The Bottom Line
- Describes the ways that science can be used to positively transform a community (and an individual)
- A fascinating look into another culture and the trials faced by its citizens
- Could do with some more technical descriptions/drawings of the windmill and related devices
- The windmill shows up late in the book, and there could be more detail about the post-windmill era
- 2009, William Morrow/HarperCollins
- 273 pages, with 15 chapters, a prologue & epilogue
- This review is of the hardcover edition of the book.
Guide Review - Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope
Most of the book covers the pre-windmill era of William's life. We get a look into his cultural and family history, including a grandfather who has some tall tales about the old witch doctor of the region. William's father was once a trader, but settled into the life of a farmer with his brother. When his brother died, William's father did the honorable thing and instead of laying claim to his land, let it pass to his nephew (the brother's rightful heir) ... a move which ultimately landed the family in poverty. (The government corruption and incompetence doesn't help matters.)
Then famine strikes the nation.
It's a sobering tale well told. The reader rightfully feels the tragedy when William is forced to drop out of school because his father can no longer afford the fees, and hopes along with William that his father's tobacco crop will bring in enough money to cover the fees the following term.
But William is not deterred, and he begins reading voraciously at his local library, largely on science books. He had always been fascinated with how things such as radios worked, and as he begins to absorb these books he understands that the underlying concepts of these devices can be extended to larger scales. Finally, he realized that a windmill ("electric wind" as the young William called it) could help his village ... ultimately providing power for a water pump which would allow for irrigation of the fields, reducing the severity and frequency of famine (and making life easier for the women, who spend much of their days hauling fresh water to the home).
William is mocked as he begins his mission to build the windmill, but ultimately he succeeds and is vindicated. Still, his original windmill falls far short of his goals, and there's a lot more he needs to learn to design the sort of system he ultimately wants. This process - including his recognition as a TED fellow which brings him in contact with powerful and influential financial backers - is intriguing, and ultimately results in him transforming his makeshift structure into a more advanced system. The one flaw is that more of the book doesn't cover this period, which is the part that the science geek in me really wants to see details on.
I've rarely read a book which so clearly displays a love of science, yet at the same time could be a selection for the Oprah Book Club. (To my knowledge, it's not an Oprah selection.) This book is excellent not only for those who love science, but also for those who love a good story of the individual rising up and overcoming adversity by rejecting despair and forging a new path ... one that contains "electric wind."