Daniel Solera's Reviews > Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
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Aug 24, 2010

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bookshelves: biography-memoir, current-events

I fondly remember my high school history teacher’s favorite historical meme, “Education is the problem, but education is also the solution.” In a nutshell, that’s the biggest takeaway from David Oliver Relin’s book about alpinist and dedicated philanthropist Greg Mortenson, whose mission to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is as generous and selfless as it is paramount to the stability and sustainability of those countries.

Greg’s story is absolutely remarkable. The book begins like a sports memoir, with his attempt to scale K2, the second highest peak in the world but more importantly, the most difficult to climb. Throughout the first chapters, Greg talks passionately about the wonders of mountain climbing and the breathtaking vistas one can witness atop the most cold, barren and desolate of places. He speaks warmly about the Balti guides whose job it is to escort climbers through the Himalayas. And then suddenly, things go wrong, he loses himself and ends up in the tiny village of Korphe. He is so amazed by their kindness, but also by their destitution and poor living conditions, that he vows to return to build them a school.

And thus begins his journey, one peppered with rich mountaineers, conniving Pakistani merchants, Wahhabis, the US military, and village upon village in dire need of improved public health measures and education. The book is about his struggle to get the projects off the ground – generating interest, making the right connections and ultimately dealing steadfastly with the unpredictable obstacles. Throw in 9/11 to the mix and suddenly his pet projects are the focus of the entire world.

But the most impressive element to his story is his truly spartan approach and methods. Greg spends the majority of this book near broke, with just enough money to survive. And yet, he somehow puts in the effort to raise funds for schools in forgotten areas of the world. It is a true testament to his giving spirit and kindness – for why else, besides the richness of character to love one’s fellow man, would someone risk so much for so little in return?

Though Greg’s story is that of a Hollywood script, Relin’s style doesn’t quite rise to the occasion. Though he captures the necessary drama for this kind of story, he stumbles in the details. He tries much too hard to create metaphors that match the cultural milieu of the various villages in Baltistan and they usually end up too wordy or simply laughable. I also don’t understand why he chooses to refer to our protagonist as “Mortenson” for the entire book. This is a story about an average Joe who went out into the poorest villages of Pakistan to do amazing things – why not call him “Greg”?

But I’d be nit picking if I continued. Three Cups of Tea is an inspiring story about one man fighting terror the right way – not with cruise missiles and general infantry, but with words and books.
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