Three cups of tea : one man's mission to promote peace -- one school at a time

by Greg Mortenson

Other authorsDavid Oliver Relin (Author)
Hardcover, 2007




New York : Penguin Books, 2007.


One man's campaign to build schools in the most dangerous, remote, and anti-American reaches of Asia: in 1993 Greg Mortenson was an American mountain-climbing bum wandering emaciated and lost through Pakistan's Karakoram. After he was taken in and nursed back to health by the people of a Pakistani village, he promised to return one day and build them a school. From that rash, earnest promise grew one of the most incredible humanitarian campaigns of our time--Mortenson's one-man mission to counteract extremism by building schools, especially for girls, throughout the breeding ground of the Taliban. In a region where Americans are often feared and hated, he has survived kidnapping, death threats, and wrenching separations from his wife and children. But his success speaks for itself--at last count, his Central Asia Institute had built fifty-five schools.--From publisher description.… (more)

Media reviews

This is a wonderful book that gives the reader an unprecedented and very personal insight into a people that I had no knowledge of before reading it.
3 more
Publishers Weekly
Captivating and suspenseful, with engrossing accounts of both hostilities and unlikely friendships, this book will win many readers' hearts.
"The story of how this happened is a cliffhanger as well as an first-hand introduction to the people and places of a region little understood by most Americans. The subtitle, "One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations . . . One School at a Time," underscores the motivation behind his work."
Kirkus Review
"Answering by delivering what his country will not, Mortenson is "fighting the war on terror the way I think it should be conducted," Relin writes. This inspiring, adventure-filled book makes that case admirably."

User reviews

LibraryThing member booksandbosox
So after recovering my copy of this book, Tony lost my bookmark (though he would argue that I in fact lost it, which is just false). Unfortunately I was not at all saddened by this turn of events and decided to just quit and not attempt to figure out where I had been. I struggled to read even this much of the book. It's BORING! And considering the subject matter, there is no way it should be. I have to attribute this to just plain poor writing. And I know I probably shouldn't say this since he was just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but I don't get a sense that I would be particularly fond of Mortenson were I to encounter him in real life. In many places throughout the book, he just comes off as a delusional creeper. I'll have to look elsewhere for info on this region of the world.… (more)
LibraryThing member peacemover
I read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin last year and found it very poignant and engaging. Mortenson was an incredible mountain climber who set out to conquer K2, and, after having to abort the climb in order to help save a fellow climber who was critically injured, discovered a different mission. Mortensen happened upon a tiny village nested literally on the edge of a cliff about 12,000 feet up. In that village lived a small tribe of indigenous people who survived on very basic agriculture and a few goats.

What follows is truly life-changing. Mortenson soon discovered that there was no school for the children, and the only education they received was from a poorly trained, poorly equipped itinerant teacher who came once a week for a few hours and did very basic lessons inside one of the cramped huts with a dirt floor. As the title of the book suggests, he partook of three cups of tea, and, as he explains the first cup is a courtesy to strangers, the second is offered to friends, and to be offered a third cup is a sign of acceptance by the people of the village.

Mortenson was so powerfully moved that he returned to America and began to brainstorm about ways to help build a school for the people of that tiny village. He wrote hundreds of letters, made a lot of calls, and was mostly turned down. Eventually he garnered the support of a few key people- one of them being Sir Edmund Hillary, who, in the late 1950s, was the first person known to scale Mount Everest and make it back down safely.

From there, he was able to work with locals to obtain and transport the needed supplies, contract with locals to provide the labor, and negotiate the precariously dangerous mountain roads to get the supplies there. That school was built, then another, then another. He ended up helping quite a few more than he had previously imagined, and he and his wife settled for a time in the dangerous region near the Khyber Pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

A powerful and moving story that is well-worth reading!
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LibraryThing member librarymeg
Greg Mortenson, the co-author of this book and head of the Central Asia Institute, tells his own story in Three Cups of Tea, and an informative and inspiring story it is. Mortenson began his life as the son of missionaries and grew up in Africa, eventually becoming a devoted mountain climber. When his beloved sister passed away he chose to honor her memory by attempting to climb K2, widely considered the most difficult climb in the world. The expedition encountered trouble and Mortenson was unable to summit, which left him wandering disconsolate and lost through the mountains of Pakistan. He found himself in the small mountain village of Korphe, where he was immediately accepted and cared for.

Because of his remarkable experiences in the mountains and villages of Pakistan in general, and Korphe in particular, Mortenson made a promise to return and build a school for the village's children who, until then, had been holding class in the open air with sticks and dirt in the place of pencil and paper. Mortenson turned out to be a man of his word, and has since built schools in Korphe, many other Pakistani villages, and several villages in Afghanistan. He is devoted to the concept of education, specifically for girls, and has not only built schools but has also provided the poorest people in the region with drinkable water, vocational schools, bridges, and scholarships to promising students.

This book is not only the story of a remarkable man who works to spread education, but is also a story of humanity, tolerance, and bravery. Mortenson has worked in the region throughout the conflicts ensuing from 9-11, faced fatwas, kidnappings, and death threats, and argues very persuasively that education is, or should be, the West's first and best weapon in the fight against terrorism and extremism. The book is full of interesting and insightful information about the Middle East and its people, and readers will undoubtedly close the book feeling not only more hopeful about the fate of humanity, but also more informed about a region that has been so tied to our own.
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LibraryThing member mldavis2
This is a tough book to rate. Following its publication and adoption by major news and political figures in the U.S., a journalist for 60 Minutes who had been a financial supporter of the author (Mortenson) determined that some of the contents had been falsified and that Mortenson had been using the charity he created as a personal ATM machine for his own purposes. Mortenson has since refused interviews.

The book is well written by co-author Relin with some good descriptions of the mountainous regions of central Asia. It is clear that Relin nearly idolized Mortenson and his story, to the point where the book itself becomes a bit over-done with platitudes for Mortenson and his related biography. Relin has since admitted as much.

The book itself is very good - 4.5 stars and a good read with some good ideas for using education to fight the Taliban and terrorism. However, since it has come to light that parts are fictional and its purpose seems to be as much for personal gain as not, I'll give it a 2-star. Had Mortenson and Relin created a fictional novel and called it such, I would be more inclined to rate it higher. But in its current format, it would seem to be a fraud, with fictional descriptions that have been disproven, and exaggerated claims of success.
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LibraryThing member Valkitty
Greg Mortenson grew up the child of missionaries in Africa, has trouble adjusting to American life, and only finds his true goal and purpose upon getting lost after an abandoned attempt to climb one of the deadliest mountains in the world. A year later, determined to keep his promise to those who nursed him back to health, he returns to begin a years-long mission to create moderate secular schools for some of the poorest and most likely to be neglected communities on the planet.

Reading Three Cups of Tea was an interesting experience for me. It wasn't as gripping as Kabul Beauty School in that I was able to put it down from time to time, but I still finished it in 2-3 days. Unlike Kabul Beauty School, it was told far less from the point of view of the person that the story is about, being occasionally from Greg's point of view, but including opinions, positive and critical, held by those that work with him closely. The parts that are told from Greg's point of view can get a sensitive reader quite emotional because everything is told with sincerity and depth. You can picture the scenes that he vividly describes, almost feel the emotions of the people around him.

One of the things that impresses me most about Greg Mortenson, even more than his persistence, determination, and noble spirit that drives him in his work is his ethics. Given other training, Mr. Mortenson might make a fine anthropologist. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he picks up a lot of the traits and mannerisms of the people that he works with. He has a keen sensitivity to taboos and traditions and follows them, not to be a mimic, but to show people that he sincerely understands and honors their culture, regardless of their religious or political differences. He does not pass judgment on everything around him, but observes with an open mind. I also admire his courage and truthfulness to stand up for a group of people that America was trying to go on a witch hunt for. You cannot blame the actions of a few brainwashed individuals on an entire religion that spans large portions of the world, and runs the entire political spectrum. Greg gets to the source of the problem: a lack of education and resulting lack of economic opportunities. When people have the ability to travel, have clean drinking water, and access to education, there are more economic chances for success and survival.

One of the things that interested me most about the book while I was reading it, is the political story of the late 90's through mid 2000's that is woven in the background. I do not think that this book set out to be a political history, but you can see the transition in the US from Clinton to Bush, the effects of the wars at home and overseas, and even have some political cameos throughout the book.

The only reason this has 4.5 rather than 5 stars from me is that at some points when David Oliver Relin is relating the stories of various encounters and episodes in this decades long effort to educate those most in need, where the narrative becomes a bit garbled, and you aren't sure what is happening to whom, or even if the people that they are discussing have been talked about before. However by rereading a passage or two I can usually figure it out. I can say one thing, I am curious about doing a penny drive at my school.

Please read this book. If your local library does not carry it, ask them to order it.
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LibraryThing member whirled
Reading Three Cups of Tea with an awareness of the recent questions surrounding Greg Mortenson's methods is a bit like trying to recapture a child-like enjoyment of Christmas once you know the truth about Santa Claus. I found the often sketchy facts and constantly shifting timelines raised my suspicions, and lessened my admiration for the portion of Mortenson's achievement that is not in dispute. I only finished the book after discovering there were questions about the story because it was lent to me by a gravely ill friend who wasn't aware of the controversy.

Putting those issues aside, the story is also hampered by a dull narrative style. David Oliver Relin has a lot to learn from Mortenson critic Jon Krakauer about writing compelling non-fiction. Avoid!
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LibraryThing member Dahlia308
I don't care about the controversy over this book. It's Mortenson's recollection about his time in Afghanistan. It was written ten years after his experiences. How can anyone be absolutely correct about their memories? The story was inspirational and I hope this controversy over the book (started by a rival mountain climber) will not prevent others from reading it.

As for Mortenson's financial problems - let someone prove it first. Leave the man alone.
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LibraryThing member ImBookingIt
This is a grudging 4 stars, because I can't really justify giving it lower rating.In general, I loved what Mortenson was doing. I just didn't think the story was told well. I didn't like the organization of the book, and the telling of the story was disappointing to me at times.I think it was worth reading because what he did was so amazing.… (more)
LibraryThing member lynnmellw
This is a wonderful inspirational story of one man's mission to make a difference. It is also an interesting glimpse into the struggles of Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are two countries that have been in the news for years, however seeing them through Greg Mortenson's eyes is truly a different view. Mortenson's quest to bring schools to all of these children should make us all feel blessed to have quality education for our children so readily in their grasp.… (more)
LibraryThing member sheherazahde
This is the biography of Greg Mortenson focusing on his dedication to building schools and alleviating poverty in Pakistan from 1993 and 2005. David Oliver Relin is a writer for Parade magazine and I suspect he was the primary writer of this book. The writing style reminds me of the "true stories" you get in Readers Digest. It's a bit below my usual reading level, more of a dramatization then a biography. I would have liked a little more history and politics of the area. There is one incident where he has held hostage for six days then released and we never find out who was holding him or why. Probably because he doesn't know. But I would have liked to have seen some speculations about what was going on in that area at that time.

Greg Mortenson is impressive. If you need proof that one person can make a difference in the world he is it. Although he could not have succeeded without the funds of generous American donors and the back breaking labor of the people of Pakistan.

I came away with a better understanding of the people of Pakistan and a greater commitment to the principle of fighting hatred by helping people rather than shooting them.

Meanwhile the poor of Pakistan are running out of food and need new bridges to get supplies to remote villages.

Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute have experience working with local people to build bridges and a history of helping refuges in Pakistan. If you want to fight terrorism and help the poor I recommend sending a donation to the Central Asia Institute and read the book "Three Cups of Tea".

Why I picked up this book: Thom Hartmann kept recommending it and I'm interested in peace through prosperity.

Why I finished reading it: It is an easy read and I wanted to find out what happened next.

Who I'd give it to: President Obama if I thought he hadn't read it, or would read it if I did. I actually lent it to my mom in the hopes that she will get her Lyceum book group to read it.
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LibraryThing member jacketscoversread
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 innercity schools). But I didn’t like Three Cups of Tea.

It read like a features story you’d read in your local paper {although, it’s probably more likely to end up The New Yorker or The New York Times} with all the “Mortenson says.” There isn’t much here to warrent 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. Why was the fatwas such a bad thing? And those schools run by the Taliban; how do CAI schools combat those extremist teachings?

Plus, I’m 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, supposedly, 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–”Your 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 Americans don’t, or won’t.

Yet, I just wish he had found a better way–and a better writer {himself!}–to do so.
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LibraryThing member astridnr
I found this book inspiring. I am in awe of Greg Mortenson, his courage and resilience. As in Little Princes the real heroes are the children. As for the experience of reading, it was a bit too long winded for me, with too many geographical descriptions. Still, it was worth reading.
LibraryThing member gdill
I'm sure it's a good book, but after a few chapters I just couldn't get into it. Lost my interest. I tried, but couldn't. It seemed the author would go off on tangents in the middle of the story. One moment your in the Kush mountains then the next moment the author is telling a story of another time and place. Seemed a bit convoluted with too much details about nonsense. This not to mention the author seems a tad bit self-absorbed.

I'm now finding rumors that some of this book may have been fabricated. Glad I didn't dive too deep into it.
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LibraryThing member phebj
This book took me forever to read--about 3 months (or the time it takes Greg Mortenson to build a school in Pakistan). It's an extraordinary story about the difference one person can make but the writing is so overdone it detracted from my enjoyment of the book and I can only give it 2 1/2 stars.
LibraryThing member eembooks
Certainly a nobel cause but didn't like the wrting and presentation of this information. A lot about raising money.
LibraryThing member whjensen
In reading this book, you need to be willing to set aside the standard methods of critiquing a non-fiction book. Is it true? Yes, but not necessarily totally accurate in timing. Based on the life of Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea tries to force his life into a linear device. Even the co-author admits to the folly of it. But let's set aside that criteria to get down to what the purpose of the book is: an attempt to show a third way. Not one of military assistance. Not one of foreign aid. But one of direct involvement. Getting one's hands dirty. Similar to Mountains Beyond Mountains about Paul Farmer, this is a purpose-ography - you can make a difference. And in that genre, the books works spectacularly well.

Of course, there are thousands of purpose-ographies out there. Why does this one resonate? Because it is exceptionally well written and paced very well. It gives enough detail to draw you into the world, but never dwells enough to distract you from the purpose. It keeps the narrative moving to show the progression of Greg's mission.
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LibraryThing member EowynA
Fascinating! This is the story of Greg Mortenson, a climber who got most of the way up the mountain K2, but got lost on the way down. He ended up in a village not on any map. He was cold and lost. They saved him. What could he do in return? The head man of the village said he could help their children. The children had a teacher that visited once or twice a week, so they sat in an open lot, doing their homework in the open air at 8,000 feet in the sky, with no shelter, teaching themselves. He vowed to build them a school. And he did. He had no money, but he was a trained nurse. And a nurse is not unemployed for long. He went back to Berkeley, earned enough money to go back.

This is a man who puts his life where needed - to build schools in the poorest parts of rural Pakistan, next to the Afghan border. Schools that have no religious agenda, and include schooling for girls. This is the story of how he has helped Muslim children all over Pakistan, and is now working the same way in Afghanistan. He was in Pakistan on 9/11/01. He has had two fatwas declared against him. He is a force for peace in that area, providing an education for those with no schools, and an alternative to the fundamentalist schools where they exist.

An inspiring story, well told. Absolutely recommended!
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LibraryThing member cvosshans
Though long at times and not particularly well written, this book is one that should be read - especially by those looking to better understand the war on terror or those who enjoy touching stories of hope. Mortensen's tale of adventure and anguish in Pakistan is a good story with a strong lesson on world peace. One of the best parts is the pictures which support the writing and the diverse experiences of Greg Mortenson. It took awhile to read through the entire story but it certainly made the whole situation seem closer to home. Likely this book gets readers thinking about 'what they can do', therefore it is inspiring in that way which earns it 4 stars out of 5.… (more)
LibraryThing member tipsister
I finished Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortinson and David Oliver Relin today, on the way home from Disneyland. What a contrast of worlds. I was riding north on these crazy busy freeways surrounded by cars. Once I hit Ventura, I was able to look out and see the Pacific Ocean out the left window, and huge buildings out the right. Between Ventura and Santa Barbara I noticed how green things were even though we'd had little rain. There are houses right on the beach with palm trees and sunshine. It was a really lovely day for a drive.

After closing the pages of Three Cups of Tea, I was a bit humbled by what I have. I have an education, clean clothes, lots of food, telephones, satellite TV, computers, a car and countless other things that I feel are necessary. They aren't. They are necessary to me and millions of other people but could I live without it? Sure, all but the food. I'd survive. I'd keep breathing.

Greg Mortinson is an American hero. Really and truly. You should all read this book. Three Cups of Tea is about Greg Mortinson and his attempt to change the world. After a failed try at climbing K2, he found himself lost in a village in Pakistan. He was humbled by the kindness of the town and shocked at what he saw. The children only had a teacher a few days a week and yet would still go to "school" which wasn't even a building, just a clearing. Greg promised that he would be back to build a school.

He only needed a little over $12,000. Not that much when you think about how much a school would cost in the United States. He had nothing. He was barely getting by, sleeping in his car and trying desperately to raise the money for the school. Through a series of fortunate events, he went back to Pakistan and started his journey. Eventually he helped co-found the Central Asia Institute and has currently built over 78 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I had no interest in reading this book because I thought it was about Middle Eastern politics and I'm not a political person. My beliefs fall directly toward the middle of the conservative and liberal spectrum. I was also worried that it was a religous book that would conflict with my Christian faith. It wasn't. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book was more about the people, and that's what I wanted to read about. I've been touched and moved by this book. I recommend it highly and urge you to look around you, be blessed by what you have and say a prayer, to whatever God you pray to, that people like Greg Mortinson be allowed to continue their missions.
For more info on the book or the Central Asia Institute, click on the picture of the book.
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LibraryThing member reannon
Read this for my book club, and am so very glad. This book hits just right on a lot of things important to me. It gives me a new hero in Greg Mortenson. It helps me understand another part of the world, the Middle East, that is vital in the modern world. It covers Pakistan, a country many consider one of the most dangerous in the world. It talks about ethnicities unknown to most in the West. Most of all, it talks about people, of different countries and religions, working together to make life better for the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson was a young mountain climber in the early 90s. He was part of an expedition to K2, the second tallest mountain in the world. He didn't quite make it to the top, but performed heroic service saving another climber. On the way back he got lost and wound up in the Northern Pakistani village of Korphe. The villagers nursed him back to health, and in return he promised he would build a school for the village. Once home, the task seemed impossible. Mortenson had no money and no experience in raising it or disbursing it. He sent out random letters and through a miracle found a donor. Then he went back to Pakistan, where he learned the ins and outs of buying supplies, transporting them to the remote village, and getting the labor. Then it turned out the villagers decided a bridge needed to be built first. He managed it!

Along the way, he met other villagers whose needs were as great, and his donor set up The Central Asian Institute and put Mortenson in charge. Many schools were built. Things were never smooth, but he learned so much. At one point he was kidnapped and held for a week in Waziristan, the area where Al Quaeda was rumored to live. Mortenson had already decided to move into Afghanistan as well when 9/11 happened, which in one way made it easier to create schools, especially schools for girls, after the Taliban was removed. But the stories Mortenson heard in Afghanistan were heartbreaking.

Please read this book, then share it with others. It is a wonderfully uplifting story of what people can do when they care. Along the way, it teaches a lot about an area of the world many of us need to know more about.
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LibraryThing member alic
A fascinating book. But the writing of Mortenson/Relin is not of the highest caliber. The narrative tends to ramble, and Mortenson is painted with altogether too saintly a brush. But what Mortenson is accomplishing, in building schools in the poorest and most remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, is utterly amazing and laudable.… (more)
LibraryThing member melissavenable
The details provided about this region of the world, the villages, the different peoples and cultures was the most rewarding aspect of this book. Chris Mortenson's story is engaging and makes you feel you should go out an volunteer... today. And we probably all should. It's also a story of career development as Mortenson sacrificed to follow his devotion to climbing and traveling, making the most of the "right" connections to make it possible for others (his connections in the region and the girls who attend the schools he has made possible) to develop their own careers as well.… (more)
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Greg Mortenson's mission started small. He wanted to thank the Pakistani village that saved him when he got lost retreating from the mountain K2. When he saw the children from the village sitting outside in the cold trying to remember what they had been taught by the teacher that they shared with another village, he knew that he wanted to build them a school. On returning to the US he realized it would be much more difficult than he thought. He knew nothing about fundraising but he was driven. Eventually he obtained enough money to buy the materials for the one school. When he returned to Pakistan and went to the village they told him what they really needed was a bridge so the materials could be transported. This was the first of many hurdles Mortenson came up against. However with the dogged determination that made him a mountain climber he overcame all obstacles and built that first school and then many more in Pakistan. After 9/11 he realized that there was a need for schools in Afghanistan. The book ends just as he makes his first contact in Afghanistan. I didn't want it to end. I guess I'll have to read Stones into Schools, the story of his Afghanistan experience.… (more)
LibraryThing member GShuk
Excellent true story about the struggles of one man who made a difference by building schools for girls in remote villages in Pakistan before and after 9/11. While the book is slow for the first few chapters it picks up and you come away with a better understanding of how different life is over there.
LibraryThing member kylljoi
I rarely say this about a book, because I don't believe that the phrase can hold serious weight in any conversation but, "Everyone in America should read this book." Mortenson has created a system of education that promotes literacy. Straight. No agenda. No undermining a culture and their standards. He has pushed forward to educate young children (especially girls, historically rare) in countries that American refuses to trust. His efforts will change the future generations of Afghanistan and Pakistan. I hope in the decades to come that he is recognized for the revolution he single-handedly founded. But it is the dedicated network/family of volunteers that have helped him sustain the work over the yeas.… (more)


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