The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind — fantastic new book about a how a Malawian teenager harnessed the power of the wind

Energy & Sustainability
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind — fantastic new book about a how a Malawian teenager harnessed the power of the wind

I reviewed The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind for Good. I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Here’s an excerpt of my review:

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.

Read the rest of my review at GOOD.


William Kamkwamba visits Baobab Health Trust founder and TED Fellow Gerry Douglas’ home in Lilongwe, Malawi. Gerry is giving William a lesson in machining helicopter and windmill blades with various types of cutters. (It was very exciting to read that William’s favorite magazine is MAKE!)

6 thoughts on “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind — fantastic new book about a how a Malawian teenager harnessed the power of the wind

  1. Prestron says:

    I heard of this individual recently from his TED talks. I’m a big fan of TED, and I think a lot of Makers would like it too.

    His TED profile and two talks can be found here:

  2. Tim says:

    Amazing, just amazing! It is inspiring to see someone work so hard to better themselves and their family.

    This made my day.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I went out and bought the book today after I read this entry. What and incredible story! The kid has the heart of a hero and the brains of a genius. The windmill is just part of a great tale — I couldn’t put the book down. What an adventure. GO William!

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Mark Frauenfelder is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Make: magazine, and the founder of the popular Boing Boing blog.

View more articles by Mark Frauenfelder


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