Unbowed

ISBN: 0307263487
ISBN 13: 9780307263483
By: Wangari Maathai

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Africa Biography Currently Reading Favorites Kenya Memoir Memoirs Non Fiction Nonfiction To Read

About this book

Hugely charismatic, humble, and possessed of preternatural luminosity of spirit, Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and a single mother of three, recounts her extraordinary life as a political activist, feminist, and environmentalist in Kenya.Born in a rural village in 1940, Wangari Maathai was already an iconoclast as a child, determined to get an education even though most girls were uneducated. We see her studying with Catholic missionaries, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the United States, and becoming the first woman both to earn a PhD in East and Central Africa and to head a university department in Kenya. We witness her numerous run-ins with the brutal Moi government. She makes clear the political and personal reasons that compelled her, in 1977, to establish the Green Belt Movement, which spread from Kenya across Africa and which helps restore indigenous forests while assisting rural women by paying them to plant trees in their villages. We see how Maathai’s extraordinary courage and determination helped transform Kenya’s government into the democracy in which she now serves as assistant minister for the environment and as a member of Parliament. And we are with her as she accepts the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in recognition of her “contribution to sustainable development, human rights, and peace.”In Unbowed, Wangari Maathai offers an inspiriting message of hope and prosperity through self-sufficiency.

Reader's Thoughts

Reading Builds

An interesting book with lots of potential. Does not appear to have been chosen as a Common Reading elsewhere. 1. Yes/maybe. Paperback, 326 p, $14.95, engaging, no audio? Author visit expense might be high - research alternative speakers. 2. Engaging: The first half of the memoir was the most engaging, especially where the author reflects on how her childhood experiences formed her character and her connection to the environment. Culture: There are many cultural aspects to the book. One obvious aspect is the tribal nature of life in Kenya (and by extension Africa in general). A second aspect would be the place of women in society in Kenya and by extension globally. A third would be colonialism in Africa, yet another would be the place of the environment in different cultures, and another would be the role of storytelling. Social issues: The most obvious social issue is our relationship to the natural environment. The book chronicles in a personal way the beginning of the Green Belt Movement. Lens: One lens is the statement on page 109: "my culture was ruthlessly destroyed under the pretense that its values and those of Christianity were in conflict." This is certainly open to debate and applicable to many cultures here and globally. Thought-provoking: There are many details that could be expanded into broader discussions. To name just one, on page 96, the author discusses the many names by which she was known and how she chose to reclaim her "original names."Controversial: The story of how the Kenyan government manipulated Maathai's image and belittled her with labels such as "wayward" is very instructive and opens many possibilities for conversations. Multidisciplinary: Unbowed will definitely be of interest to students with majors in natural sciences and the environment, women's studies, political science, sociology, international studies, economics, history and more. Relevance: Interest in Africa is very high and this book may interest students for that reason. It is also easy to identify with the author, perhaps especially for students from rural areas and modest backgrounds. The book is also very timely because of increased interest in being "green." 3. Maathai is a living embodiment of the Honors College Mission statement due to her courage, her commitment to social responsibility and her refusal to stifle her spirit of inquiry. 4. Activities:Potential activities would include a forum of some type either about a topic Africana studies, the Green Movement or another topic from the book. Maathai appears in Leonardo diCaprio's The Eleventh Hour. A showing could include a panel discussion. Interested faculty members could hold book talks, brown bags, or other speaking events related to particular topics from the book. One example would be the Green Belt Movement as an exemplar of a grass-roots self-help movement. My hero activity:see: http://www.myhero.com/myhero/hero.asp...working in/or planting a native garden. A Chicago school dedicated a native plant garden to the author: http://www.cnt.org/natural-resources/... A joint fundraising activity with a Green theme could be held with Honors Student Council. African "folk" activities: storytelling, dance, music, proverbs, cooking, riddles ....5. Partners:Jonathan Overpeck, director of the UA's Institute for the Study of Planet Earth, is one of the authors of a report released by the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, http://uanews.org/node/16395Africana studies: http://w3.coh.arizona.edu/aas/about.htmLook into local Green Movement connections: http://www.tucsongreenzine.com/Someone to talk about sustainability on the UA campus and what is being done - maybe from facilities?Look harder for a campus club with a "green" mission. 6. The book does not focus on the southwestern US. There is no movie.

jen

Wangari Maathai is an exceptional person. Her dedication and persistance to righting issues in equity and the environment are inspiring. The tone of the book reflects what I believe her personality must be like; calm, insistent and honorable. At times, her tendency to understate her own accomplishments made me almost miss the enormity of her impact and work. Reading about her life reminded me that each person's actions truly can have a profound impact on the world in which we live. This was a book that I took my time reading. My five stars reflect the content of the book rather than the writing style. It wasn't difficult to read by any means but it didn't compel me to stay up through the night to finish. Like I already stated I think that is because she doesn't want to toot her own horn so to speak... This was a book about her life and something that I think seemed to be missing was more about her relationships with her children and family. They were very important to her, that was obvious. It would be interesting to hear how her intense dedication to public service impacted her relationship with her children. I think you really can't have everything.

AdultNonFiction Teton County Library

Teton Co Library Call No: BIO MAATHAI WMarisa's Rating: 3 StarsRead this as part of the book group "A Revolutionary Book Group" - a very interesting life story. As with a lot of memoirs of non-writers, I feel the writing was a bit dry, maybe too straight forward. However, her story more than makes up for it. Maathai was born in Kenya to a large polygamist family in rural village. Her childhood sounds idyllic - and sets the tone for the rest of her journey. As deforestation created through colonial...more Teton Co Library Call No: BIO MAATHAI WRead this as part of the book group "A Revolutionary Book Group" - a very interesting life story. As with a lot of memoirs of non-writers, I feel the writing was a bit dry, maybe too straight forward. However, her story more than makes up for it. Maathai was born in Kenya to a large polygamist family in rural village. Her childhood sounds idyllic - and sets the tone for the rest of her journey. As deforestation created through colonialism begins to progress Maathai uses her resources to create The Green Belt Movement - giving women the resources to plant trees throughout Kenya. Her book touched on international feminist issues, the struggles of maintaining a family while pursuing a career, colonialism and true patriotism.Good read for those interested in Kenyan history or a call to action!

Katie

I'll admit I was quite skeptical of this book when I first picked it up. Not one being one for biographies (auto or otherwise) or big on "woo! feminism!" I was pleasantly surprised. Maathai has a simple, clear voice that is strangely compelling and frank. Her gift lies in her ability to speak directly to the reader as an individual rather than as a group of people reading a book. It almost felt like reading a conversation, if that makes any sense.Her story seems larger than life. Much of the hardship seems glossed over, though this may simply be her style of staunch optimism. So many serendipitous moments fell into place for her, it almost forces the reader to wonder about what moments defined them as movers or non-movers of the world. What opportunities were passed by and which shaped the current personality.In all, though, I think it's one of the better books I've read for a class.

Wanjiku

For anyone interested in learning about Kenya and the Gikuyu traditions, this is a good read.Found it interesting and insightful, and full of drama.

Marcy

Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 in Kenya. Her saving of Kenya's forests won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.Not only did Wangari Maathai found the Green Belt Movement, but she has fought continuously for human rights in her country. A corrupt undemocratic government has constantly tried to keep her down, in the press, and even through imprisonment. Wangari has never given up. She is revered by the people of Kenya, as she is all over the world. She fights for what is right, a modern day King Arthur. She remains "Unbowed."

Andrea

There is a lot of interesting history in this book, but I found the writing "clunky." I don't think it's reasonable to put this down to "it's not her native language" when the author is highly educated and had the means and opportunity to have this edited for style. That said, I also found the early parts of the memoir cliche and trite. Maathai promotes the "pre-colonial Eden" view of Africa that is neither true, nor particularly interesting to me. However, this is, after all, a memoir, and it might be unfair of me to judge Maathai's view of events. It's her story, after all. But I really got tired of being talked down to and having events and social currents oversimplified to the point of inanity. If you don't know much about Kenya, or East Africa, or the Greenbelt Movement, you'll probably really like this book, if you don't mind poor sentences and vague word choice. However, don't take this as the last word. Remember this is one person's interpretation of events and hero worship is seldom an accurate way to view history.

Barry Morris

** spoiler alert ** Like most memoirs, it started strong then got more self-serving as the accolades piled up. Maahthai led an extraordinary life and had a considerable influence in the environmental movement. She definitely deserved her Nobel Prize and out respect. However, many memoir writers would be better served by biographers. At one point she goes into great detail about how her life revolves around her children. Soon after that we learn that she has to travel Canada to attend a conference, so she arranges for them to spend some time with their father (from whom she is divorced). A few pages later she casually lets it slip that the kids spend almost the entire next six years living with dad. It's a minor point in the story, but the inequality of her emphases (the agony of letting them go versus the matter of factness of how long they were gone) throws the objectivity of many of her other anecdotes into doubt. By far the most affective part of the text is the first few chapters. Therein she describes the brutal efficiency with which the Europeans came in and destroyed her homeland and the passivity of the natives who allowed them to. So much wrong was done to so many people that one runs pout of people to blame. And it is the strict reportorial precision with which she describes it that makes it so effective. As time goes on and the ratio of description to evaluation shifts, the narrative becomes less effective and more self-serving.

Tinea

It was my professor of African American Women's History in college who taught me the lesson that one of the best ways to learn history is through studying the lived experiences of activists working in opposition to a system structured to oppress them-- a combination of Patricia Hill Collins's standpoint theory, which states (simplified) that the oppressed must be able to navigate both the dominant paradigm and the inner workings of the cultures oppressed people create outside the realm of powerful people thereby giving oppressed people an epistemological advantage for understanding any given situation's power structure; and Forest Gump-- activist lives map out their generation's greatest hits. Fantastic advice. Maathai's autobiography tells the story of British colonialism in Kenya, the Mau Mau rebellion and Britain's subsequent torture and repression, the liberation movement and the heady days following, the fall into corruption and neoliberal poverty, and the Kenyan democratic movement in the 90s and 2000s.Unbowed is the story of Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan woman who founded the Green Belt Movement and won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first African woman and the first environmental activist to do so. And that's about all I knew of her-- somehow her tree planting organization was groundbreaking enough to merit a Nobel; ok, sounds cool. But Maathai and her work is so much bigger than this!! It's criminal it is "tree planting" that has become the word association with her name. She was an incredibly courageous democracy and land rights activist who used trees as a symbolic and tactical weapon to defend people's land from corporate and government land grabs, as a way to bring witness to ethnic violence, and as a weapon of attack to force the Kenyan government to release victims of torture and disappearances. Maathai was a trained biologist, so her choice of trees was both scientific and symbolic; planting diverse native trees combats environmental injustices and hunger from drought, soil erosion, and climate change caused by deforestation; trees are a long-term method to solidly plant something tangible on the land that she and her fellow activists and farmers used their bodies to defend-- from severe physical attack, like clubs and machetes and sometimes bullets.Maathai was a professor and a mother, so she carefully draws out the lessons she wants us to learn from her life. So much to learn in here. There is the scientific, ethnobotanical foundation that she links to women's rural cultural traditions that taught respect for the trees found near springs. There is the stubborn dedication to her own definitions of what is right, rooted in respect for land and people, and the constant decisions to act, to take the practical, logistical steps and personal sacrifices that enable a movement to commence and sustain itself. There is that nimble navigation of becoming a public figure-- claiming it, staking out her expertise and the legitimacy of her opinions in a white rich man's world that would silence them-- and using growing international renown to constantly channel power and resources to the grassroots activists working alongside her and their struggles. There is the weaving of privilege and lucky blessings of her life which are what enabled her to do what she did; the lesson being in how she embraced and fought to use these gifts: the recipient of one of very few scholarships to study in the US offered by President Kennedy at the lucky moment she graduated high school, after the chance privileges and connections that enabled her to go to school at all, Maathai was able to become an educated, multilingual woman despite a rural poverty background and fight her way into doctorates and professorship and (I think?) ministry appointments, becoming the first woman everything in science in East Africa. Maathai passed away in 2011. I'm mourning the world's loss right now.Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. (p.138)On Direct Action and the importance of ecology as an intersection in social justice:As long as the Green Belt Movement was perceived as just a few women raising seedlings, we didn't matter to the government. But as soon as we began to explain how trees disapear and why it is important for citizens to stand up for their rights-- whether environmental, women's, or human-- senior officials in the government and members of Parliament began to take notice. They soon realized that unlike some women's oranizations in Kenya, the Green Belt Movement was not organizing women for the purposes of advancing the governmemt's agenda, whatever that might be. We were organizing women (and men) to do things for themselves that, in most cases, the government had no interest in doing. That unsettled the authorities. (p.180)On courage:We always encouraged people to run when they were attacked. It was one thing to shout, "Leave the forest alone;" it was another to nurse a wound in the hospital. Some of us who joined our campaign for Karura [Forest] and who were with us that day [hired thugs attacked the activists stood and blocked logging equipment] were also young, and we didn't want them to be so afraid that they wouldn't protest again. In all our campaigns it was our persistence that won the day more than our bravery. (p. 269)On that day Maathai was beat so savagely that a doctor in the hospital told her that if she had sustained one more hit to the head she surely would have died.Many people assume that I must have been inordinately brave to face down the thugs and police during the campaign for Karura Forest. ... For me, the destruction of Karura Forest, like [other campaigns Maathai led], were problems that needed to be solved, and the authorities were stopping me from finding a solution. What people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focused on the solution, I don't see danger. Because I don't see danger, I don't allow my mind to imagine what might happen to me, which is my definition of fear. If you don't foresee the danger and see only the solution, then you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.This is not to say we were reckless. We found ways to protect ourselves. ... In the end, what was important was that we showed we were not intimidated. We were in the right and had stood up for what we believed in. We were making a statement that this was a public forest and no houses should be built there. ... How did we register our protest? Well, you can talk all day about how something is wrong, but how do you tell a government in this situation that it is violating your rights? Our answer was to plant trees. Today, that beautiful forest is still there, helping Nairobi breathe, and more trees are being planted to reseed what was lost and restore its biodiversity and beauty. (p. 272-3)

Kiharavich

Wangari Maathai story is real, sincere and a story that many Kenyans who lived in the Moi era can relate to.I enjoyed it soo much, much more than The Long walk to freedom, the magnitude and character of the two lives not withstanding, but more because of the detail the author goes in describing the different lives. While Unbowed is full of meat when it comes to particular experiences, Long walk to freedom is lacking some very necessary meat.

Aleena

This was a great book about a strong woman who triumphed over many adversities. It was a good read and inspiring. It was interesting to learn of the culture in Kenya. I rate it a 3.5.

Bookguide

Fascinating autobiography (in Dutch, title "Ongebroken") of the founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, which encourages local women to set up cooperative tree nurseries and plant narrow ribbons of trees in villages. The trees help prevent soil erosion, create shade and an area of vegetation which goats can graze so that women can help feed their families. Wangari Maathai looks back fondly to her village roots and the way of life before the plantations encouraged the destruction of the local forests. She was married to a politician who divorced her once she became an activist for democracy, women's rights and the environment, and became a politician in her own right, and became Kenian undersecretary for the Environment and Natural Resources. As her fame spread at international level, she was subjected to attacks and threats at national level, and in recognition of her lifelong achievement was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Scot

This is a memoir by Wangari Maathi, a Kikuyu from Kenya, who in 2004 became the first environmentalist—and the first woman from Africa--to win the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a fairly easy read, with the first four chapters reviewing her childhood, the Mau Mau uprisings, and her college education in the United States, an incredible and at that time (1960) new scholarship opportunity she was able to secure by being the best and brightest student in the right place at the right time. She reminds me of Benjamin Franklin very much in that regard, for her story demonstrates how much of success is based on the right approach to education and a resolve for self-development, and a willingness to take advantage of opportunities to try and make yourself and your society better and more caring, and in her case, ever mindful of the environment and how stewarding its needs can help answer our own.In chapter five Wangari returns to a newly independent Kenya and becomes the first woman in east and central Africa to receive a doctoral degree. She marries, starts to raise a family and to teach at the university, but soon becomes embroiled in standing up for the rights of women, the rights of the poor, and the restoration of ecosystems that had been systematically eviscerated since the dawn of the colonial era. The rest of the book summarizes her accomplishments, adventures, trials, tribulations, and eventual accolades in her fight for social, economic, and environmental justice. Best known for founding of the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she is one feisty lady. One should accept from the onset that this is a tale intended to inspire, so do not look to this memoir for sordid details on her eventual divorce or long drawn out reflections on any of her personal weaknesses. In this 21st century, when globalization will continue to shape the world, when the struggles between the Have nots and the Haves over dwindling resources will inevitably intensify, we could and should learn and draw hope from her methods and models for overcoming ethnic prejudices, colonial legacies, class inequities, and a corrupt patriarchal political structure, all while simultaneously striving to create a sustainable and ecologically aware living system, even while improving the lot of the rural poor and the opportunities and options for women as a social group. Why give an environmentalist a peace prize? Because we are one planet, and those of us in the Have nations need to recognize and learn how to adapt our high-maintenance consumer lifestyles if any of us are to have peace in the future. Wangari has modeled a path of international communication and collaboration in this process.

Joanna

While this is not the best written or poetic memoir out there, Wangari's story is one of the most inspiring ones. Wangari Maathai's strength, determination, and passion to save the environment and ultimately the African land and the African people is extremely inspiring and eye-opening. I really appreciated the beginning of the book, which explains the extensive damage colonization has done (and continues to do) to Africa and the African minds. Furthermore, I praise Wangari for supporting an environmental-friendly and African directed development that shouldn't be confused with modernization or western development, which is what most African leaders follow. Wangari is an amazing African women who sees the beauty of Africa and its people and truly understands how its cultures and traditions need to be preserved and utilized if Africa wants to develop and advance in this world. Africa needs its soul to move forward.

Yeshasvi

The book (written by a non writer) is a bit dry and sometimes feel like you are reading a sort of historical records but the book deserves the 5 stars for the story it tells, for the accounts of courage, perseverance, persistence and conviction and for answering the question that why an environmentalist should be awarded a Peace prize. Wangari Maathai a Nobel Peace Prize winner was much more than an environmentalist, Unbowed is a simple and honest account of her struggles she met with while doing what she believes in. It's an example how education can give different meaning to one's live when met with Maathai like conviction. I highly recommend the book for every one and definitely preserving the copy for my daughter for the lessons Wangari's life has. My favourite from her book "Every experience has a lesson, every situation has a silver lining. Each person needs to raise their consciousness to a certain level so that they will not give up or succumb. If your consciousness is at such a level, you are willing to do what you believe is the right thing - popular opinion notwithstanding."

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