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on October 3, 2006
Professor Wangari Maathai is truly one of the most important voices of our time. This dynamic and indefatigable Kikuyu woman of Kenya has illuminated rays of light through the dark clouds of Kenya, and so Africa. Standing in the face of oppression and unbearable adversity she faced when Kenya was not a land of freedom, but a state of oppression and discord, it was Wangari's resilient voice, her never-ending effort to stand strong in the winds of injustice, and her ceaseless love of mankind that has in many ways begun the great changes toward democracy and freedom for all individuals not just in Kenya, but in Africa. As the Cold War has, as Professor Maathai clearly and carefully points out, changed the dynamics of government in Africa, the reader becomes aware, in a different way than what is typically presented in the press, of the many issues involved with the challenges that the world faces through the daily experiences of those who seek `Freedom'. Clearly, as the world becomes closer and more connected, the issues that continue in Africa are critical issues that we, as a progressive society, must not simply acknowledge, but do something about. Acting on what is right . . . standing up for your beliefs . . . standing down oppression and hatred . . . and nurturing Mother Earth as she continues to nurture and provide for all, are themes this visionary African woman - who is the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize - shares with the world in her brilliantly written life story. Readers across the world - men and women of all colors and creeds and beliefs will tap into the determination of this extraordinary activist who has taught so many about how love of each other can grow through respecting and nurturing the land we live on. But there is so much more to `Unbowed': Uhuru Park - Freedom Park - is more than a rolling green field in the middle of busy Nairobi, it is more than a starting point for this wonderful woman's love affair with the world, and it is so much more than a gathering point where the notion of planting trees . . . the seeds of The Green Belt Movement occurred. As Professor Maathai has shown through her own life, `Uhuru' is not Free! `Unbowed' is the story of a magnificent and courageous leader who stood up for the oppressed, including the woman of Kenya, and provided hope for better tomorrows by demonstrating that if a person possesses a will to make change, change can and will occur. `Unbowed' is a most remarkable memoir . . . and Professor Wangari Maathai is an ingenious woman of dignity the world continues to learn from. Listen: no matter where you are from, this book will positively change your life.
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VINE VOICEon April 5, 2007
When Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, questions were raised regarding her choice by the Nobel Committee. Why should an environmentalist receive a prize that was identified with peace and human rights, voiced the critics. Reading Maathai's memoir sets the record straight, and justifying her selection for the award. In this fascinating and very personal account, she paints a vivid picture of her life, embedded in the realities of Kenya before and since independence. Her experiences during the Moi regime, in particular, demonstrate the challenges a young educated woman confronted in the face of traditional prejudice as well as political oppression.

Raised in rural Kenya, Wangari Maathai never lost the deep connection with the land and its the natural beauty. Over the years, she noticed the changes and the increasing fragility of the environment. Trees for her became a symbol and a tool for protecting the vulnerable ecosystem and assisting rural population to stem the growing poverty.

Thanks to the intervention of her older brother and the support of her mother, she was able to attend school beyond the primary level, which was all girls at the time could reach for. As luck had it and, being a bright student, her convent school was one of those selected to send graduates to the US under what became known as the Kennedy Airlift: a program to send young Africans to American colleges for further education. These young people were being primed to become future leaders of their societies in the soon to be independent African states. Maathai returned to Kenya with a Master's degree in biology, a subject that for her combined her scientific interests with her deep love for her natural environment. She was encouraged in her research and added a PhD in veterinary medicine to her record. Life should have been easy after that with a good husband, a blossoming academic career and three wonderful kids. But women in Kenya were not supposed to be independent and strong. Her fight for women's equal rights broadened her environmental commitments. Eventually she lost her academic position, her husband divorced her and she ended up as poor as she was a child. Not deterred by the adversities she was facing, she continued fighting on several fronts. She started the Greenbelt Movement to plant trees to reclaim the land as a campaign for and with rural women. Over time it gained such prominence that it was perceived as a threat by the authorities. Public show of opposition, such as the demonstrations to save Uhuru Park in Nairobi from President-friendly developers, increasingly identified Maathai and the Greenbelt Movement as a focus for opposition forces. They fought for human rights and dignity, anti-tribalism and democracy. The details of these struggles, the friendships and solidarity that Maathai experienced, both in Kenya in internationally, supported her morally and probably saved her life more than once.

Maathai's memoir is very personal and written from the heart. We get to know her thinking and feelings as well as a detailed description of the difficult life women and men who opposed the Moi regime faced. Her easygoing and conversational style softens the impact of her description of the arduous and sometimes even brutal experiences that she relays. At the same time, her story is a stirring example of how one person's strength and perseverance can make a difference to a people and the world. The Greenbelt Movement is now a motor for tree planting around Africa and beyond. This is an inspirational book as well as a historical record. Reading it will make you feel enriched. [Friederike Knabe]
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on November 20, 2006
I really could hear Wangari speak as I read this book...with her interesting expressions and ways of seeing and saying things. I thought the details of her childhood and how it influenced her was beautiful - her mother, the land, etc. Most of all, I loved her intensity, committment, and love of learning and her courage to go to school and take jobs far from home, and her ability to keep on going no matter what. What a woman!!
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on January 26, 2007
I enjoyed this book! "Unbowed" is a straight-forward, gripping, and majestic effort by Wangari Maathai --- a formidable woman who faced unimaginable hurdles in a noble effort to help others ... and shape the destiny of her country.

During her fantastic journey, she became a mother of three, an inspiration for millions, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Her life is an eloquent triumph of good versus evil. Those who have asked: "What can one person do?" Need only to read about her "Green Belt Movement". I'll give you a hint: It is about trees, self reliance, and human endurance.

Prepare yourself for spell-binding details (page 277) on crime, corruption, and monumental waste of natural resources by so-called leaders --- who feed off the carcasses of their people.

"Unbowed" is a book that will have you believing in the unattainable. Exquisitely written ... it is a compelling story of incredible courage, tenacious will, and survival in modern day Africa.

I loved it. You will, too!

Reggie Johnson, Success-Tapes.Com
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on December 8, 2006
I love this book because Wangari has an uncanny ability to succeed in bringing about social justice. Why is it that where others fail she gets her way, in spite of the persecution of corrupt politicians? It's not just that she's so courageous and persistent. She's a leader others want to follow, for they see she knows instinctively how to get results. I reveled in her victories.
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on February 8, 2012
I enjoyed reading Wangari Maathai's memoir, especially her childhood, and journey to early adulthood, and the final years of her work after she won the Nobel Prize. Her struggle to protect Kenyan forests and promote women's rights and advocate for environmental protection through the Green Belt Movement, especially under a repressive government regime, is admirable and inspiring.

Two things I struggled with as I read about her work with the Green Belt Movement are her tendencies to belittle Kenyans and portray herself as an absolute victim.

Because of her work, Maathai was constantly harassed by local government authorities. During these moments, she would appeal to her international networks of friends and colleagues to encourage the Kenyan Government to put the environment before destructive developmental projects, arguing that Kenyans are too busy trying to earn a living, or not as aware of environmental conservation as people in the West are. This is a contradiction with what she claims several times about generations past who had systems of protecting the environment. She even demonstrates it through stories about growing up amongst lush rivers and forested areas in the forties and fifties.

Finally, in the face of constant adversity, it may be inevitable to take the tone of a victim, constantly attacking the mechanisms and institutions that prevent one from doing their work. Maathai falls into this trap, which diminishes her heroism and struggle. As a woman who achieved such prominence, she could have held her head up a little higher, especially in her lucid writing, to give a more powerful account of the years she spent building the Green Belt Movement.
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on June 27, 2007
This memoir is an inspiring example of what one woman can do, bit by bit, and eventually have an internationally positive influence. The author's story resonates with anyone who wants to make a difference in her/his own molecule of the world.
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on January 14, 2007
I have never read such a heroic story. Every time I close my eyes they pop open again and I say but how could person like this possibly had the courage to do do all the things that she did. When I try to tell Olive about it I cant find the words to say what I want to say. I keep thinking what I want to say to you, what it has made me feel, but my mouth just drops open and I have no words to express my feelings. I am awed. I am overwhelmed at the things this person accomplished. Its almost as if it is not a human being doing these things. Perhaps its because I know where she went to school when she came to the US. Perhaps its because she is so close to the age of a lot of my younger friends. Perhaps its because I have only read of such bravery and devotion to a cause. Perhaps its because she is so close in age to many of the friends I have and I can associate personally with that. Perhaps I have never really felt this close to greatness. Perhaps I am just learning a little about life I never realized. Just perhaps.
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on May 15, 2011
Wangari Maathai is certainly a commendable and tenacious woman who overcame many obstacles in Kenya to become an activist in ecology. This subsequently led to political agitation and imprisonment in attempts to make her country become more of a liberal democracy.

She could easily, during her upbringing in the 1940's and 1950's have remained illiterate in rural Kenya. She describes well her school attendance and her higher education in the United States. I found her stories about the relationship she had with her mother and family poignant.

This autobiography captures many instances of the struggle to overcome the corruption endemic to her native Kenya. She relates well how the relationship between ecological problems and poverty are entwined. I just wish at times there would have been more revealing observations and stories of the people she worked with in Kenya throughout those years. There was a tendency to veer off and describe conferences attended and the dignitaries she met around the world. This deterred from her Kenyan narrative.
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on March 4, 2016
One of my heroes! Kenya's Wangari Maathai was the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the Nobel peace prize; she was also a fearless activist for democracy, women's rights, and sustainable development, and a brilliant story teller, too! I used the book in a number of college courses, to great avail. Many students found her story inspirational, unique and clearly told.
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