that’s his next goal to be able to charge phones through the windmill. After little while people start coming over to charge their phones and then he puts light bulbs in his parent’s room. Then he starts to store power in batteries and he can store the power for a few days.

Chapter thirteen Chief dies in this chapter and his mother becomes very sick with malaria. Their father has to carry her down the road where they flag down a pickup truck and she gets in the bed and brought to the hospital. She does get better a short stay in the hospital. William is still going to the library every day and trying to learn as much as possible. He still cannot afford to go to school but this does not stop William from trying to learn as much as possible.

Chapter fourteen starts off with a guy from the teachers training academy come to the village to see Williams windmill. Once he has talked to William and has seen what he built the teacher knows that this a story that other people need to hear. So the teacher brings a journalist from a radio station to meet William and to do a story about him. After the interview was played on the radio and written about in the newspapers Williams amazing story and how he overcame so many odds and made such a amazing machine to create power. After people hear Williams story he is flown to a conference and is given a room at a hotel. After he gets the news that he will be attending school which he could not be happier about.

Chapter fifteen William is at the convention where he will get some help on his presentation. He is also introduced to the internet which blows his mind and to a lot of other things that we take for granted every day. William is finally getting the respect that he deserves and starts getting donations from people so he can go home and help out the people in his village. William also travels to America and visits a huge windmill farm where he can for the first time see a windmill in real life not just a picture in a book.

Personal Insights

What others have said about the book and its author?


If you thought physics was tough to grasp in high school, William Kamkwamba will seem like a hero to you. And really, he is. Forced to drop out of secondary school when his family couldn’t afford school fees, 14-year-old Kamkwamba used his free time to build a windmill that operated on principles of physics he managed to teach himself. This windmill brought electricity to his home and eventually his entire village – a luxury that in Malawi is often reserved for the government and the wealthy.

To help Kamkwamba tell his story, journalist Bryan Mealer traveled back to Africa. He’d lived in the Congo for three years while working for the Associated Press. His first book, “All Things Must Fight To Live,” came out in 2008, and told the story of a country ravaged by war. This time Mealer started in Malawi. There, he spent months living with Kamkwamba’s family, interviewing friends and relatives. He spent hours learning about physics, magnets, and electricity so he could understand what Kamkwamba had created.

The result is The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, an autobiography so moving that it is almost impossible to read without tears. In understated and simple prose, Kamkwamba and Mealer offer readers a tour through one Malawian boy’s inspiring life.

Kamkwamba’s inquisitive nature is apparent from the start. As a boy he takes apart radios to discover how they work, builds go-carts out of beer cartons, and creates screwdrivers with household materials. When he turns his inquisitive mind toward truck motors, he is taken aback that no one understands how they work. With the innocence that only a child can pull off, he wonders, “Really, how can you drive a truck and not know how it works?”

Then, as he fiddles and tinkers with all he can, tragedy strikes. A famine caused by drought ravages Malawi, and we see the results from Kamkwamba’s perspective. Friends are starving and people try to sell their children in the marketplace for food. Kamkwamba’s own family is reduced to eating one minuscule meal a day.

In a particularly disturbing scene, Kamkwamba recounts the day he witnessed mobs trampling children in their frantic push toward food. “If there’s anything I remember most about that day in Chamama,” he writes, “it’s the sound of crying babies.”

When the famine finally subsides, Kamkwamba, armed with American physics textbooks, starts construction on the windmill. His perseverance in creating this structure is coupled with altruism. Aiming to use the power of the windmill to pump water to the crops, he hopes to free his family from enslavement to the whims of weather.

Despite the highly charged events in Kamkwamba’s life, the telling of his story is surprisingly levelheaded. No sympathy is requested and no blame is bitterly assigned. In fact, a light humor darts in and out of the pages of this book, providing laughs where you wouldn’t have imagined even smiling. As the chief of Kamkwamba’s village begs the government to provide food during the famine and not toilets, Kamkwamba wryly asks the reader, “Because really, how can you use a toilet when you never eat?”

Pictures with captions are peppered throughout the book, giving the story depth and providing more humor. One image shows Kamkwamba as a toddler, with a caption explaining he was “surely plotting some mischief to cause [his] mother grief.”

After the windmill is constructed, Kamkwamba’s life becomes much more upbeat. He gets the chance to visit many places, among them New York City, California, and Las Vegas, (where Kamkwamba marvels that “women in their underpants serve free soda.”) When Kamkwamba is shown the Internet for the first time, his reaction is endearing.

If there is anything to complain about, it would be the simplifications. The authors describe bits of Malawian culture, like the roles of women and men, in mere sentences. The cycle of deforestation and poverty receives only a paragraph. A big slice of context seems to be missing, and Malawi is never more than a backdrop for this story.

Yet the infectious enthusiasm, heartbreaking tragedy, and final triumph make for an unforgettable story of success in the face of overwhelming odds. And as the story ends, it leaves us wondering about the future: Kamkwamba is accepted into a prestigious South African school where students who are considered future leaders of Africa have been hand-selected to attend.

As you read this book (I’d suggest keeping a box of tissues handy) you can be sure that William Kamkwamba’s future is bright. If this tale is any indication, we’ll be hearing his name again in the years ahead.


American readers will have their imaginations challenged by 14-year-old Kamkwamba’s description of life in Malawi, a famine-stricken, land-locked nation in southern Africa: math is taught in school with the aid of bottle tops (”three Coca-Cola plus ten Carlsberg equal thirteen”), people are slaughtered by enemy warriors “disguised… as green grass” and a ferocious black rhino; and everyday trading is “replaced by the business of survival” after famine hits the country. After starving for five months on his family’s small farm, the corn harvest slowly brings Kamkwamba back to life. Witnessing his family’s struggle, Kamkwamba’s supercharged curiosity leads him to pursue the improbable dream of using “electric wind”(they have no word for windmills) to harness energy for the farm. Kamkwamba’s efforts were of course derided; salvaging a motley collection of materials, from his father’s broken bike to his mother’s clothes line, he was often greeted to the tune of “Ah, look, the madman has come with his garbage.” This exquisite tale strips life down to its barest essentials, and once there finds reason for hopes and dreams, and is especially resonant for Americans given the economy and increasingly heated debates over health care and energy policy.


William Kamkwamba’s parents couldn’t afford the $80 yearly tuition for their son’s school. The boy sneaked into the classroom anyway, dodging administrators for a few weeks until they caught him. Still emaciated from the recent deadly famine that had killed friends and neighbors, he went back to work on his family’s corn and tobacco farm in rural Malawi, Africa.

With no hope of getting the funds to go back to school, William continued his education by teaching himself, borrowing books from the small library at the elementary school in his village. One day, when William was 14, he went to the library searching for an English-Chichewa dictionary to find out what the English word “grapes” meant, and came across a fifth-grade science book called Using Energy. Describing this moment in his autobiography, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (co-written with Bryan Mealer), William wrote, “The book has since changed my life.”

Using Energy described how windmills could be used to generate electricity. Only two percent of Malawians have electricity, and the service is notoriously unreliable. William decided an electric windmill was something he wanted to make. Illuminating his house and the other houses in his village would mean that people could read at night after work. A windmill to pump water would mean that they could grow two crops a year rather than one, grow vegetable gardens, and not have to spend two hours a day hauling water. “A windmill meant more than just power,” he wrote, “it was freedom.”

For an educated adult living in a developed nation, designing and building a wind turbine that generates electricity is something to be proud of. For a half-starved, uneducated boy living in a country plagued with drought, famine, poverty, disease, a cruelly corrupt government, crippling superstitions, and low expectations, it’s another thing altogether. It’s nothing short of monumental.

Why I think the author is one of the most brilliant people around.

Image via Wikipedia

I think that William Kamkwamba is brilliant because not only did he teach himself how to build a windmill and it actually worked which incredible by its self, but he had everything going against him. He had no money no food no one telling him that he could do it and don’t give up, people were making fun of him for trying. What he was doing was unheard of especially where he lived and the conditions he was dealing with. I will recommend this book not only to my family but to my friends. We have it so easy compared to what he was going thru. I am so glad that he never gave up and that it actually worked. Usually people will build something of this caliber by watching a pro or taking a class he did it by pure determination and will power. I will truly love to see what he can do once he gets a good education the sky is the limit for William. I am going to follow William on the internet and see he can do next I am sure that this is not the last time he will make something incredible.

If I was the author I would have done these things differently

1) I would of tried to work for the school cleaning cooking or whatever for them to let me stay in school.

2) I would of tried to get in touch with the author of the book that he read to learn how to build a windmill and tell him my story and maybe get some parts.

3) I would of given up as bad as that sounds I would of tried to get some land and follow my father and just been another farmer in a dried up area.

Reading this book made me think differently about the topic

1) First off it makes me realize how blessed I am that I am getting a education and that I should not take that for granted.

2) It makes me think what could I do if I put my mind to something and not give up. If a uneducated boy from Africa can build a windmill what could I do.

3) Makes me think how lucky we are to have good doctors and not surrounded by death every day.

How I will apply what I have learned from this book in my caree.

I have already started my career I as a fishing guide in the great state of Louisiana. I thought of school not only as slowing me down from doing it full time but getting in the way from me competing with the best of the other captains. After reading this book, I know that it is a privilege to be in school and to learn as much as I can for my future. Especially since this massive oil spill that happened in the heart of where my company is located in Venice, Louisiana.



David C. Wyld ( is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at He also maintains compilations of his student’s publications regarding book reviews ( and international foods (

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Originally Published: Summary and Review of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

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1 comment:

Catherine said...

I was happy to find this long synopsis of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. This evening, I will be hearing William speak about his life and book. I am not sure who wrote this synopsis, but it needed to be edited. There are so many grammatical errors that it was difficult to read.