Brien'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 07, 2009

really liked it
Read from February 22 to November 26, 2010

** spoiler alert ** {Edited from an earlier comment.}
I liked the first two thirds of the book. When it was just about helping the villagers and building the school, it was pretty good.
As I read the book, for the first part I kept wondering how what he was going to get done to be the basis for a book. The second part I wondered what were the keys to the success. He provides his own insight when he says, "Education is the key. . ." A lot of folks have latched on to this sentiment. I think the narrative of his book argues the opposite. Mr. Mortensen had no degrees in education, construction, or project management. He had attended no formal language training or any cultural programs. So if education is the key, he should have failed. This may a good time to point out that some of history's worst regimes were also some of its best educated, so although education may provide thrust it doesn't necessarily provide the right direction.
My take on the true "keys" to his success and well success in general is a little different. First, don't be too busy to notice your neighbor's need or problems in general. He had lots of freetime while he recovered in Korphe after his failed K2 attempt. Most of us never see needs because we are too busy to notice. If we do notice, we think we are too busy to even start fixing whatever problem we find. The second key is well, Mortensen! If you throw yourself at a project with unimaginable determination and superior integrity coupled with superhuman selflessness you got better than even odds at sucess. I know of few people who would work so hard with so little chance for success. Pretty inspiring because it really comes down to a personal choice to not quit, no matter what. Finally, the most important key is PROVIDENCE. I stopped counting after about six MIRACLES and there were a lot more. Miracle ONE: dragging a near dead climber off of K2 successfully without getting killed yourself. It continues. Getting lost on a glacier is generally fatal; he lived. Wandering into the wrong village in central Asia can be fatal; he found comfort. So after those two odd events, he somehow works out that the village wants a school and he decides that is what he should do. Am I the only person that thought that was a little odd for climber who just failed to climb his mountain? This is profoundly different path than Sir Hillary took to help the Tibetans. My favorite miracle is when no one shows up to his talk in the sporting good store (one person stops by and leaves) and he finds a $10K contribution while cleaning up that restores his entire plan. I kept wanting him to comment on his take for his remarkable good fortune, but he never provides insight into what he owed it. That would be the one question I would ask him if I met him.
The last part of the book is less satisfying. His praise of Muslims was just odd. He praised a Muslim religious court for allowing him to build schools for Muslims. Really? Wow, what an open society. He pointed out in that same section that his religious defense team was quick to point out that he never told anyone about Jesus Christ. Apparently, they had nothing to worry about, Mortensen seems very agnostic and sensitive to assimilate into their culture. Then he goes on to decry internments at Gitmo without open hearings. He concludes the Pakistanis demonstrate justice better than we do. That sentiment is just not thought through very well. I seriously doubt that Mr. Mortenson would appreciate those detainees being released near any of his schools. If any of the detainees in Gitmo showed half of the respect for our culture as Mr. Mortenson showed for Islam, I doubt they would be detainees.
I have tremendous respect for what Mr. Mortenson has done, but I disagree with his conclusions based on his account of his own experiences. I put my faith in what what brought him success and not in the hope that al Qaeda will quit if we just "understand" them enough.
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