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

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The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his humanitarian campaign to use education to combat terrorism in the Taliban’s backyard

Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Tea combines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.

349 pages, Paperback

First published March 2, 2006

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About the author

Greg Mortenson

12 books1,544 followers
Greg Mortenson is the co-founder of nonprofit Central Asia Institute, Pennies For Peace, and co-author of New York Times bestseller ‘Three Cups of Tea’ (www.threecupsoftea.com) which has sold 3 million copies, been published in 39 countries, and a New York Times bestseller for three years since its January 2007 release, and Time Magazine Asia Book of The Year.

Mortenson’s new book, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan, was released by Viking on December 1st, 2009, and debuted as # 2 on the NY Times hardcover bestseller list.

As of 2010, Mortenson has established over 131 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 58,000 children, including 44,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before.

In 2009, Mortenson received Pakistan’s highest civil award, Sitara-e-Pakistan (“Star of Pakistan”) for his humanitarian effort to promote girls education in rural areas for fifteen years.

Several bi-partisan U.S. Congressional representatives twice nominated Mortenson for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and 2010.

Mortenson was born in 1957, and grew up on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (1958 to 1973). His father Dempsey, founded Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC) www.kcmc.ac.tz a hospital, and mother, Jerene, founded the International School Moshi.

He served in the U.S. Army in Germany (1977-1979), where he received the Army Commendation Medal, and later graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1983.

In July 1992, Mortenson’s sister, Christa, died from a massive seizure after a lifelong struggle with epilepsy on the eve of a trip to visit Dysersville, Iowa, where the baseball movie, ‘Field of Dreams’, was filmed in a cornfield.

To honor his sister’s memory, in 1993, Mortenson climbed Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain in the Karakoram range.

While recovering from the climb in a village called Korphe, Mortenson met a group of children sitting in the dirt writing with sticks in the sand, and made a promise to help them build a school.

From that rash promise, grew a humanitarian campaign, in which Mortenson has dedicated his life to promote education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

His work has not been without difficulty. In 1996, he survived an eight day armed kidnapping by the Taliban in Pakistan’ Northwest Frontier Province tribal areas, escaped a 2003 firefight with feuding Afghan warlords by hiding for eight hours under putrid animal hides in a truck going to a leather-tanning factory.

He has overcome two fatwehs from enraged Islamic mullahs, endured CIA investigations, and also received threats from fellow Americans after 9/11, for helping Muslim children with education.

Mortenson is entrusted to the rural communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he has gained the respect of Islamic clerics, military and militia commanders, government officials and tribal chiefs from his tireless effort to champion education, especially for girls.

He is married to Dr. Tara Bishop, a clinical psychologist, and they live with their two children in Montana.

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Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 2 books569 followers
January 19, 2008
Here are a few things I’m suspicious of:

1. A book with two authors. It’s kind of like having too many cooks in the kitchen.
2. A book in which one of the two authors is the main subject of the book.
3. A book in which even though one of the authors is the main subject of the book, the book is written in third person.
4. Cultural imperialism.

With these four suspicions in mind, I started in on Three Cups of Tea, which was my book club’s choice for this month. Mortenson is a quirky do-gooder who commits himself to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan in order to educate the poor (especially the girls) who are so often lost in the rural mountains of these isolated areas. He started his quest after stopping in a small village after failing to climb K2 in the early 1990s and since then has built over 50 schools, health centers, and women’s centers.

There were lots of things I liked about this book. First off, I love reading adventure stories about far-away places, and learning more about the variety of cultures in Islamic Pakistan and various other -stans was enough to pull me all the way through the book. I also love reading about single-minded esoteric people with crazy missions who stop at nothing to accomplish their goals. Thirdly, I love the idea of fighting the war on terror through education instead of fighting - it seems like it will be more successful long-term and way less expensive, not to mention way, way, less violent.

I’m not sure I was so hot on the book itself - the writing wasn’t interesting (and it had so many chances to be) and, more importantly, the book was terribly skewed in Mortenson’s direction. He’s referred to as a hero at least a few times a chapter and praised non-stop by the people around him. Only smaller sub-prose hints clue you in to the real negative stuff - which I’m as interested in as the positive stuff: Mortenson is kind of crazy and obsessed, he has trouble with delegating jobs to people and handling money, he unapologetically spends months and months away from his family in Montana. He seems to be hurting his health in order to continue with his cause.

Now, I think these negatives could have been dealt with well by the authors - I don’t think any hero is all good or absolutely flawless. In fact, most people who have ever accomplished great things have more than his or her share of weirdo personal problems. I would have loved for the book to explore his flaws in light of his accomplishments instead of brushing his flaws to the side and dropping the Hero-bomb over and over again.

By the end of the book, I felt pretty good about his mission in general, thought. I haven’t taken any developmental studies classes and I don’t know much about rural development, but I can’t see how building schools and educating girls could possibly hurt anything. I was impressed by the way Mortenson adapted to the Islamic culture - learning the languages, dressing the part, and even learning to pray to Allah. He didn’t seem into forcing Western ideas onto the villages, beyond simple wants to educate and equalize.

More than that, though, I was interested in learning about how the Taliban is using the same tactics as Mortenson in order to win support in these rural areas - and they are winning. They have already established tons of schools called madrassas in these places, barring women and teaching only Islam and warfare. They also offer something that is rare in these isolated areas: paid employment. If Mortenson is right, giving these people options other than joining the Taliban, and giving them schools where you learn basic skills instead of extremist propaganda, might be the best step toward a long-term solution for everyone.
Profile Image for Heather.
63 reviews52 followers
March 21, 2011
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.
Profile Image for hayden.
1,063 reviews733 followers
September 30, 2013
EDIT: Just so you guys all know, the word "Mortenson" is in the text a total of 1,943 times. That's right. 1,943.

What I wish to do so badly to this book.

0 of 5 stars

Before I get started, I just want to say that no review I could ever write ever would ever portray how much this book sucked for me. To me, Three Cups of Tea is the perfect embodiment and representation of the most tragically horrible book I've ever read.

In fact, for you today, I'm going to make a list of the 10 most tragic things in Three Cups of Tea.

The 10 Most Tragic Things In Three Cups of Tea (Not in Any Order)

1: The Stilted and Pretentious Writing
Don't even get me started on the atrocious writing. Relin is the worst possible person anyone could've ever chosen to write Mortenson's story. In fact, if someone else would have written the book, I probably would've enjoyed it a lot more. It may even have been a three-star read for me, if it wasn't written in a horrid and stilted manner. Relin describes every single thing down to the last detail. I specifically remember an entire scene dedicated to the entire biography of someone completely irrelevant to the book at all, some climber woman who was really brave and all that crap. Another two chapters were backstory and DIDN'T ADVANCE THE PLOT AT ALL. (No wonder it took me 83 days to read this book!)
The prose of the book is more purple than Barney, and I think that speaks for itself.

2: The Pacing
This book wasn't exciting at all. I felt in no way excited to read more; in fact, I couldn't have cared less. As I mentioned in the first section, Relin writes detail of every single thing (and I'm not kidding), like it really mattered what color hat his guide exiting the mountain, Mouzafer, was wearing and how many scratches it had and how long he had it and how he recalled his experiences of getting it every time he put it on. Okay, that might have been a minor exaggeration.
*snickers* I jumped up, cheered, and giggled maniacally when I was done and realized I didn't have any more hell to go through before the summer was over.

3: The Blatantly Hyperbolized Heroism
And by that, I mean how Relin writes Mortenson to be completely pretentious and how he writes this aura of perfection about him that makes him seem like Jesus descended to Earth and decided to build schools for poor and starving Middle-Eastern children. By the time I got to around page 100, I finally found Relin detailing something Mortenson wasn't good at, and I was relieved that he really wasn't the second coming of Jesus like Relin was brainwashed to believe.
If you're reading this:
Dear David Oliver-Relin,
Mr. Gregory Mortenson HAS FLAWS.
Please get this through your thick skull, since it's obvious Mortenson didn't write a word of this.
a Frustrated Reader.

4: The Length
Three Cups of Tea is 125,000 words. For those of you who have no idea how long that really is, it's longer than Twilight. Yes, it is FREAKING LONGER THAN TWILIGHT. I'm sure if the editor of this book had any common sense, it would've been condensed to AT LEAST a maximum of 85,000. So much of this book was just extended detailing and backstories that really had no relevance to what was currently going on. I really didn't care about Marina at all; I didn't care that his throat clogged up and his sexual organ swelled every time he saw her, and that he was talking to his Balti friends about her and about how beautiful she was. Did it have anything to do with the schools being built? I'll give you a hint: the answer rhymes with the word "HO" (which happens to bring Marina to mind), and it starts with an N.

5: The Lack of Reference to Balti Language
In the entirety of the book, there is a lot of Balti language used, especially in the beginning when he's adjusting to life there. The Balti words are nearly always italicized (i.e.: Inshallah), but I'd say only 1/4 of all the Balti words are defined in the text, either right next to the word or in the sentences/paragraphs that follow. Google helped me a lot over the course of the book when I actually cared about what they meant because I thought they'd help me later on. I don't even remember what my example word above means. That's how scarce definitions of the Balti language was.

6: The Sentence Length
I'm gonna get this out of the way: most of the sentences in this book wouldn't even fit in Goodreads status updates, I shit you not. Goodreads status updates can be up to 420 characters. Whole sentences are commonly over that length in this book. It'd be a HUGE pain in the butt to read aloud. I don't think I've ever read a book in the history of my life that's this stretched out.
I mean, seriously. Even the very last paragraph of the book (which is one sentence, people, and it's in #10) is completely stretched out and seems strangely perpetual and confusing and dramatic when it's not. It seems like Relin tried to create a cute ending and failed miserably (look at all those freaking commas!)

7: The Fabrications
Three Cups of Deceit How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by Jon Krakauer
Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way
These should be self-explanatory.
In fact, I'm pretty sure I would've enjoyed this book more (maybe a lot more) if I didn't know most of it was false. Knowing this makes reading it seem pointless. Why would my English teacher assign something completely fabricated and horribly written for me to read over the summer when she could've chosen much better alternatives that actually have character and aren't filled with cheesy metaphors?
I've heard the previous years' choice was Lord of the Flies, and at this point, I welcome that book in with open arms.

8: The Word "Mortenson"
The main flaw that arises in writing this book in third-person is how many times the main character's name is referenced. I mean, seriously, you couldn't have called him Greg? Just reading the name "Mortenson" after reading this book makes me shudder and feel sick to my stomach.
I actually think this book would've been better had it been written by Mortenson; the prose would've been much less purple (maybe a nice, subtle shade of periwinkle) and I'd have been able to escape the dreadful "Mortenson" that appeared at the beginning of each paragraph. I put this book on the shelf "prose-is-purple-as-barney" for a reason.
This just in: the word "Mortenson" appears 1,943 times in the text of the novel. That's right. Be warned.

9: The Painful Metaphors
Relin needs to obliviate the word "metaphor" from his vocabulary, because it doesn't truly enhance his writing, but instead makes it laugh-worthy. I write better metaphorically than him, and I'm 14 years old. Metaphors like a storage space "smelling like Africa" and the night being "bitterly crystalline" (things which still don't make sense to me) can be eliminated. Being as I, along with many others, have never been to Africa, I don't think that first metaphor should even be usable. Maybe the editor just gave up and decided he/she was done with this atrocity. (I honestly wish I had that option somewhere along the line of reading this.)

10: The Last Paragraph
Tell me, have you ever read anything more screwed up grammatically than this?
"Mortenson put his hands on the shoulders of Sadhar Khan's brown robe, as he'd done a decade earlier, among other mountains, with another leader, named Haji Ali, conscious, not of the gunmen still observing him through their sniperscopes, nor of the shahid (a word not defined) stones, warmed to amber by the sun's late rays, but of the inner mountain he'd committed, in that instant, to climb."

Can someone just shoot me now?

-The end, because I knew it was over and I wouldn't have to turn another page in it again.
-Haji Ali. Anyone who says "Sit down and shut your mouth. You're making everyone crazy" to Greg Mortenson deserves my utmost respect.
-The line "Sheeyit! Bitch ain't got but two dollars."

(When I first reviewed this book, I gave it 0.5 stars. I've realized since then that NOTHING could ever make this book worth even a half of a star, not a cute story [in certain, very sparse, parts] or a funny line or a clever character. Nothing.)


Below, I'm going to include some memorable status updates of mine and some snapshots of margin notes:

Status Update 1: ""With his ear for languages, Mortenson soon had a basic Balti vocabulary." This is what I'm sure Relin meant by this sentence: "With his astounding ability to do everything he desired, including his outstanding ear for languages, within days, Mortenson was magnificently able to develop a large and complex vocabulary of the Balti people, which he was able to speak flawlessly." That's what the rest of it is like..."

Status Update 2: "'The snout of the Baltoro Glacier lay at the bottom of a canyon, black with debris and sculpted to a point like the nose of a 747.' Really? 'Like the nose of a 747?' I don't think anyone knows what that is. I think 'like a G6' would be more relatable to modern society."

Status Update 3: "Wow. If I look past the glaring errors and factual mishaps and exaggerations and over-detailing and overused words and complete and utter bias and misused adjectives and inexplicably long sentences and blatantly hyperbolized heroism and tragic characterization, this isn't bad!"

Status Update 4: "This book has Irrefutably Biased Syndrome: "If Mortenson had known how scarce and precious sugar was to the Balti, how rarely they used it themselves, he would have refused the second cup of tea." Which, of course, is blatantly insinuating that Mortenson had the manners of a saint and was completely acceptable with leaving the sugar to the Balti. Relin is inferior."

Status Update 5: "Okay. In nonfiction, don't quotes have to be exact? There's no freakin' way Mortenson remembers everything everyone said as if it were five minutes ago."

Status Update 6: "Finally! Something Mortenson's NOT good at! *forehead wipe*"

Status Update 7: "Why does he keep going back and forth between America and Pakistan? You'd think the airfare expenses are dwindling away what little he has left of his savings. Not a very smart investment, if you ask me."

Status Update 8: "I'm going to start calling you Morty. "Dear Morty, I didn't pick this book up by choice, but if I did, I wouldn't have picked it up to hear about the prosperity of your love life. But thanks for sharing (NOT). Sincerely, A Disturbed Reader."

Status Update 9: "'Mortenson arranged to go back home and see his wife, Tara, whom was expected to deliver their first child within a month. He gets kidnapped by misunderstanding people. Mortenson is rescued by kind men who arrange a party thrown in his occasion and who give him money for his schools to be built.' That was the value of the entire twenty-page chapter. Literally. And you wonder why I hate this book?"

Status Update 10: "Aw! That was a cute scene. (That's probably all the positive you'll get about this book.)"

Status Update 11: ""'I promise,' Mortenson said, adding the burden of another vow to the weighty collection of oaths old men kept making him take." That might just be the most clever line I've read thus far."

Status Update 12: "Dang! Morty just reached into some chick's uterus."

Status Update 13: "Chocolate would help right now. Chocolate always helps."

MARGIN SNAPSHOTS: Photos Taken of Memorably Cruel Comments

Profile Image for Daniel.
203 reviews
May 23, 2008
While it's hard to give a negative review to a book with its heart in the right place, "Three Cups of Teas" is so full of weaknesses it'd be impossible to give it a rating with any more stars. In fact, the book's writing style alone is so poor, I feel generous giving it even two stars.

Though the work Greg Mortenson is doing -- building schools in impoverished parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan sorely in need of them -- is certainly laudable, his mission seems ill-served by "Three Cups." The book, billed as being coauthored by Mortenson and David Oliver Relin but obviously written by Relin alone, is so worshipful of Mortenson and the work he has done, the reader almost begins to feel Relin is being defensive. Did someone at one time attack Mortenson's good name? Is this the defense's argument? It seems that on almost every other page Relin rolls out yet another person -- "Into Thin Air" author Jon Krakauer, Congresswoman Mary Bono, people Mortenson's worked with -- to talk about how wonderful a person he is, how deserving he is of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Beyond that, there's simply not enough material here for a full-length book. Entire sections feel like padding that do nothing more than get the story to book length. (Pages and pages about a failed relationship Mortenson had before he met his wife, for instance, are almost entirely tangential.) The story would have made a good profile in "The New Yorker" or "The New York Times Magazine," but there's simply not enough material here to justify a 350-page book.

It also doesn't help that there's almost nothing here about how the education Mortenson's schools are giving to boys and girls is actually affecting life in their villages -- or if it is. Granted, it's probably too early to see many results, but is that not also an argument that this story is not quite book-worthy? Maybe Mortenson and Relin needed to wait another 10 years before telling their story.

So far, though, I've ignored "Three Cups"'s writing. Bad and often inappropriate puns, failed attempts to be poetic, and clunky, overwrought sentences make the book particularly hard to get through. It got to the point that I began writing down particularly egregious sentences. Here are a few from my notes:

"Mortenson sat on a boulder and drank from his water bottle until it was empty. But he couldn't drink in enough of this setting."

"As they drove past the scale model of the mountain where Pakistan had detonated its `Muslim Bomb,' Mortenson told his friend and fixer about the explosion of support Americans had provided for the CAI." (Get it? Bomb, explosion? Feel free to groan.)

"He leaned over the side of the truck to request a stop and saw the top of the bearish assistant's close-cropped head stretching out the window, and beyond it, straight down fifteen hundred feet to the bottom of the rocky gorge, where a coffee-colored river foamed over boulders." (Wow, the assistant's head stretched down fifteen hundred feet to the bottom of the gorge? Tell me more about this guy.)

"When Haji Ali handed him a cup of butter tea, Mortenson drank it with something similar to pleasure." (So it wasn't pleasure then? What is this something that's similar to pleasure?)

"The widely spaced streams of tracers leaped across the road like ellipses. But to Mortenson, who wouldn't learn his friends had survived until the following week, when he returned to Kabul, they looked more like question marks." (Talk about tortured metaphors. Ouch.)

This may seem like nitpicking, but these types of sentences occur throughout the whole book. (I easily filled five pages of a small notepad with only the worst of the worst.) Mortenson's story is worth telling, but I wish he'd found a better way -- and a better writer -- to tell it.
Profile Image for Katharine Klevinskas.
186 reviews9 followers
March 28, 2008
I'm about in the middle of Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin and I'm ready to quit. First of all because when I just typed my first sentence here, I realized how sick I am of the words "Greg Mortenson". Half way through the book and the author is still immortalizing him by full name. I'm not a big fan of non-fiction but I've read plenty of third person accounts and don't remember this being so irritating in all of them.

Greg (smile) built schools in the high mountains in Pakistan. Huge endeavor. Wonderful thing to do. He innocently jumped in and pretty much wore himself out before he got to be a corporation with a steady income. My favorite part was him renting a typewriter to send out begging letters -- took him all day to type half a dozen letters. Then someone took pity on him and introduced him to the world of computers. He was thrilled with the 'cut and paste' keys. I get a thrill just thinking about one or two people getting involved and making changes that count. ....However, I found the writing sophmoric and I hate that. The book is two damn long, the discriptions are clumsy & too damn long and the characterization is almost non-existent.

A lot of people really enjoyed this book, so I'm not saying don't bother. It is inspiring and I truly respect the man & what he did. It's a shame it wasn't written well. For me, this book would have been a perfect National Geograpic article -- more pictures; far less words.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,146 reviews501 followers
June 9, 2015

When starting out this book I was unaware of the controversy fueled by a hungry press to bring down a humanitarian philanthropist in their usual dog-eats-dog modus operandi.

I simply read a book by an adventurer who wanted to honor the memory of his sister in climbing K2 - the second highest mountain in the world. He not only honored his sister, but in the end honored thousands of helpless little girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan by building schools in remote places and changing their lives forever.

I worked with people such as Mr. Mortenson. I worked for many years in many similar remote communities in Africa (He worked in Pakistan and Afganistan). I could totally relate to the experiences and stories he shared. I fully understand the problems he experienced, the expectations, the impossible viability of many of these dreams by poor, remote communities. I have seen the work these organizations have done in very difficult situations. I observed the press building up a person, preparing for the biggest destruction-heist(their actual aim) to sell newspapers and airtime. I might be crucified for being this outspoken, but I am used to the consequences.

The fact remains, Mr. Mortenson DID help thousands of girls getting educated, and he DID build schools where there were no schools or hope of education before. He DID accomplish with books what bombs could not achieve. He taught the world a lesson in peacemaking that should never be forgotten.

It doesn't matter if he built three or a three hundred schools. It doesn't matter if he spent lots of money promoting his non-profit organization. He simply did not know the potholes in the road of fame. He did not seek fame, he was made famous by a hungry scandal-seeking media, and they made sure they found it.

His co-author was a journalist. A million words was reduced to three hundred thousand by a journalist. The fact that his co-author was a journalist, explains why the facts were converted to sensationalism to sell the book.

Does it really matter that he did not get lost and found a small village of people whom he promised a school? Does it matter that he visited the village a second time and made the promise then? Does it matter that he was not kidnapped?

Perhaps yes. A major faux pas. It was the two elements in his story that provided a foothold for the media to dig his grave. The fact remains, he still built relationships in these countries defying the general impression of Americans as evil people. He proved the critics of America wrong. His enemies hated him for the good work he was/is doing, and they made sure they take a good man down. He is not a villain, he is still a hero.

Greg Mortenson is an average person who grew up in Africa as the son of Lutheran missionaries; was a misfit in America(Minnesota) due to calling himself a white African; have a heart bigger than the world and politics; left everything behind to make a difference in this world. And what a huge difference it is! Apart from helping thousands of girls, he also changed the image of America in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He changed the image of these two countries in America, by writing his books and doing the talk/lecture-rounds. That is major accomplishments! The problem now is, that the people who understand dare not speak out. The hungry mobs are bulldozing their own sensational truths through the universe, prohibiting the real truth to expose them.

I admire him as a person and for the work he has done. THERE, BY THE GRACE OF GOD, GOES A MAN!

May he rise above his mistakes and his critics. May he continue with the work he is doing. The world needs people like Greg Mortenson. They are one in a billion.

I have nothing to lose by calling a spade a spade. This man needs objective people with an objective observation on the situation. I can only hope that my opinion can mean something. He needs real friends now.

Profile Image for Petra left her heart in Miami.
2,405 reviews34k followers
June 2, 2015
Another book disappeared from my shelves. I also read Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, Krakauer's excellent expose of the ego and lies of Mortenson because I had read it. The book was totally self-serving. Mother Teresa couldn't have written better. Ok I'm not a fan of Mother Teresa, I'm don't quite swallow whole Hitchen's The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, but close. And so it is with Mortenson. He turned personal charity and what should have been morality into a business and more, opportunity for fame, self-aggrandisement and general hero/saint status. Krakauer, like Hitchens, is an iconoclast by nature and sometimes by profession.

We despise the gutter press, those tabloids that seem to exist to knock people down, but they have a place. One better occupied by intelligent writing that relies less upon our gut reaction and more about our understanding of facts and process. But still the gutter press (Dailymail.co.uk chief among them now the News of the World dug it's own grave and fell backwards into it) do their research and present the same conclusions.

Is it schadenfreude that makes me like books like this? Am I really so immature as to like to see people's feet of clay crumbling beneath them? Or is it a burning desire for justice? Perhaps a mixture of both.


I have about 3K books on my shelves. The ones that have disappeared represent less than 0.5% that I know about. How many more though? And how many people does this "bug" affect. Librarians? Amazon imports? Who knows? GR doesn't seem to do anything about it but maybe they can't track the 'bug' down because it is done by people rather than computer programs.
Profile Image for Meredith.
3,337 reviews59 followers
January 26, 2018
Three Cups of Tea is one of the worst books I've ever been forced to read. From the first page of this memoir, the ghostwriter's sickening tone of hero worship has Greg Mortenson healing the sick, making the lame walk, and performing superhumanly selfless acts on a daily basis since his earliest childhood. Luckily, the author stops short of having Mortenson deliver his wife's baby and walking on water. What was probably intended to be an uplifting tale about how even the smallest among us can change the world (think Frodo in the Lord of the Rings) reads as a nauseating self–congratulatory chronicle that celebrates the type of globetrotting do-gooding considered by many to be part of "The White Savior Industrial Complex" that is actually counterproductive.

If you want to read about someone doing truly inspirational humanitarian work with the dirt poor in Asia, then research Sabriye Tenberken and the organization Braille Without Borders that she founded. She has also penned her own memoir My Path Leads to Tibet: The Inspiring Story of How One Young Blind Woman Brought Hope to the Blind Children of Tibet.
Profile Image for Sharon.
4 reviews8 followers
September 16, 2007
I approached this book with some reservation. If nothing else several years of study in Development Studies has made me very wary of "do-gooders". As others have noted, there is a strong element of imperialism in the idea of of an American's mission to "fight terrorism and build nations" and I was quite ready to be critical about it.
However I am happy to admit I really enjoyed and was inspired by the book. As Relin writes- "Supposedly objective reporters are at risk of being drawn into his orbit... The more time I spent watching Mortenson work, the more convinced I became that I was in the presence of something extraordinary." Mortenson appears to have a genuine humanitarian motivation and a deep affection for the people he works with.
I was surprised as I read the book to note that many of the paper lessons I learned about "doing development" were the lessons Mortenson learned through his work and his mistakes. "Participation" is one of the biggest buzzwords in development today and this is what Mortenson learned, and one hopes, how CAI continues to practise. This is what the three cups of tea is all about.
I do however a have a few niggles with the book. While acknowledging it was never written as a academic text I found the overwhelming positivity somewhat unrealistic. Whereever "outsiders" come in to do development or aid work, there are both positive and negative consequences, one just hopes the positive outweigh the negative. I believe in this case it does, but a more rounded discussion of the work would have been good.
And there is, possibly unavoidably, a touch of imperialism. Mortenson is American. He started out as a penniless individual who wanted to help but he now leads a growing organisation with a significant budget. I hope he continues to maintain the relationships that take this organisation above being just another development project.
Overall, I highly recommend this book, taken with just the tinest little grain of salt to aid digestion.
Profile Image for Jessica (thebluestocking).
911 reviews20 followers
September 25, 2019
Three Cups of Tea contains a hint of a beautiful story. There were parts that made me tear up. Some of the parts that made me tear up were touching; other parts that made me tear up were painfully written.

Greg Mortenson is really an American hero. His work in Pakistan and Afghanistan is truly amazing. David Oliver Relin is an American journalist. His work, at least on this book, is not so heroic. The following are some of my favorite, terrible sentences from the book:

“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.” (p. 206)

“And rippling out from Mortenson’s headquarters in Skardu, over the parched dunes, through the twisting gorges, and up the weather bound valley of Baltistan, the legend of a giant infidel called Dr. Greg was likewise growing.” (p. 210)

“In the fall of 2003, at the desk of his aviation company in Rawalpindi, as he tried to arrange a flight for Mortenson to Afghanistan, now that the CAI’s work in Pakistan was on firm enough footing for him to leave, Bhangoo’s boss, the bull-like Brigadier General Bashir Baz, ruminated on the importance of educating all of Pakistan’s children, and the progress America was making in the war on terror.” (p. 310)

As the above sentences might indicate, the writing in this book was painful, to say to the least. Some of the folks on Amazon suggested skimming through most of the book. I don’t know if that is necessary, but it might save you a few tears.

UPDATE: I read Three Cups of Deceit and no longer believe that Mortenson is a hero. I stand by my review of the writing in this book. My review of Three Cups of Deceit can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....
Profile Image for Danielle.
790 reviews387 followers
February 2, 2021
2011 F.A.B. Bookclub pick # I.❤️. F.A.B.

While I praise the efforts of this man and all he’s done, I was shaking my head at many parts. Especially after he was married and had a child, to put himself in harms way was a bit crazy. But thank goodness he found the right people to help his journey pay off.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews55.9k followers
October 7, 2019
Three Cups Of Tea, Greg Mortenson
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time is a controversial book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin published by Penguin in 2007. The book's title was inspired by a saying Haji Ali shared with Mortenson: "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family..."
In 1993, mountaineer Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, located in the Karakoram range of Gilgit-Baltistan, as a way of honoring the memory of his deceased sister, Christa. As a memorial, he had planned to lay her amber necklace on the summit of K2. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers had their ascent interrupted by the need to complete a 75-hour life-saving rescue of a fifth climber. After getting lost during his descent, alone, he became weak and exhausted. Instead of arriving in Askole, where his porters awaited, he came across Korphe, a small village built on a shelf jutting out from a canyon. He was greeted and taken in by the chief elder of Korphe, Haji Ali. Mortenson soon found out that the village had no school. To repay the remote community for their hospitality, Mortenson recounted in the book that he promised to build a school for the village. After difficulties in raising capital, Mortenson was introduced to Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer who donated the money that Mortenson needed for his school. In the last months of his life, Hoerni co-founded the Central Asia Institute, endowing the CAI to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. According to the book, Mortenson faced many daunting challenges in his quest to raise funds for the building of more than 55 schools in Taliban territory. Some of these challenges included death threats from Islamic mullahs, long periods of separation from his family, and being kidnapped by Taliban sympathizers.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هفتم ماه اکتبر سال 2010 میلادی
عنوان: سه فنجان چای؛ نویسنده: گرگ مورتنسون‌، دیوید الیور رلین؛ مترجم: شهرزاد بیات‌موحد؛ ‏‫کرج‬‏‫: ‏‫دردانش بهمن‬‬‏‫، ‏‫1387؛ در هشت و 449 ص؛ مصور، نقشه، شابک: 9789641740742؛ عنوان روی جلد: سه فنجان چای: ماموریت مردی برای گسترش صلح هر بار یک مدرسه؛ موضوع: مدرسه‌های دخترانه -- پاکستان و افغانستان؛ کمکهای بشر دوستانه؛ از نویسندگان ایالات متحده امریکا - سده 21 م
عنوان: سه فنجان چای: ماموریت یک مرد در مبارزه با تروریسم و اتحاد بین ملت‌ها هر بار یک مدرسه؛ نویسنده: گرگ مورتنسون؛ مترجم: بیتا مهربان؛ تهران: نشر گستر‏‫، 1389؛ در 451 ص؛ شابک: 9786005883190؛‬

در سال 1993 میلادی، کوهنوردی به نام «گرگ مورتنسون»، پس از صعودی ناموفق به «کی‌دو»، به شکل اتفاقی از دهکده‌ ای محروم در پاکستان گذر می‌کند. او تحت تاثیر مهربانی ساکنان آن‌جا قول می‌دهد، که برگردد و مدرسه‌ ای در روستا بسازد. سه فنجان چای، ماجرای این قول و پیامدهای شگفت‌انگیز آن است. ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Susan.
70 reviews3 followers
December 1, 2007
Having lived and worked in Pakistan for many years, and travelled to many of the places described, I enjoyed this book as a 'fun read.' I think it is very helpful for people who only have access to information about the country through mainstream media to see a side of the people, especially poor people in rural areas who are not very educated who many in the west assume to be fundamentalists, that more accurately reflects their culture: their hospitality, their concern for the future of their children - including their daughters - and that their society, like ours, is not homogeneous. For many this book will be eye opening about the very real and human side of a country most equate with training grounds for Al-Qaeda.

However, I felt the book had two flaws: (i) the co-author is a tad bit too enamoured with his subject which leads to considerable hyperbole; and (ii) this one man's story needs to be put in a much larger context of all the people working in Pakistan to try to educate children. This includes large numbers of committed and hard-working Pakistanis, local and international NGOs, and other individuals. I've known people, including women, who have slept in trucks outside village walls deep in rural Balochistan or Frontier Province for days and weeks to meet with the villagers about starting girls' schools, and worked on one village at a time much like Mortenson. Networks of many community schools have been started this way.

This is not to detract from his success. If more people could establish just a few schools with good teachers and enough learning materials, links to higher levels of learning (like the children who went on to school in Skardu and Gilgit and later returned to contribute to their village), the country might just be transformed. One village at a time.
Profile Image for Heidi.
473 reviews21 followers
December 13, 2007
I had the honor of presenting the author, David Oliver Relin, at our library book group.

Greg Mortenson failed to climb K2, and while he headed back down the mountain, he took a wrong turn, missed his bridge, and found himself in Korphe, a village not found on his maps. (Ridges in the glacier are as big as highways.) The people there welcomed him and brought him back to health. He happened to ask them to take him to their school. There was none. The children met under the cold sky and used sticks to write in the dirt. From that point he made it his mission to bring schools to those remote mountain villages in Afghanistan.

Before they wanted a school, the villagers wanted a bridge so they could build the school. That bridge not only helped bring the school, it changed the lives of the women in the small village. David Relin told us when a woman leaves her family to live with her husband, she may never see them in her life again. One ridge in these mountains might as well be a hundred miles. This little bridge allowed them to visit their families on a weekly basis.

Excerpts, an interview, and audio with Mortenson can be found on Beliefnet here.

David said CAI will never be like Mercy Corps. It is an example of the kinds of organizations we need. Still, compared to Saudi oil money (that funds the Taliban madrassas), it is a drop in the bucket.

David had talked to all kinds of groups in the previous several months. No matter the group, everybody is fed up with the war in Iraq and the "war on terror." He said, "The enemy is not Osama, Sadaam, the enemy is ignorance. We're going after the wrong enemy." He said we need to turn our attention to the root causes of terrorism, poverty and the need for education. One of the things we could do to counter our own ignorance is to "try to remain sensitive to the phrase over there." So much of what passes for news encompasses anything in the Middle East as "over there." Any bad thing is "over there."

An important piece about Afghani politics: the Taliban are thugs and gangsters who want payback. They don't really care whether girls are learning. This surfaced in the book about one of the fatwas put on Greg's head: the local gangster just wanted some kickback.

While David keeps himself out of the book, in the beginning, he does chronicle his first hairy helicopter ride piloted by Brigadier General Bhangoo, who had been Pakistan President Musharraf's personal pilot. He told us that sadly, General Bhangoo had died in a plane crash several months before this October talk. The man was flying an ultralight around K2, intending to fly it around the world.

Other tidbits: David's main translator was Ghulam Parvi, a "personal repository of Balti culture." Freaky moment: ibex head in the helicoptor. If I remember right, it was someone's illicit dinner. Ibex are protected, but, um, General Bhangoo had his connections.

The teachers in the schools are graduates of the schools. They have an equivalent of a 5th or 6th grade education, but that is what the villages need. They then get teacher training workshops during the summers. The 2005 earthquake zones "are still a nightmare." CAI dropped tents at the sites of the schools that crumbled. If someone wishes to sponsor one school, David told us, CAI asks for $50,000. That's $25,000 to build it, and $25,000 to keep it running and in supplies for a decade.

I thought this summed up the wise simplicity of the people that Mortenson grew to love:

No human, nor any living thing, survives long under the eternal sky. The most beautiful women, the most learned men, even Mohammed, who heard Allah's own voice, all did wither and die. All is temporary. The sky outlives everything. Even suffering. ~Bowa Johar, Balti poet, and grandfather of Mauzafer Ali.
Profile Image for Debbi.
10 reviews3 followers
February 9, 2008
I wish goodreads had a 10-star rating for this book. Anyone who has ever wanted to make a difference, anyone who has ever dreamed the impossible dream of a diverse world living together in peaceful coexistence, anyone who has ever feared their own small voice was too small a drop in the bucket to matter -- MUST read this book, and then share it and its message with everyone you know. (NOTE: buy through the link at http://www.threecupsoftea.com/Intro.php, and you will be sending 7% of the cost back to this amazing charity.) The book is fascinating, inspirational and informative on so many levels -- exciting action story, moving human drama, exotic travelogue, social action miracle, bird's eye view of contemporary history in the making in the world's most complex and volatile region, a revelation of the tenaciousness and power of the human spirit under the most destructive conditions. For the first time, I have a basic understanding of the roots of conflicts in central Asia, and how the very land and landscape (and their role in outside powers' self-serving political decisions) have helped to shape today's Pakistan and Afghanistan (enough of a reason right there to read this book). But the real MIRACLE of this book is that this is all done through the mind-boggling true story of one man's miraculous mission, and seen at ground level through the eyes and souls of those who call these lands home, in such a way that these foreign places and people feel as intimate as sisters and brothers -- which, in fact, as this story makes clear, they are. The book follows GREG MORTENSON (who has my vote, along with many others', for the next Nobel Peace Prize) from his unexpected life-saving encounter with the hospitality and generosity of a remote village in Baltistan (northern Pakistan) through his fulfillment of a grateful promise to come back and build a school for this tiny, poor community -- and on through the unfolding of an incredible mission (so incredible you can hardly believe it's nonfiction) to bring nonsectarian education and basic humanitarian aid to tiny villages throughout remote, war-torn and povertry-stricken areas throughout northern Pakistan and, eventually, Afghanistan. If for no other reason, please, PLEASE, read this book for its empowering message of the earth-shaping, history-altering power that begins with a SINGLE PERSON (you, me!) -- but can leverage the hearts and hands of millions to move mountains toward a common good. I have read dozens of eloquent pleas for and dreams of world peace -- but NEVER have I read so shockingly concrete a story of planting its actual seeds -- never have I been so moved to feel global peace can actually be more than mere dream.

Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
May 20, 2020
I was browsing in an old bookshop when I noticed this book.Young Pakistani girls with books in their hands.I bought it and I read it in a single sitting.

I found it very interesting because it was about Pakistan and places I knew.At first glance,
the story was so uplifting and heartwarming.The book was full of good deeds and selfless humanitarianism.

I had never heard of or read about Greg Mortensen.Pakistani media had certainly not mentioned him.But it seemed that he was quite a big deal in the US.

He had been given a million dollars by a Himalaya enthusiast to start the Central Asia Institute in Pakistan and Afghanistan.(Pakistan,by the way,is in South Asia).

After that,Mortensen had started collecting donations from the US public for building schools here,and it seems the public gave generously.

He then published Three Cups of Tea and promoted it massively.The book rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists.The fund raising drive seemed unstoppable.

The storytelling seemed pretty compelling too.The way he built his first school,collecting basic materials from Rawalpindi and took them by truck to a remote Balti village,to honour his promise to the village headman that he would build his village a school.

Then,other villages heard about it.They made similar requests and Mortensen made it his life's mission to help them all.

There is also a story about how Mortensen got kidnapped while touring a remote area to build a school.That would lead to controversy later,if it was a true story.

In the final chapters,Mortensen would go to the inhosopitable,icy wilderness of Wakhan in Afghanistan.Survival is difficult but Mortensen's and the tribesmen's determination to build a school there,triumphs against the odds as well.Before the headman dies,they'd present him with a finished school.It's such a feel good story.

Along the way,he would surmount so many challenges and find good people to help him with money and good intentions.Greg Mortensen became a hero to me !

Unfortunately,outside this book,this story did not have a happy ending.

What transpired later was very unpleasant.Events in the book were alleged to be fabrications,Mortensen was alleged to have embezzled lots of money and the book's co-author committed suicide !

I haven't given this book any rating.I really liked it at first,I hated it later,especially when I read about the suicide of the co-author,David Oliver Relin.This book also made me feel very skeptical of do gooders.

Another similar name that comes to mind is that of Malala Yousafzai,who has also minted money in the name of girls' education in Pakistan.
Profile Image for Stephen Gallup.
Author 1 book58 followers
April 18, 2011
Some books I really enjoy reviewing. They’re either important, enjoyable, well-written, or some combination thereof. There are a few others I read (or start to read) that simply aren’t worth the effort of discussing at all. In a third group are books that bother me by triggering one of my pet peeves: Some may be well-written fiction, with great characters, but the author’s clear purpose is to push some kind of agenda. Others exploit children (especially disabled children) as a means of manipulating cheap emotions. Then there are books that needn’t be well-written at all but have been given some mysterious boost by the publishing world and soar to far greater acclaim than is justified by their own merits.

Three Cups of Tea is in the latter bunch. It was given to me as a gift last Christmas, and because of the subject I was eager to get into it, despite the fact that Greg Mortenson had relied on a “real” writer to interview him and pull his story together (generally not a good sign, the quality of prose being inversely proportional to the number of co-authors). I was starting to bog down with the mediocre writing that several other reviewers have noticed, but then it was announced that the author was actually coming to speak in an auditorium at my place of employment. Re-motivated, I tried again to make headway in the book, and got as far as the point where our doughty hero returns to Pakistan with funds to start building a school. On the big night, I headed over to the auditorium about half an hour early, only to discover the place had been filled to capacity for a long time. The street outside was still jammed with cars, circling in search of parking spots that weren’t there, and the security guard was warning people that they’d never get in. Turns out, the local NPR affiliate had announced the event, and somehow this particular writer generated enthusiasm like I’ve never seen before. (And I’ve been to hear quite a few prominent literary figures speak or read.)

Why the big deal? It couldn’t be the quality of the writing, which is just passable at best. (I like a reviewer’s comment that “if you actually can finish this blather, it will be as if you climbed a mountain. A long, boring mountain.”) The clue to the excitement, I guess, is on the jacket copy and in the subtitle. This may well not have been Greg Mortenson’s original thought at all. As far as I know, he was motivated only by a laudable desire to do good. (That by the way is another problem with the book: His motivations are never really explored. He’s treated as some kind of icon.) Apparently he did indeed do something remarkable, and that should be commended. But the packaging of his book suggests to me that the opinion shapers are really saying that if we only built more schools in impoverished countries as he did, and generally gave more in foreign aid, lunatics from that part of the world wouldn’t hijack airplanes and fly them into our buildings. Again, I’m inclined to believe Mortenson wasn’t thinking this way at the time, but I see he now has a blog post entitled “It Takes a School, Not Missiles.” So apparently he’s going along with the theme that is working so well.

When I was unable to get into the auditorium that night, my copy of the book went back onto my table. Several months have passed, and I’ve felt no desire to pick it up again. In fact, I just got rid of it. But unfortunately, the important thing about it is that it isn’t really a book at all, now. It became a sort of political phenomenon around a book. And that’s something altogether different. With all the copies out there, I wonder how many people actually read more of it than I did.

UPDATED to add this bit of news because, of all the book reviews I've posted, only this one has inspired people to flame me with comments. As the comments are borderline ad hominem attacks, as opposed to any kind of argument about the book's merits, as a book, I always promptly delete them. Everyone is entitled to beliefs, political and otherwise. When I write here, it's primarily about literary merit. I found little of that, and now, apparently, there's another reason to question the value of this thing.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,851 reviews16.4k followers
September 25, 2015
Reading this I was left inspired by Greg Mortenson's determination and endurance.

As a mountaineer, he was trained at focused effort, but I would submit that building schools for girls in conservative Muslim Pakistan and Afghanistan was a higher summit than he ever attempted. The later chapters are especially compelling as he was one of the rare voices of peace after 9/11 and he caught some friction for his work from a very hawkish American public.

This is written in a workmanlike, journalistic style; not great literature, but a great story. Reminds me again what a difference one man can make - like Muhammed Yunnis and Bill Couch at Right Roads and hundreds more people working hard to do some good every day.

Profile Image for Malbadeen.
613 reviews7 followers
May 1, 2008
Greg Mortisen this, Greg Mortisen that, Dr. Greg this, Dr. Greg that blah, blah, blah. This book was such a glowing endorsment for the person Greg Mortisen that I had a hard time taking in the story of what he did, because quite frankly I was getting sick of him. Which isn't necessarly fair because he wasn't telling the story so I'm not saying he's narsacistic or anything but the person telling it could have toned it down a notch or two and let us come to our conclusion, and no doubt we would have, that Greg Mortisen is a super great guy for what he did. About 2/3 of the way through I thought "oh my gosh, this sounds more like a plea for Greg Mortisen to get the nobel peace prize" than an actual book and sure enough a few chapters later they were talking about how deserving of the nobel peace prize he is. and i might agree but by the time the book was over i was feeling like, "hey, some of us get lost in Pakistan while cllimbing mountains and then return to build schools for impoverished girls that would otherwise have no future and some of us totaly always give their spare change to whatever cancer drive their doing at the grocery store. we all do something". I think i would have been more inclined to enjoy Morisen's story in a magazine article than in this extended 368 page tribute to him.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,211 followers
August 31, 2008
Such an important story . . . so distracted by the writing. The sun is not "lemony." I hope that Balti porters are not in any way like "Lear's jester." I listened to half of it on audio because I was so distracted by the way it was written, but the reader did voices and accents for everyone. Then when I picked it back up to read, all I could hear in my head for the voices were Abu from the Simpsons.

"After they'd traveled half a kilometer, he saw the firefight resume. The widely spaced streams of tracers leaped across the road like ellipses. But to Mortenson, who wouldn't learn his friends had survived until the following week, when he returned to Kabul, they looked more like question marks" (p. 325). In my book, the one way to neuter a good firefight is to compare it to punctuation. Don't get me wrong, I think it's absolutely sexy to be able to name all English forms of punctuation in under a minute, but tracers are not like question marks.

It is a tribute to the story itself that it is important enough to still make the read worth it. And, as Tracey Coleman said, "Tara Mortenson is a saint".
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,290 reviews120k followers
June 14, 2010
Greg Mortenson is a remarkable man. Product of Minnesota parents who were both athletes and then missionaries, he spent much of his childhood in Tanzania. A high-end climber he was on his way back from an unsuccessful attempt at K2, 30 pounds lighter than he had been before the attempt, when, exhausted and lost, he wound up in the remote village of Korphe. Saved from an icy demise, Mortenson recovered. When the locals showed him their village he noticed that the children had no school. They studied in an open area and were visited by a teacher who was shared with another village. Thus was born Mortenson’s life work. He would dedicate himself to bringing schools, and ultimately much more, to remote rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Three Cups of Tea tells Mortenson’s tale, a sort of coming of age for a philanthropist. But Mortenson was not so much a donator of funds. In fact, he had almost no financial resources of his own. But his single-mindedness led him to find others willing to provide money for this work. Mortenson was the man in the field, making connections with local leaders, negotiating political mazes, buying wood, concrete, nails and seeing that it was all put to the proper uses. His focus became one of trying to see that girls got educated, as they tended to be ignored when education was discussed in this part of the world. He learned that girls tended to provide a more substantial bang-for-the buck in terms of improving life in a place when they were educated than was the case when only boys got to go to school.

Mortenson’s is an uplifting story. He is clearly a card-carrying member of a class of people we might call secular saints. Although his upbringing was religious, he does not push any sort of religion on those he helps and empowers. It is not even clear from this book if he subscribes to any religion in particular.

It does raise a question however. What happens if we run out of Mortensons? Can development of this sort continue or spring into existence at all should Greg Mortenson or others of his sort are not present to make certain that good things happen? Mortenson formed the Central Asia Institute as an agency to help make the work more than his personal mission. Time will tell if it can continue his work when he is no longer available.

Three cups of Tea offers a very detailed look at what it takes to get things done in a part of the world that has received a lot more western ordnance than western development aid. There are complexities to complexities here and there is no substitute for developmental boots on the ground, interacting with local communities if the West ever wants to have any chance of turning potential enemies into potential friends.

No one work can provide a complete picture of any region. Three Cups of Tea is a must-read for anyone interested in developments in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the central and south Asian region. Like a Seurat painting in which the dots combine to make a coherent image, Mortenson has offered another very meaningful dot that can combine with others to offer a rich view of the whole area.
Profile Image for Carrie.
251 reviews
January 1, 2019
Feel-good, mandatory read for anyone interested in children, the future and in current events. My check to CAI will be in the mail soon- It makes you want to get involved.

The story of one incredible man's love for mountain climbing, that leads to the adventure of a lifetime.

Working to build schools for villages in the remote corners of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Greg Mortenson shines as an example that even one person can make huge difference to world. He may be a future Nobel Peace Prize winner and he is undoubtedly a real-live hero.

After reading, I understand more about the nature of middle East interests and of the importance of education for those who desire to learn.

For more information about the book and the Central Asia Institute:

Author: Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Publisher: Penguin Books
Copyright: 2006
Genre: Current events
Pages: 338
Date Read- 4/27/08 - 4/29/08

p. 47
"Let sorrowful longing dwell in your heart. Never give up, never lose hope. Allah says. 'the broken ones are my beloved.' -S.Kheir

Intellectually, the word "Muslim' means, literally, "to submit." An like many Americans who worship at the temple of "rugged individualism", he (Mortenson) had found the idea dehumanizing. But for the first time, knelling among a hundered strangers, watching them wash away...the aches and cares of their daily lives, he glimpsed the pleasure to be found in submission to a ritualized fellowship of prayer.

p. 125
There is a candle in your heart ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don't you. - Rumi

p. 129
I was just an enthusiastic mountaineer of modest abilities who was willing to work quite hard and had the necessary imagination and determination. I was just an average bloke. It was the media that tried to transform me into a heroic figure. But I've learned through the years, as long as you don't believe all that rubbish about yourself, you can't come to too much harm."

Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I'ver ever learned in my life, " Mortnson says. "We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We're the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. Our leaders thought their 'shock and awe' campaign could end the was in Iraq before it ever started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach."

Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.
-Mother Theresa

I wish that all Americans who think 'Muslim' is just another way of saying 'terrorist' could have been there that day (The school was opened.) The true core tenants of Islam are justice, tolerance and charity, and Syed Abbas represented the moderate center of Muslim faith eloquently.

p. 280
"Get out and tell Americans what you know about Muslims. You represent the goodness and courage that America is all about. Get out, don't be afraid, and spread your message for peace. Make this your finest hour."

p. 297
'The Enemy is Ignorance'

If we try to solve terrorism with military might and nothing else, then we will be no safer than we were before 9/11. If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will be ultimately won with books, not with bombs."
Profile Image for Michelle.
12 reviews
July 19, 2007
My 'book sharing' buddy loaned this book to me and it just sat on my shelf. She said it was an amazing true story which lead her to staying up way past bed times reading. It was only when she asked for the loaner book back that I cracked it open. Next I knew, I was hooked too. It was a long week at work, but worth it.

Anyhow, definitely read this book! It is an amazing story of Greg Mortenson's work in Pakistan building school. "Yeah, Yeah. Rich America throwing their weight and money around. I've heard that before." you think. NOPE. Not how it unfolds. His intentions are solid gold and his pockets are all but empty when he starts... he barely makes enough to afford a decent life in the US.

- The lessons he learns from the elders he met along the way. It was a great sociology lesson about cultures.

- That he figured out the 'game' of getting it done under the political climates of Pakistan and the US.

- That just his actions were so impressive to the locals that he became somewhat famous... thought he didn't act that way.

- That each who join his 'team' has something to contribute. But they all share the dream of making the kids lives better with education.
Profile Image for Doug Bradshaw.
257 reviews219 followers
July 28, 2014
Much of Greg's work is valid still, but when I hear a lot of it is fiction and that he has been raiding the charity, I want to send him permanently to Afghanistan to run one of the schools. Here's my original review which I gave five stars:

This book affected the way I think about other cultures and the relationship the United States has with them. The writing was fun and well done, sometimes a bit too many adjectives and flowery descriptions were thrown in to make sure we didn't bored, and plenty of time was taken to point out that Greg is a bit of a loner, a bit odd, not really much of a businessman, and sometimes inefficient. Here are the things I found very helpful, eye opening and excellent:

1. The US has exercised its military might to fight off terrorism and extremism that is directed toward the US, Great Britain and Israel. But what we learn very quickly from Greg's book is that the military solution will only take us so far and that we need to follow up with solutions to help and educate the people in these backward societies. And it's not just throwing money at the problem. Greg has done what it takes to get things done properly by lovingly getting to know the people one on one and then through years of work and thrift and effort has built up the relationships, built schools, bridges, helped provide clean water sources, etc. The people know Greg, trust him, love him and give Americans a good name.

2. I think it has been very wise of Greg to keep "Christian" teachings and religion out of the formula. In fact, much of what he has tried to do would not have happened if he were trying to push Christian ideals in the schools. The schools teach the very basics, from math and writing, to good hygiene and science.

3. Not only do the people love Greg, but Greg loves the people. Perhaps this is the most time consuming and difficult lesson to be translated to the normal American, that these people are good, hard working, lovable people. Obviously, some of the leaders and businessmen are cutthroat and greedy. Our prisons in the US are full of such people. But the core values of the Muslims are good and the people, once they trust and know someone, are loyal and full of integrity. It's worth the effort to get out there and help them, which gets me to the next idea in the book

4. If we don't get out there one on one and help with our money building schools for appropriate education, water systems, sewer systems, etc., there will be money flowing in from anti american organizations to do the same thing but with an emphasis on educating the people to hate the West and new terrorists will emerge and we'll be in the same rut we're in.

5. I loved Greg's hugely efficient and thrifty ways. The first nice school was built for $12,000. How many American's could afford to build one school? Thousands of people. The one on one effort with the people to get these projects done for an affordable price with their participation is unbelievably more efficient and effective than what we've tried to do in Iraq. And because the people are so involved, the school is a thing of pride for them and their children love going and the education immediately begins to change there lives in amazing ways.

Profile Image for Britany.
950 reviews413 followers
January 15, 2020
Greg Mortenson has an incredible story, one that was documented and shared in this book. He attempted to climb the Himalayas' K2 and ended up in a poor Pakistani town Korphe to recover. He decided to build a school and started working with the local communities to teach and advocate for them.
A story worthy of being called a humanitarian hero, but one which has some hair stuck to it. He was burned for fabricating some of the details sourced in this book and misappropriating funds from the Central Asia Institute of which he was the executive director. All of this led the co-writer, who struggled with depression to commit suicide. I'm saddened by all the negative news as this seemed like such a positive story shedding light in a dark time. I appreciate Greg's efforts and his incredible, although possibly inaccurate story. For me, this one just didn't grab me enough to leave a deep mark, but was a journey I appreciated while remembering a good dose of reality never hurt anyone.
Profile Image for Lena.
Author 2 books336 followers
July 29, 2008
Greg Mortenson was a mountaineer with his sights set on Pakistan’s unforgiving K2 when a disaster in his climbing party forced him to abort his attempt on the summit. On his way down, the exhausted climber got lost and wandered into a remote and impoverished village that had never seen a Westerner before.

As the kind residents helped Mortenson regain his strength, he committed to repaying them by building a school for the dozens of children he saw carving their lessons into the dirt with sticks. That promise would go on to transform Mortenson from a part-time nurse and climbing nut to a man obsessed with bringing education to some of the world’s most neglected people.

The story of how Mortenson managed to fulfill his naïve promise and go on not just to build one school, but dozens more across the remote mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan, is nothing short of astounding. The fact that he survived this hostile environment at all, let alone succeeded in a humanitarian endeavor of such enormous proportions, is truly inspiring.

Part of what permitted Mortenson to make so much progress is that he allowed himself to learn how things needed to be done from the local people. Though American, Mortenson was raised by missionaries in Africa, and his sensitivity towards and ability to integrate into another culture was a crucial part of what made this project work.

In addition to providing valuable insight into the lives of a people the West knows little about, this book also offers a unique perspective of the events in Pakistan and Afghanistan that led to the current war on terror. Mortenson began building his small schools at the same time fundamentalist madrassas were also springing up in that part of the world. Though Mortenson couldn’t compete with either the pace or the money spent by those with a religious agenda, his success provides a powerful model for filling the gaps that the US military has left wide open in those vulnerable places.

I would recommend this amazing and educational book to pretty much anyone, but I do have to add one caveat. Though I was very moved by the story, I did not like the writing so much. The author and I seemed to have different pacing—he spent long passages talking about things of little interest to me while barely touching on aspects I wanted to know much more about. I was also put off by the book’s opening, which was a pumped up mix of macho adventure writing and fawning hero worship. Mortenson’s story is so extraordinary it doesn’t need this kind of inflation. While the author’s admiration for Mortenson is understandable, I would have enjoyed this book more without this kind of embellishment.
Profile Image for Bharath.
568 reviews431 followers
December 19, 2019
When I started reading the book, I was unaware of the controversies surrounding it. This was recommended by a friend.

The book strikes the right notes as far as the central cause is concerned - educate children for a better tomorrow. There really is no other way. Greg takes this up in the hilly regions of Pakistan which he visits during his attempt to scale mount K2. His approach of respecting local culture and taking the locals into confidence and building the schools with their full participation is a credible approach. Greg has taken up a noble cause in an especially difficult part of the world where extremism is rampant and child (especially girls) education is an urgent need.

The book however disappoints in several aspects. The blatant self promotion is very evident and also extremely irritating. In fact that is what prompted me to later search for any news surrounding the book and the authors. There is an excessive obsession in building real estate (the physical building) with very little space devoted to quality of education, teachers etc though they do find limited mention. With the accuracy of many of the events in the book now being questioned, I am not sure to what extent the book version can be trusted.

Nevertheless, despite the controversies the subject is an important one..
Profile Image for Laura V. لاورا.
489 reviews9 followers
October 11, 2017
Mi associo a quei commenti che distinguono tra la vicenda umana di cui si racconta, straordinaria e ammirevole, e il libro così come è stato scritto, poco appassionante e in molti punti decisamente noioso nonostante un inizio molto promettente.
Anche qualche capitolo finale è stato interessante, in particolare dove si parla del Pakistan all'indomani dell'11 settembre, ma per il resto, mi spiace ammetterlo, stavo proprio contando le pagine per metterlo da parte...
Segnalo, inoltre, una grossolana inesattezza che almeno chi ha controllato il manoscritto prima della pubblicazione avrebbe dovuto correggere: si afferma che i musulmani pregano rivolti verso la Mecca dove è sepolto il Profeta. In realtà, da morto, Maometto alla Mecca non si è mai visto dal momento che morì e venne sepolto a Medina. Inoltre, quando si parla del wahhabismo, l'ideologia di stato dell'Arabia Saudita, non si fa cenno a quelle che sono le sue origini storiche, riconducendo il tutto a una ingenua questione terminologica.
Comunque, ribadisco, quello di Greg Mortenson è uno straordinario esempio di impegno a favore della pace e del dialogo tra i popoli e, invece che esportare la democrazia in casa d'altri a suon di bombe, otterremmo molto di più diffondendo istruzione, l'unico vero strumento che con il tempo possa sconfiggere ignoranza, fanatismo ed estremismo, religioso o pseudoreligioso.
Profile Image for Marian.
175 reviews52 followers
November 22, 2008
This book is excellent. Sometimes books such as these, howbeit inspiring, are often tedious to read. This one was not. I was fascinated.

After a failed attempt to climb K2, Greg Mortensen is separated from his guide and wanders into a small Pakistani village he otherwise would have never known existed. The friendships he made altered the course of his life. He promised to build them a school after seeing the teacherless village children writing school assignments in the dirt with sticks.

After the first school, his work took on a life of it's own as he gained the trust of the people in other villages bringing as many schools as he possibly could to some of the poorest places in the country.

This man probably knows more about the hearts and minds of the people in Pakistan and Afganistan than any expert in Washington. This is not a political book; however, I was left thinking we've missed the mark in how we can protect our country from terrorism. Greg seems to have the keys--respect, hard work, love, keeping our promises and education.

I would like to be as passionate and brave as this man; or, at the very least, as loving and supportive as his wife.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,743 reviews1,211 followers
December 27, 2009
Heartbreaking, uplifting, suspenseful, at times very funny.

If everyone on earth did 1/10 of what Greg Mortenson does for others, we’d have a much better world. If a hefty portion of the world’s population put in 10% of the work and effort and cash that Mortenson has done, for people in need all over the world, we might not have a perfect world, but it would be vastly improved.

At first I thought Mortenson must have some incredible amount of charisma, but really he just had the urge to help and willingness to learn, and simply showed genuine respect and care for those people he worked with and for. The only magic was his tirelessness and his level of passion for his work. That’s why I say 10%: because virtually nobody else would be able to dedicate themselves to their mission the way “Dr. Greg” has done.

I’ve read a lot of fiction books where the events take place in Afghanistan. When I was eight, my family was friends for a summer with a family from Pakistan. Yet, I feel as though I learned more about these two countries from this book than I have previously learned from all other sources.

This is a very inspiring real life story. I challenge any reader to not care about and root for both the children and adults of this region, and for me that translated to everybody everywhere who face challenges of poverty, illiteracy, or other such problems.

At the very beginning I found the writing very jarring because Mortenson, the “first” author, is referred to in the third person. Very quickly, I realized that the “second” author, David Oliver Relin, is the actual author, and once I decided that, I was able to thoroughly enjoy the book. I don’t know if the writing improved as the book progressed; it seemed to do so to me, or whether I just became so engrossed in the story that the writing style didn’t matter anymore.

The map that appears before the Table of Contents really helped me, and I always appreciate maps in books. I really enjoyed the photographs in the center of the book; I wish that there were many more of them.

Mortenson, after failing to climb K2, dedicated his life to building schools, for educating both girls and boys, first in Pakstan (the first one in a village where the people helped him as he came off the mountain) and then eventually in Afghanistan too.

How Mortenson has lived his life is laudable, although I do hope his own family is thriving.

Yes, ignorance is the enemy. I wish the Obama administration, the U.S. Congress, and all world leaders could see that.

Anne Fadiman has an essay in her book Ex Libris Confessions of a Common Reader about the “odd shelf.” Her odd shelf is polar exploration. Mine is polar exploration and mountain climbing. So, at the beginning of this book, when the failed K2 attempt is described, I was riveted from the start Also, I knew the San Francisco Bay Area locations, which was fun, and I was interested in the Pakistani and Afghani mountainous areas; I even learned a bit about Montana and other places.

I’d put this book on my to read list when it was first published but then I decided I wasn’t so interested. I’m very grateful to my real world book club; it’s our January selection, and I doubt that I’d have read it if not for that, and I’m very grateful that I did. A sequel has just been published: Stones into Schools Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I hope this book earns the Central Asia Institute (www.ikat.org) a huge amount of money. There is a web site for this book for further information: www.threecupsoftea.com and I’ve glanced at it and intend to look at its content more thoroughly.
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