Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

three-cups-of-teaNonfiction — print. Penguin, 2007. 349 pgs. Borrowed from my mom.

In 1993, Greg Mortenson failed to climb K2, a mountain that boasts the world’s deadliest peak. and stumbled around When the people of an inpoverished village in Pakistan’s Karakoram Himalaya took him and nursed him back to health, Mortenson made an impusive promise — he would return one day and build them a school. Three Cups of Tea traces Mortenson’s decade-long odyssey to build schools, especially for girls, throughout the region that gave birth to the Taliban and provides sanctuary to Al Qaeda, and his attempts to wage war with the root causes of terrorism — poverty and ignorance — by providing both girls and boys with a balanced, nonextremist education.

I feel almost like a bad person for not liking this book. Of course, I support Mortenson’s goal of educating people so they do not turn to violence (kind of like what some try to do with inner city schools). But I didn’t like Three Cups of Tea. It read like a features story you’d read in The New Yorker with all the “Mortenson says.” There isn’t much here to warrant a 350+ page book and I found myself skipping large sections, like Mortenson’s failed relationship before he met his wife. A simple “his girlfriend didn’t understand what he was trying to accomplish/start and ultimately left him” would have sufficed. And the stuff that did interest me was glossed over; for example, how do CAI schools combat the extremist teachings of those schools run by the Taliban?

I’m also  sick of the words “Greg Mortenson”. A third of the way through, the real author, Relin, is still immortalizing him by full name. I’m not a big fan of non-fiction but don’t remember this being so irritating in any of the ones I have read. And I, personally, would like to know more about the students he helped. Yes, I know one goes on to be a “maternal doctor”, but what of the others?

Mortenson’s story is worth telling. Contrary to the U.S. plan in Afghanistan– get in, bomb the hell out of the land and its people, then on to the next war with, oops, no funds left for rebuilding and “President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against America for the next two hundred years.” (pg. 310) –Mortenson is doing what the American government doesn’t do. Yet, I just wish he had found a better way — and a better writer (himself!) –to do so.

Others’ Thoughts:


  1. I meant to come back and comment on yours after I posted my review!

    Yes, the full name thing was really annoying to me too. Interestingly, it was originally a newspaper report in Parade magazine and they decided to flesh it out. Ok, please. A bit much for me.

    I suspect, however, that Mortensen’s writing skills are horrendous, so the story would not have been better if he had written it himself. Why do I assume that? In the 1990s, he didn’t know how to turn on a computer. I can’t imagine he was writing much.


  2. Pingback: Stones into Schools « Ardent Reader

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