Heather'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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Jun 24, 2008

did not like it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in June, 2008

This book is driving me fricking nuts. I'm struggling to finish it, and can I help it if I feel like a bad person for HATING this book even though I totally support its main purpose and the mission of the subject??

I hope not. Jeez, where do I start. The writing? It's terrible. I am now going to randomly pick a page, any page, and find a ridiculous, klunky morsel for you:

"Suleman sat like a smiling Buddha next to Mortensen, his arms crossed over the beginning of a pot belly."


"the inspiring view that greets these students from every classroom - the roof of the world, represented by Masherbrum's soaring summit ridge-has already helped convince many of Hushe's children to aim high."

or, (my personal favorite)

"And by the time the rising sun iced the hanging glaciers of Masherbrum pale pink, like a gargantuan pastry dangling above them at breakfast time, Mortenson had agreed to shift the funds his board had approved for the doomed Khane school upside to this village whose headman had traveled so far downriver to educate himself."

I could go on, but I'll spare you. If you'd like 350+ pages of the above prose, by all means read this book.

What else besides the writing? The methods - I was always told that non-fiction writing is a pretty specific genre, and that if you don't have a quotation written down from a source, or have it recorded somehow, you don't use quotations at all. The whole time I'm reading, I keep thinking, "there's no way Mortensen remembers every exact conversation he had 15 years ago!" (and that's an exact quote from my brain, by the way).

Plus, there are historical inaccuracies all over the place that made me question the validity of the hyperbolized text and the way in which the "co-author" (For Mortensen is the other) idolizes his subject beyond, well, objectivity. For example, there's an entire passage about the year 2000, when Mortensen is struggling with his lack of management skills, his frustration with the lack of sustainability of his foundation's finances, and fulfilling his duties to his family. He goes on a trip to SE Asia to observe other development projects, and ends up in Calcutta, and wouldn't you know it, Mother Teresa just died and he buys himself a big ole bouquet of flowers to honor her, and goes to pay his respects to her shrouded body. It's a quite moving passage (naturally it's littered with horrific metaphor, but I'll leave that alone for now), until it occurred to me that Mother Teresa died in 1997. Yeah, right after Princess Diana. I mean, I know that it's OK to take a little poetic license with this stuff, but the writer has Mortensen strutting his stuff triumphantly all over the Pakistani mountain ridges in 1997...guess it didn't fit in with the narrative arc that Mother Teresa had the indecency to die 3 years too early for Mortensen to mourn her loss at the same time he's reached his own personal crisis of faith.

Wow this sounds bitter. I guess my ultimate point is this: I believe in community-driven development. I believe that education and other related iniatives create stronger societies and really work to promote peace and alleviate violence and terror. But for such an important topic, I really feel that Mortensen deserved a writer who could be more objective and yes, gasp!, critical at times. I am left disbelieving in this foundation, and I am skeptical of its management and practices. I am wary of those who claim to forge the solutions for all in one single bound. I hope that I read another account of Mortensen that changes my mind. This book did little for me but make me despair for the unmentioned NGOs and others who are working (likely) toward the same goal in the same region, without the benefit of collaboration with this Mortensen's access to resources.

Oh yeah, and I resent the book jacket referring to Mortensen as a "real-life Indiana Jones." sheesh.
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02/26/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-42 of 42) (42 new)

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message 1: by Skylar (new) - added it

Skylar Burris "Every journalist has a book inside him, which is an excellent place for it."

Who said that?

Well, this guy proved it.

message 2: by Cat (last edited Dec 22, 2008 09:58AM) (new)

Cat Your review was awesome. Thanks for sparing me from pastry-dangling skies.

message 3: by Rachel (new)

Rachel I am supposed to read this book for a book club, but I'm having a very hard time reading it due to the writing. I don't think I've ever read a book with so many clunky, confusing, poorly worded metaphors and run-on sentences such as the one about the man sitting as Buddha and the pastry that dangled from the sky, and it makes it hard to follow the actual story, which is a real shame, because the story in itself of a former football player, trauma nurse, and avid mountain climber who tries to climb K2 in an effort to memorialize his beloved late sister who bravely battled a debilitating illness and died young, but then the man fails his attempt to reach the summit of the majestic K2 and is taken in by some kind people in a remote Pakistan village, and decides to repay their kindness by building a school, which turns out to be a better way of honoring his sister's memory, is actually a pretty interesting story. (That is a sentence in the author's style of writing.)
I don't know who said the journalist quote, but it's a good one. This story might have been better as a long magazine article, rather than a book. (Another good quote: I believe it was Truman Capote who said, "This isn't writing, it's typing.")

message 4: by Michel (new)

Michel B. Yep, like Cat said, many thanks for your review. I know I would never have gotten around the writing to get to the story - as good, important, touching as it may be. Thanks for sparing me the frustration & cash.

message 5: by Nick (new)

Nick i dare say, i can basically only agree with the halfway through due to lack of good. pastry thing was funny. i only liked the funny randm things in it, like the "you won't curse word to mexico, smoke, and do your girlfriend?" i kept reading due to that, but i really lost interest.

Sarah I share your frustration and I only read about a quarter of the damn book! Happy ranting!

Rachel I have to agree. I loved the premise of the book and what Mortensen did so much that I still gave the book 5 stars. The book took me a really long time to read, when usually I finish books in a couple of days, and I couldn't figure out why until I realized it was because of how hard the writing was. So great review!

Stephanie I couldn't finish it. The writing was atrocious. Kudos to anyone who was able to wade through that mess.

Shauna I'm a total stranger, saying thank you for nailing this on the head. I hated this book so much, and felt so bad for hating it. How did so many people even finish the stupid thing?

message 10: by Karen (last edited Jan 31, 2010 12:01PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Karen Well, now I don't feel so badly about disliking this book so much. "Everyone" raved about it. I just could not get past the clumsy writing and poor editing; the dramatized scenes and allusions that this guy may well be "Father Teresa." Plus, there almost needed to be a glossary of terms. It sounded like it was one giant testimonial. And it bugged the tar out of me that he traipsed about like a man without a wife and two children, putting himself in harm's way assuming "Tara would make them understand" if he was killed. Not sure how it was he was able to converse in so many languages, either.
I appreciated his ability to see a need and try to fulfill it, and the message of peace starting with education.

message 11: by Rachel (last edited Feb 08, 2010 12:57PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Rachel HA! I read your review after submitting mine ... and we are so similar! I guess I never read your review because of the "spoiler alert." Also, check my quotes in Daniel's review. Was there anybody editing this book, or did they just rubber-stamp it and send it out? Perhaps reading it gave the editor too much of a headache, such that she threw her hands up in the air, and said, "OK, Fine! All of these terrible passages will take too long to fix! Let's just send it out!"

Here's my review ...

And here's Daniel's review, where I posted some quotes, as I was reading ....


If you enjoy laughing at bad writing, you may find this entertaining!

message 12: by Rachel (last edited Feb 08, 2010 12:58PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Rachel Stephanie wrote: "I couldn't finish it. The writing was atrocious. Kudos to anyone who was able to wade through that mess."

YAY! Kudos to me! :) Yes, I finished it. I can't say it's something I'm proud of doing, however, as I don't like to think of myself as a masochist.

message 13: by Deanna (new)

Deanna I admire you for struggling through it. Myself I give an author 2 -3 chapters and if I don't like it, it's over. There are way too many good books out there that I don't have enough time to read, that I am not going to waste time reading the poor ones.

message 14: by Karen (new) - rated it 1 star

Karen You're absolutely right, Deanna!

Lauren I couldn't agree more and am so glad I'm not alone in this.

Amazing accomplishments.

Terrible, terrible writing.

message 16: by Kylie (new) - added it

Kylie I'm so glad I am not the only one! I started to wonder if anyone had actually read the book (several people recommended it to me) or if they just liked the idea of the book. I tried to read it and tried to listen to it and just could.not.finish.

Thanks for your review!

message 17: by Peggy (new) - added it

Peggy Whew!!! Off the hook! Ditto to so many other responses, feeling like something was wrong with me, feeling like I needed to put my nose to the grindstone (speaking of poor writing), etc! Now I feel I can retire this unfinished book to the nether shelves, swap list, etc... Yea, Mortenson! Glad you did what you did; next time get a BETTER 2nd writer to help you on your book.

Nirene I couldn't agree more. Great review!

Lghamilton This is on my list of "all time hates." Good to see I'm not alone!

Sandra I thought I was the only one who was going through this! This book is so slow & boring, great review!

message 21: by Sara (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sara I too haven't finished the book because of the writing...put it down three years ago and haven't picked it back up

message 22: by Evan (new) - rated it 1 star

Evan I love this review because it really expresses how I feel about this book. LOVED his mission. Though, I hear that has been a bit fabricated see the book: Three cups of Deceit by John Krakauer. I haven't read it, but sounds like this book is actually worse than just the writing if Krakauer is after him.
I was sad to put it down, but once I did I never missed it. So much fluff, no wonder this book is 350 pages long. It basically talks about every time he went to the bathroom in Pakistan.
The co-author's worship of Mortenson is creepy. He probably things that Mortenson was able to polish off Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan as well as educate the children.
After reading this review, I realize that this book DID suck. It's not me just struggling to read it. Hopefully goodreads makes a "unreadable" category.

message 23: by Nicole (new)

Nicole "Oh yeah, and I resent the book jacket referring to Mortensen as a "real-life Indiana Jones."
You are so right! Indiana Jones definetly doesn't deserve that! :D
You review actually made me laugh for like 10 minutes... I totally agree, when i started reading this book i thought "interesting topic... should be good" But no, I only made it to chapter 4...

message 24: by Ruth (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth huh. there was a recent special on 60 minutes on greg mortenson, and it explained that 3COT had a lot of errors. am i surprised? no, not at all!

message 25: by Nora (new) - rated it 1 star

Nora I had to teach this book last year to college freshmen. It was excruciating! The clumsy prose, inaccuracies, misspellings, lousy editing and overall shambling mess really had me questioning the committee that chose it! Reading the above is oddly validating...

Zainab Al-Sammak This is exactly what i felt .. I didnt continue reading it !

message 27: by Tracy (new) - rated it 1 star

Tracy I really enjoyed your thoughts on this book, especially your last paragraph. It's spot on.

message 28: by barbara (new)

barbara I couldn't get through it...I felt kind of bad about that. Now I feel vindicated. (and wanting to read Jon Krakauer's)

message 29: by Sarah (new) - rated it 1 star

Sarah i totally agree....i applaud the guy for his mission and all that, but the book was terrible. the run-on sentences were crazy. i had to keep re-reading everything because i had no idea what was being said. i couldnt finish the book, which is rare for me.

message 30: by Amie (new) - rated it 1 star

Amie Secor If only my common sense and respect for self were stronger than my OCD and apparent need to finish the damn thing...

message 31: by Christina (new) - added it

Christina I heard this was a great book and with it being such a great cause I hate saying this, but I am struggling getting past the first chapter. I had to put it down and move on to another book.

message 32: by Hanna (new)

Hanna Scott Oh oh. I am on p 34 of 340 and it's not looking good for completion. I am going to have to agree on the writing side.

Nicola I've never agreed with a review as much as this one. Fantastic! You articulated my frustrations with this book perfectly.

Allegra Schünemann brilliant review!!! i completely agree. (nice comments too, people)

message 35: by Lindsey (new)

Lindsey Sadly, I need to write a 12 paragraph essay about how this book symbolizes government, in a week, and I haven't even started reading it... Your review helped me realize how miserable I will be. Thank you for honestly writing a review, I totally agree with the struggling to finish it part, I am on page three and am already having my doubts!

message 36: by Laura (new) - rated it 1 star

Laura Heather you are SPOT ON! I'm drudging through the muddy waters of this book and I'm considering not even finishing it. The writing style is not my favorite and with all of the controversy in years past, this book just seems to make Mortensen out to be an "American Hero." This is definitely not the case. Thank you for this review!

Rachel Yes, I thought all of these exact things.

message 38: by D (new)

D Totally agree. AWFUL! I think I got 20 pages in before abandoning it.

message 39: by Audrey (new) - added it

Audrey Cleveland I agree. The book is overloaded with "Mortenson." I feel as though all I'm reading is his name. I have nothing against him, but the writing is agitating.

Christy Ugh yes yes yes! This was my test-run audiobook for the Overdrive app, and by the time the first 2 minutes of the introduction were read to me I thought there was no way I could stand to listen to the drivel of an entire book of hero worship from somebody who acknowledged he was a journalist unable to maintain an objective point of view. And I was sick of Mortenson's name before I hit chapter one.

message 41: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah Elizabeth Oh my gosh. The writing drove me NUTS. So many run on sentences. I had to force myself to finish it. The second I was done it hit the donation pile.

Lisbeth R I had to read this book for an english class 4 years ago. We all HATED this book. The worst thing is that his approx. 10 years old daughter recorded a promotional song for the book. This whole thing is horrendous.

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