I just finished what I consider one of the best (if not the absolute best) books I've ever read. I know, those of you that know me are thinking, "He says that about every book he reads". Let me explain. I actually only said "best" about two (maybe three) other books that I've read. It might seem like I recommend a lot of books to friends and family, but as a percentage of the books I read, it's actually pretty low.
Anyway, the book I'm talking about is "The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind" by William Kamkwamba. It's an autobiography about a boy struggling to live in a poverty-stricken area of Africa. It is such a poignant story. The hardships in the story brought tears to my eyes while the triumphs (even the small ones) made me laugh out loud.
I heard about this book over a year ago on The Daily Show and from TED videos:
After learning about this book, I bought it (digitally) right away but I hadn't got around to reading it until now. It starts a little slow, talking about the cultural superstitions about magic but this adds an important aspect to the main theme of the story. Once I got to the 'meat' of the story, I couldn't put it down.
The aphorism that most aptly summarizes the plot is "Knowledge is power", but that doesn't do it justice. The author, William Kamkwamba, realizes that with a little bit of knowledge, he can prevent the deaths of family members and friends. Not only can he save them, he can help them thrive. The main benefit is to power a water pump to irrigate crops which would allow the planting of crops twice a year instead of the usual once. It would also help during droughts. He started to develop the idea during the catastrophic drought of 2001. He (and everyone around him) was starving to death. One day when he went out to work in the fields, he mentioned to his friend that his father had reduced the number of meals they could have each day to two - "Isn't that awful?", he asked his friend. His friend responded that his family had already been doing that for weeks. Shortly after that, they had to cut down to one meal per day.
William cannot afford to go to Secondary School (it's not free) and he doesn't have much academic training. One day, he sees a Dynamo, which attaches to a bicycle wheel to power a light. It fascinates him. He begins to wonder how it works. He experiments with it and often goes to the library to read about Electricity and Magnetism. That's when he gets the idea to build a windmill. His family and friends think he's gone mad, collecting junk and preoccupying himself with things they don't understand. He quickly builds a tiny prototype and when it successfully powers his transistor radio, he nearly jumps out of his skin. He then begins to build a bigger, more functional windmill.
The people from the village laugh and ridicule him. When the day comes for William to assemble the finished windmill, many of the villagers gather around to laugh at him. When he finishes assembling it, and it powers a light bulb, everyone is in awe. His dream comes true.
Word gets out and the people from TED contact him. They ask him if he'd share his story in front of others. He gladly agrees, even though he has no idea what TED is, or even what a 'conference' is. When he finally gets to TED, and is on stage giving his story, he expects all the intelligent, educated and cultured people to laugh at him. When the audience erupts in applause, he can't believe it. When asked how he built the windmill, he briefly goes through his story and says, "I try, and I made it." The audience erupts in exuberant applause and the motto of that TED conference becomes, "I try, and I made it."
The main points that make this such a brilliant story to me are:
- tenacity and hard work pays off
- scientific, logical thinking defeats superstitious, magical thinking and can help turn a poor nation into a successful one
- a passion for learning is often necessary for life (literally)
It's a great story and I strongly recommend it. If there were more William Kamkwambas in the world, it would be a better place.
Submitted 12/22/2010 11:47:55 AM