Book Reviews

POWER OF A WOMAN: Wangari Maathai’s UNBOWED Book Review

Book: Unbowed (A Memoir)

Protagonist: 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Wangari Maathai.

Rating: 8.5/10

Comment: Very inspirational and moving.

The word “feminist” is one of the most overrated words and often misused to allude the fact that females are better than their male counterparts, on levels of intelligence as well as economic empowerment.

However, there is one woman of great endeavors that scrapped the awful description the world has accorded the word “feminism”. And that woman was Wangari Maathai. (Click to read her bio)

She brought to light the fact that females can be seen in the same vein, professionally and beyond, as the males. And that won me over the minute I began reading her memoir.

maathai planting a tree

But before I could start, I wanted a different perspective on the life of this Kenyan heroine. Yes, some may say that she was painting herself in the brightest of lights and that she was covering up some unpopular misdeeds during her lifetime.

In that case, I decided to read some reviews of her memoir from readers all over the world who were either inspired, amazed or shocked by Maathai’s story.


Generally, the reviews speak volumes about the Nobel laureate whose success story led to one of the hugest environmental conservation groups in Sub-Sahara territory, The Green Belt Movement.

“It’s a story of a true hero of our generation…”

“a woman who applied herself to everything she did with vigor and heart…”

“Wangari Maathai is certainly a commendable and tenacious woman who overcame many obstacles in Kenya to become an activist in ecology…”

“…we remember Professor Wangari Maathai as a towering figure, a fearless social activist, and an environmental crusader…”

Judging by the reviews, it becomes easy for you to see that she was indeed a global icon and a continental gem since she became the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Allow me to break down her life into four easy principles you can apply in your life, and ultimately become successful in whatever venture you are undertaking.



Wangari Maathai was born in Tetu, in the deep corners of Nyeri County into a large polygamous family. Primarily given the role of offering a helping hand, as did all the girls back in the 40’s, she was very enthusiastic about working on the farm. The long hours she spent tilling the land with her mother sparked a dream in her heart – one of conserving the environment around her and preserving it for the generations to come.

I was deeply moved by the fact that, throughout the entire book, this dream doesn’t wane or waver at any point. Even when she goes off to the United States of America, her heart was set for her motherland’s environment.

Her dream finally pays off with the initiation of the Green Belt Movement, whose branches spread to the countries she had spent learning.


This is one of the virtues I clearly picked out from Maathai’s life, from the time she was forced to spend cold mornings farming in Nyeri, to her life at the Mount Saint Scholastica College, to the times she would parade at the Uhuru Gardens rejecting the construction of a “megaplex”.


I definitely can’t explain it as poignantly as Maathai does in, but it paints her as a very persistent character. One of the most touching moments in the book is when she is arrested for coming up with the idea of the Green Belt Movement.

The government tries to squash her plans to unite women on one front to fight for the conservation of the environment but fails to squash her persistent nature in fighting for what is right.


It isn’t a surprise to see that back then, girls weren’t given the chance to acquire education much like their male counterparts. However, in Maathai’s life, we see the kind of enthusiasm and eagerness to which she took to education. Being the first girl from her home area to go to school, it was considered taboo and she was shunned most times.

Ultimately, her going to school pushed her other siblings to also go to school, and later on, her own children yearned to pursue international studies based on the precedents Wangari had laid.

nobel prizeShe never thought for one bit about flunking school. This eagerness landed her in a very prime spot in the University of Nairobi teaching hierarchy. She even pushed on and got herself a doctorate degree! All this without the modern-day hitches of broken relationships and fake friends.


Though she was unpopular because of her divorce with her husband, Maathai proved to be a family person all through her marriage.

As you might expect, raising three kids while juggling responsibilities at the University and the Green Belt Movement was quite an uphill task. But even for a human being like Wangari Maathai, she could only take it in a stride.

Even though she later got divorced, she managed to keep her kids educated and encouraged them to have cordial relations with their father. The local papers had termed her as a bad example to the women she was leading at the GBM for being a divorcee. This, however, she managed to keep at bay and focus on her personal life and moving on from a toxic relationship.

Her strong mental character made her movement to gain traction in Kenya and further frustrate the government’s attempts to thwart its growth.


There might be some instances I have not documented where Wangari Maathai shows more than the four highlighted traits. Hopefully, it is persuasive enough for you to get her memoir and read it by yourself, get to know how she rose from grass to grace.

I would definitely recommend this book to any patriot or environmentalist or just about anyone who would like to be motivated to do their best in all they do.

plant a tree

Recently, I checked the Green Belt Movement website and I was glad to see that Maathai’s work which started four decades ago is still going on strong. With over 51 million trees planted since then, it is such a great honor to know that her work didn’t go to waste.

As such, I leave the ever-present words of wisdom that Maathai stood for, and hope that they will resonate in your lives:

“When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.” 

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