The charismatic leader of Kenya's environmental movement and 2004winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has written an affecting memoir. The inspirational, if somewhat artless, narrative starts with her hardscrabble youth in the Kikuyu highlands, goes on to the Catholic missionary education that brought her to a small college in Kansas in 1960, and then describes her triumphal return to Kenya as the country's first female university lecturer. The second half of the book covers her emergence as a passionate anti-deforestation activist as the head of the Green Belt Movement. Forced out of her position at the university for her increasingly militant environmental activism, Maathai essentially reinvented herself within the nascent Kenyan civil society. She recounts her bitter struggles with the government, the simple yet effective organizational structure she built, and her increasingly important ties to the Western networks of women's groups, environmental activists, and donor organizations that provided her with resources, publicity, and a discourse of high-minded international progressivism. She essentially invented a new kind of public role for herself within the Kenyan polity.
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Kenyan environmental and political activist Maathai, currently an assistant minister in the Ministry for the Environment, Natural Resources, and Wildlife, Kenya, here offers an autobiography written with honesty, humility, and depth. She relates her early interest in the natural world, her formal studies at a Catholic school far from home, the terror as the Mau Mau rebellion began, and her U.S. college studies in biology. Although she encountered incidents of racial discrimination, her U.S. education proved to be a liberating experience. Having earned a master's in biology in 1965, she was asked to return to the newly independent Kenya to work as a lab assistant at the University of Nairobi and complete her Ph.D. She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, providing rural women with work planting trees to reforest Kenya, and moved into political activism as well. Her achievements, accomplished as they were in the face of incarceration by those in power, will astonish the reader. Maathai's fairness, activism, and determination to make her country and the continent she loves healthy again are palpable. For all academic libraries as well as public libraries with African collections. [For an interview with Maathai, see "Fall Editors' Picks," LJ9/1/06.—Ed.]