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

December 28th, 2011

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Book Overview:

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.

Book Review

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History Books 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.

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  1. K Hughes
    December 28th, 2011 at 20:34 | #1


    This is the most amazing and inspiring book I have read in a very long time. I am a high school teacher and the mother of a U.S. Army Seargent who has completed a tour in Afghanistan and is currently serving in Iraq. I bought the book to send to him, but thought I would read it first. I’m very glad I did. The book is as exciting as an adventure novel, but it’s true. Anyone who cares about the education and welfare of children and who desires to understand the problems faced in fighting terrorism should read this book. There is hope for peace in this world and Greg Mortenson is doing wonderful things to make it happen. He is a true American hero. Everyone needs to read this book and everyone who does will want to share it with others.

  2. Travlin Aunt
    December 29th, 2011 at 00:39 | #2


    I have bought four copies of this book and I share it with anyone that will read it. I may even buy a few more. I was awestruck when I read this book. It is countering fanatacism at every level and it shows the importance of understanding a personal relationships. The fact that his organization is educating children – boys and girls – in an area that is dominated by madrasses proves just how important those ties are. It is an incredible story of hope and strength that came out of what most would have considered total failure.

  3. Terry Kalil
    December 29th, 2011 at 02:09 | #3


    It’s a book but then so are the latest bestsellers yet they offer nothing beyond a mindless distraction. To say Three Cups of Tea is about peace is to say that Mortensen goes hiking in the mountains. To say it’s about building schools in the most desolate, remote, obscure part of the planet is to say an idealistic young man had a wild idea.

    Mortenson and co-author David Oliver Relin bring the reader to the foot of K2, into a village so isolated from everything that there doesn’t even exist a bridge to connect them to the world beyond the raging river that flows from the glacier fields. There Mortenson introduces us to children so eager to learn they work multiplication tables in the dirt without benefit of a teacher or books.

    How does this man, so grateful to the people who saved his life, repay them? One school at a time. It’s a truely inspirational story of what any of us, including a kid born in Minnesota, can do to change the world. The fact that the book is also a true page-turner and is so “can’t put it down, don’t interrupt me, I gotta know what happens next” good makes this must reading for every high school senior, every empty-nester, every one of us wondering what to do with the rest of our lives. Although I likely won’t venture to the high mountains of Pakistan or Tibet, Mortenson has inspired me to find a way to make a difference. Go read it and find your inspiration!!!

  4. selffate
    December 29th, 2011 at 03:44 | #4


    you.. yes YOU behind the terminal, surfing the web, maybe finding that cheap chotcky to buy or something. Stop what you are doing if you have come across this book and this review. You need to read this more than you think!

    Within the confines of 350 pages you can be transported to a world that for most Westerner’s and specifically Americans, is probably very unknown, and more than likely, highly misunderstood. In this world you will be introduced to a man named Greg Mortenson, or as you soon to know him, as Greg Sahib..

    The story that is told by David Oliver Revin, will not just be inspiring, will not be just teeth clenching, it will make you re-evaluate what you do in your life. While most of us may talk about the incapacity of the administration, or some (unfortunatly) the hatred of the middle East, or maybe some of you are even lying down in the streets, but there is ONE person who is TRULY doing something about the problems of foreign policy by litteraly getting his hands dirty touching the earth to build a school foundation, and risking his life ten times over.

    When you have read this journey, you will be saying to yourself, did he really do that? That guy is CRAZY! Did that really happen?, the Taliban? , How is that possible? In the journey that is fortold of a change of fate through a failed mountain expedition, you can see what the spirit of the individual can do and how it can be transformed. As the events of 9/11 soon come to fruition, Greg couldn’t be in a better place at the right time, and with David’s narration, you are litteraly put in the drivers seat.

    After reading Mortensen’s journey, you will want to litteraly book a plane ticket to somewhere you have never been before. In reading the accomplishments of a somewhat flawed (hey what person is perfect) individual, you will feel small and insignifigant. David Relin will not just explain what Greg did, he will make you live it, with some enjoyable side narrations that will make you grin.

    In Three Cups of Tea, David has managed more than anything to explain the heart of a problem (Islamic hatred of the West) of a very complicated nature (through numerous foreign policy debacles and politics spanning decades), and how one man knows of an easy solution (Go to poor regions of the Middle East and give education and extend the olive branch. Build schools for the poorest of the poor, ecspecially for girls. And more importantly, let them know that it was done.. by an American).

    As if it was so difficult to understand.

    I encourage you to take this journey and figure out that sometimes the biggest problems in life require some of the most common sense solutions. I also echo the other comments on here that you should buy this book from the actually CAI institute and consider a donation as well.

    Greg Mortensen is doing what he is doing best, and his passion comes through the pages. For myself my passion is to write. Like Gregg I feel it is what I can do best (when I put my effort my passion, and my soul into it).

    now if you’ll excuse me…

    I have to go write a check.

  5. M. Wise
    December 31st, 2011 at 17:10 | #5


    I’m not a big fan of non-fiction, but this was written so well and was such an amazing story, that I would have to say it is one of my favorite books read this past year. Our book club(only 6 members) read it and all 6 of us were moved by Greg Mortenson’s story and his accomplishments. We have recommended it to another book club group, and each of us has also recommended it to a friend or two and passed the copy of our book along to them. Several have also sent a donation in so that in a small way we can have a hand in “fighting terrorism one school at a time”.

  6. Nancy Horman
    January 1st, 2012 at 09:13 | #6


    This is a wonderful, can’t-put-down story of what one person can do with determination and courage to make the world a better place. His emphasis on education, especially for the girls of the world is the very real foundation for how to meet the world’s needs and bring about peace.

  7. JeepRoad
    January 4th, 2012 at 15:10 | #7


    “Three Cups of Tea” is a compelling account of the difference one fiercely determined person can make in the world. I won’t use this space to repeat the descriptions already covered in the editorial reviews, but Greg Mortenson’s passion for educating children, especially girls, in the rugged mountain regions of northern Pakistan is truly remarkable. The relationships he has patiently built with local people and moderate Muslim leaders in the area over many years are key to his success.

    In addition to education, Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute funds projects that provide health care and clean water. He is also building schools in northern Afghanistan, again with the support of local people.

    One alarming chapter of the book includes a discussion of the spread of fundamentalist madrassas in the mountain regions of Pakistan, which should deeply concern Americans, including the government. It is essential for Americans to support Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute initiatives to provide children with educational alternatives.

    “Three Cups of Tea” is very well written, with heartfelt portraits of courageous people. It is a superb and moving story of an exceptional man.

  8. Saad Qaisar
    January 4th, 2012 at 15:39 | #8


    Greg Mortenson’s three cups of tea is an account of his unsuccessful attempt on mighty K2, world’s second highest peak in Himalayas. Though unsuccessful, his failure embarked him on a mission to educate people of an area inhabitants of breath taking hills and valleys and virgin plains. Whats mind boggling about his adventure is his spirit of self sacrifice for a people of a land much misunderstood by the west. His story proves that with love, compassion and sincerity, you can melt the hearts, even those of mountains. Rightly regarded a hero in Northern Pakistan, his book would go a long way in bridging the divide between the inhabitants of East and West. If you haven’t read the book, you are Missing on something. Highly recommended.

  9. Sam Carpenter
    January 8th, 2012 at 18:14 | #9


    After four trips over the past three years to Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, and after founding Kashmir Family Aid (www.kashmirfamily.org) to aid victims of the Oct 8, 2005 earthquake, I whole-heartedly endorse Greg Mortenson and his work. This book adds new life to the over-wraught dictum that “one CAN make a difference.” Beyond that, if one wants to truly get inside the rural Pakistani’s heart and soul, this is mandatory reading.

    My personal experience has been that once I met these people (and yes, had tea with them in their tiny homes, or in the quake region, in their tents), it was difficult to want to leave to return to the West. It’s a hard thing to explain but Mortenson’s book will absolutely do the job. A powerful thread within his story: It would be impossible not to love these people after getting to know them one-on one.

    These remote village people are simple, strong and proud. Their lives are spent nurturing their families and working hard in a politically and environmentally tortured region. BUY THE BOOK, get inside the people of this place and then send Greg Mortenson your donation.

  10. Katelynn Wolfe
    January 9th, 2012 at 22:51 | #10


    This book is absolutely wonderful. Mortenson shows us how one dedicated person can make a difference. He also poignantly shows the world that education and non-violent assistance does a profoundly better job of winning support and “attacking” terrorism than warfare! (Duh!) I think there are very few Americans who would be willing to make the kind of sacrifice Greg Mortenson has but he has certainly inspired me to support his and similar efforts in the best way I can. In my opinion, he deserves a Nobel Peace prize. I would like to see this book in every high school library in America.

  11. doc peterson
    January 10th, 2012 at 16:35 | #11


    Greg Mortenson’s story of a failed attempt at summiting K2 and a later success at transforming and impacting the lives of thousands of Pakistani children through the construction of schools is inspiring, touching and heroic. On the basis of the story alone, I would give it 5 stars. It is unfortunate, therefore, that it is told so poorly by David Relin, whose writing was so problematic that I can only give the book 3.

    Moretnson’s trials, obstacles and his perseverence in overcoming these challenges to realize his dream of building (initally only one, later 23) schools in the remote regions of Pakistan is magnificent; a man of lesser toughness, integrity, temperment and stuborness certainly would have given up in the face of so many setbacks: financial as he sought to raise monies, personal as his quest took a toll on his personal life, and political, as Pakistanis, mujahadeen, and later, Americans sought to distract or derail his noble work. If you can get past the pained and sometimes overdone writing, these are the gems of the story. It seems many can overlook this shortcoming given the power of Mortenson’s deeds. I could not.

    Sadly, it took a lot of effort for me to look past the sophmoric writing, which I found to be a distraction from enjoying the larger plot. As other reviewers have noted, describing Mortenson in the third person (“Mortenson settled back into the passenger seat, a place of honor …”) seems odd when reading non-fiction. I can forgive this; it was the style of the prose that set my teeth on edge. Referring to the mountainous terrain as “celestial rocks”, “great brown crenulated walls” and how the “Karkoram knifed relentlessly into the a defensless blue sky” demoted the very real contributions Mortenson was making by writing in a pulp-fiction style. Don’t misunderstand me – I love my fiction – but this style of writing is very out of place here.

    I also didn’t care for the minutae provided for every individual Mortenson came across as he relentlessly worked to get his school off the ground. A little background information is helpful, even appropriate, but Relin detracted from the larger issue of what Mortenson was doing by giving a biopic of so many people that, in the end, had only a cursory role in the project.

    These criticisms aside, the analysis of how Pakistan (and Islamic central Asia) was transformed by the creation and introduction of madrasas in the late 1990′s and early millenium, the political, social and religious tightrope that Mortenson sucessfully navigated, and the remarkable descriptions of tribal culture, customs and rituals were magnificent. One cannot but think that the work that Mortenson has done (and continues to do) is what we as a nation need to do in order to foster understanding, build lasting relationships and successfully address the conflict we face in that part of the world.

    As Mortenson said, “The only way we can defeat terrorism is if people in this country (Pakistan) where terrorists exist learn to respect and love Americans, and if we can respect and love these people here. What’s the difference between them becoming a productive local citizen or a terrorist? I think the key is education.” I agree.

    Mortenson’s story is remarkable, and needs to be told. It is unfortunate that it was told in the manner it is here. Tighter editing (or perhaps a different ghost writer) would have done much to do his story justice. Nonetheless it is inspiring, informative and moving. Recommended.

  12. Choir Lady Lerch
    January 11th, 2012 at 00:30 | #12


    I was absolutely stunned by this true and inspiring story. I am a choir teacher in Minnesota and one of my students is Greg Mortenson’s niece- she gave me this book. Easily one of the best books/stories in today’s literature- I was moved to tears and the belief that one person- no matter how rich or poor, can make all the difference in the world. The writing style was very clear and the pacing was excellent. This book teaches the basic fundamental that we all must embrace for world peace- education is key and EVERYONE is capable of getting that education. This book will change your life for good!

  13. Robin Hall
    January 11th, 2012 at 01:44 | #13


    I REALLY can’t say enough about this book. After it was loaned to me last year, I have taken it upon myself to ‘spread the gospel’ of three cups of tea. An absolutely life-changing book and I have given this book as a gift to everyone I know. Please buy it, support Greg, the schools and you’d be amazed at what you will learn. Just radical. Keep it goin, Greg!

  14. Ronald Scheer
    January 11th, 2012 at 15:56 | #14


    This is an as-told-to biography of American Greg Mortenson, who has devoted his life to building schools in the remotest mountains of Pakistan. After a failed attempt to scale the earth’s second highest peak, K2, he stumbles into an isolated mountain village, where he resolves to repay the generosity of the village leader and his people by building them a school. Mortenson’s struggle to fulfill that promise and then committing himself to fund raising and building many more schools, for both boys and girls in this Muslim country, is the central subject of this long, well detailed book.

    Rising gamely to meet all obstacles, including his own naivte, errors in judgment, and lack of financial resources, Mortenson falls back on skills and values learned as the son of Lutheran missionaries in Africa. Along the way he encounters others who have the money, the connections, and the abilities to help him on his mission, in both the U.S. and Pakistan. There are frustrations that would discourage the best of us, and there are sudden unexpected turns of fortune that rescue his efforts from oblivion. The book is a lesson in how a real field of dreams comes into being, and it is a quiet rebuff to those who seek change and order in the world’s trouble spots through shock-and-awe military might.

    Writer David Relin’s worshipful account of Mortenson’s career draws heavily on “Parade”-style drama, suspense, and sentiment. At times readers may yearn for more objectivity and wonder how much Relin might be glossing over his subject. Still, the story has a momentum of its own, and you read on, as Mortenson’s fragile achievements are threatened by other forces set loose by the anti-West indoctrination of Saudi-funded madrassah schools, the emergence of the Talibabn, and the post-9/11 attacks on Afghanistan. Recommended for readers who enjoy heartfelt and inspiring stories of unusual achievement by heroically generous individuals.

  15. LLL
    January 11th, 2012 at 23:49 | #15


    My goodness. I just finished the book, and I am in tears. I am a world traveller (32 countries in just about every region on the globe), and consider myself compassionate to a fault; but even I, after September 11th, possessed a fair degree of anger at Muslims. I had spent some time in the Middle East and North Africa, and although I tried to respect the traditions as much as possible (covering my arms, wore long skirts, not looking at men in the eye), I was still assaulted in broad daylight in a street bazaar in Cairo, Egypt, surrounded by at least a dozen of my classmates (an old man came up and grabbed my [...]). The anger that started then had totally blown up after September 11th and consumed me, the point where I had actually said that I will never believe Islam is a religion of peace, especially after the reaction to the Mohammed cartoons.


    I was wrong.

    This book has reminded me why I loved the regions in the Himalayas and beyond; the simplicity of life, the fierceness and protectiveness towards family and friends; and their incredible desire to do the best for themselves with whatever they have on hand, even if it means going to school on a bare field covered with morning frost. Greg and David describe these people in Baltistan and beyond so well that you cannot help admiring or even falling in love with these proud, strong people.

    I’ve always told people if you encourage positive change for just one person, you’ll change the whole world for them. Greg and his CAI cohorts have done that for literally hundreds of thousands of children. It was so gratifying for me to read, despite the selfishness of our people today, that there are still some who passionately believe in changing the world for others.

    For me, it was the speech by Syed Abbas (on page 257, hardcover) that broke the last of my hard-core attitude towards Muslims and Islam.

    I am off to make my contribution – meager but still a contribution – to CAI so they can continue their incredible work.

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