ISBN: 0307263487
ISBN 13: 9780307263483
By: Wangari Maathai

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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


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.


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.

Carol Kuniholm

While the writing sometimes falters, and the story sometimes stalls, this is a moving, challenging autobiography of a woman who said "yes" to the demanding situations that confronted her. She tackled deforestation and soil erosion with creation of the Green Belt Movement, and stood for the environment, for public parks, for the rights of women. She faced public ridicule, imprisonment, tear gas, beatings, and endless threats with grace, courage, and apparent good humor. Two long quotes: "I don’t tend to invite challenges, but I meet them. And once I do, I stick with it. I know the situation is not going to be resolved overnight, and I don’t hurry to meet a second challenge until the first is concluded. I have seen time and again that if you stay with a challenge, if you are convinced that you are right to do so, and if you give everything you have, it is amazing what can happen."And this:"What I have learned over the years is that we must be patient, persistent, and committed. When we are planting trees sometimes people will say to me, 'I don't want to plant this tree, because it will not grow fast enough.' I have to keep reminding them that the trees they are cutting today were not planted by them, but by those who came before. so they must plant the trees that will benefit communities in the future. I remind them that like a seedling ,with sun, good soil, and abundant rain, the roots of our future will bury themselves in the ground and a canopy of hope will reach into the sky."


This is not one of our book club selections (yet), but it should be. This woman is incredible. It's the memoir of Wangari Maathai, who in 2004 was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She managed this through a lifetime of environmental activism, which naturally led to human rights activism. A biologist by training, she realized that many of the social ills of her native Kenya stemmed from abuse and mismanagement of the country's natural resources, so she founded the Green Belt movement to plant trees across the deforested nation, thereby curbing soil erosion and providing necessary firewood to its inhabitants. Through her many run-ins with the corrupt Kenyan government, who tried in vain to rein in this uppity, out-of-line, "overeducated" woman, she became a crusader for the underrepresented and disenfranchised, and for fair and democratic government. After years of fighting alongside the nation's opposition party to unseat the ruling party, she helped to bring about real change in government and was elected to Parliament.It's a fascinating and colorful story, and makes me proud to be a female biologist.


This memoir is about Wangari Maathai's extraordinary life. She established the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, earned the Right Livelihood Award in 1984, and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.She grew up in a rural area of Kenya and was brought by the Kennedy student airlifts to the US. With research in Germany, she earned a doctorate in microbiology. After taking a teaching post in Nairobi, she joined with the church and fought against the then-corrupt government to protest deforestation. The history she goes on to describe was both new to me and painful -- every victory seemed to come with an additional setback. As she grew as a leader (always focused on planting trees), encouraging the splintered opposition parties to organize, she somehow responded with peace to repeated and unimaginable abuse in her personal/professional/political life.As Dr. Maathai's first tree-planting nonprofit falters and her husband leaves her, she develops a mindset I really liked:"'We are on a track that has not been explored before. We are on a trial-and-error basis. If what we did yesterday did not produce good results, let's not repeat it today because it's a waste of time.' ...If you have given something your best shot and it is still not working, then what else can you do? Nothing. ...as I like to tell people, 'Failing is not a crime.' What is important is that if you fail you have the energy and the will to pull yourself up" (Page 144).

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!


Wangari shared very intimate, interesting, informative experiences of her lifetime.As much as she had a passion for the restoration and preservation of our country's most valuable attributes; it's captivating landscape, vegetation, wildlife, the freedom of it's people and enviornmental-friendly methods of providing energy-sources among others, she clearly had a talent in writing. Pick it up to be inspired, to understand why something as simple as planting trees has a significant impact on seemingly unrelated aspects of life, such as why some of our rivers are brown. Internalize the values instilled in her as a child, through stories.


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.


The date July 7 or 7/7 is a significant one for Maathai's movement. It's called Saba Saba in KiSwahili. I'd like to note here that I was reading this book on Saba Saba. Before reading this, my only exposure to the Kikuyu was Mike Resnick's Kirinyaga: A Fable of Utopia. Although I think that the Kirinyaga stories are powerful fiction, I am only now grasping that they are a dis-service to the Kikuyu in some important ways. From a cultural standpoint, I appreciated learning that there are Kikuyu stories about dragons. I wondered what these dragons look like. I know that Chinese dragons are conceptually different from European dragons. Kikuyu dragons are shapechangers which is interesting, but I wonder what else they are that's different from European or Chinese folklore.Wangari Maathai's approach to the environmental degradation that Kenya has suffered is so simple and effective. It's also so applicable to any geographical area that has become deforested. What isn't simple or easy is the challenge of standing firm against the powerful corporate and political interests that seek to continue pillaging the land. That's why Maathai got that Nobel Prize.


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."


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.


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.


I started out writing a totally different review for this book while reading the text in 'Unbowed'. By the finish line I just sat gobsmacked, and robbed of words.A few years ago I watched a program on conservation work done in Kenya and saw Prof. Wangari Maathai explain the power of trees to a BBC tv audience. That prompted me to find more information on her work. I was rendered speechless when I discovered the amazing person behind this effort.I was therefor anxious and excited when I was given her book as gift in November 2013. It was one of those books lying here, begging to be read. I just finished. I wondered what happened to her and googled. Only to discover that she passed away in 2011.This book is her autobiography and certainly one of the most inspirational reads in this genre that I have ever come across. A tribute in the New York Times stated: "Dr. Maathai, one of the most widely respected women on the continent, played many roles — environmentalist, feminist, politician, professor, rabble-rouser, human rights advocate and head of the Green Belt Movement, which she founded in 1977. Its mission was to plant trees across Kenya to fight erosion and to create firewood for fuel and jobs for women.Dr. Maathai was as comfortable in the gritty streets of Nairobi’s slums or the muddy hillsides of central Kenya as she was hobnobbing with heads of state. She won the Peace Prize in 2004 for what the Nobel committee called “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” It was a moment of immense pride in Kenya and across Africa.Her Green Belt Movement has planted more than 30 million trees in Africa and has helped nearly 900,000 women, according to the United Nations, while inspiring similar efforts in other African countries.“Wangari Maathai was a force of nature,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations’ environmental program. He likened her to Africa’s ubiquitous acacia trees, “strong in character and able to survive sometimes the harshest of conditions.”In one of her interviews she compared herself to a hummingbird who tried to stop a forest fire. All the big animals were just standing there, watching the little bird spit drops of water on the fire. When they asked the bird what the idea was, the bird replied "It doesn't matter how small or big I am. I can only try my best."She was offered an opportunity to study in America. A humble village girl from a remote village in Kenya got a chance to broaden her world. It inspired her to do her doctorate and achieve all her dreams."It is fair to say that America transformed me. It made me into the person I am today. It taught me not to waste any opportunity and to do what can be done - and that there is a lot to do. The spirit of freedom and possibility that America nurtured in me made me want to foster the same in Kenya, and it was in this spirit that I returned home."This book is not an autobiography of a egocentric praise-grabber lightly pirouetting through the alphabet. It is a fascinating story of a humble, intelligent woman who found the link between deforestation and poverty and decided to make a difference - one seed at a time. She has lived through the stages of environmental degradation in the area she grew up in. She discovered the relationship between African Wild Fig trees(cracking rocks to allow water to bubble to the surface and form rivers) and deforestation(when these trees were cut down, the water disappeared resulting in famine and disaster)."These experiences of childhood are what mold us and make us who we are. How you translate the life you see, feel, smell, and touch as you grow up -the water you drink, the air you breathe, and the food you eat - are what you become. When what you remember disappear, you miss it and search for it, and so it was with me. When I was a child, my surroundings were alive, dynamic, and inspiring. Even though I was entering a world where there were books to read and facts to learn - the cultivation of the mind - I was still able to enjoy a world where there were no books to read, where children were told living stories about the world around them, and where you cultivated the soil and the imagination in equal measure."This book is not just about her life. It serves as an inspiration to all people who had to endure abuse, discrimination, prosecution, and incredible odds to reach a goal. But it is also a testimony to the world we love in a practical, down-to-earth voice of reason.So I was thinking about the unbelievable work she has done in her life, the numerous obstacles she had to overcome, and the thought came up that she was not only a force of nature, she was mother Africa. She showed the world what love is really all about.I recommend this book to EVERYONE!!! Watch this tribute to her. I cannot, for the life of me, express how I feel right now.Just read the book.


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.


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.

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