August 31st, 2010

Review: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

Three Cups of Tea

by Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin


After a failed attempt to climb K2, one of the world’s tallest mountains, Greg Mortenson became lost and ended up in the tiny village of Korphe, an impoverished settlement in rural Pakistan.  In return for the villagers’ kindness, Mortenson vowed to build a school for their children.  But before he could begin construction, he had to go home get the cash to pay for it.  After many struggles, he raised the money and returned to Korphe, only to find that the village elders needed him to build a bridge before the school, because otherwise how could they get building supplies to the site?  Despite these setbacks, Mortenson finished the Korphe school, but even before the first stone was laid other villages begged him to build schools for their children, too.  He ended up creating a non-profit devoted to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Central Asia Institute, and has since founded 130 schools.  His adventures are chronicled in great detail, from meetings with Taliban officials and conservative Muslims to his struggles balancing time with his family and endless fundraising trips around the United States.  It’s especially interesting after 2001, when Mortenson and Relin describe the impact of 9/11 on Mortenson’s work and how it shaped his philosophy that the greatest anti-terror weapon we can use is providing education to the people of central Asia.

As a tea fanatic who can’t go a day without at least two pots of tea, I found the tea culture of Pakistan fascinating. I love that everything was conducted around drinking tea, forcing the pace of business negotiations to slow down and helping to build relationships between buyers and sellers, government officials and their constituents.  It’s completely different from our approach here in the US.


In many ways, the book acts as a celebration of Pakistan's people, and destroys many of the stereotypes Americans have about Muslim people. The author emphasizes that without the dedication of local villagers, Mortenson's schools would never have gotten off the ground. The people *want* their children to receive an education, and it is mostly lack of money that holds them back rather than religion. Sure, there were occasionally mullahs or ultra-conservative Muslims who opposed the secular schools educating little girls, but by and large the communities supported the idea.

But ultimately, it's Greg Mortenson that this book celebrates. I mean, David Oliver Relin's introduction to the book made him sound like a gushing fangirl. He seemed so over-the-top that I rolled my eyes. But Mortenson's accomplishments are genuinely worthy of praise. He sacrificed so much to make those schools a seemed like he hardly spent any time with his family, and I’m sure that in the years after this book was published and he became such a popular public speaker it’s only gotten worse.

I know we're always saying stuff like "If you put your mind to it, you can do anything!" but it's pretty freakin' amazing what Greg Mortenson has managed to do in Pakistan.  I'd love to see Mr. Mortenson speak someday, but as noted in the book every time he does so, it takes him away from his family or his work. I'll force myself to be content with this book and the sequel, Stones into Schools, which was published in December 2009 and talks about Mortenson’s adventures in Afghanistan. 


5 out of 5 stars


To read more about Three Cups of Tea, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.