Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

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

Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson's adventures as he has made a life of building secular primary schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past 20 years with private donations and the help of his beneficiaries and without government money.

Mortensen's humanitarian odyssey began, it would seem, by chance. He fell in love with Pakistan while mountain climbing K2, the world's second higheset mountain, as a young man after his sister died. Cared for by villagers after sustaining an injury and getting lost, his time of recuperation became a time of discovery as he fell in love with the people and the place. He promised the villagers he would return and build them a school.

Though he lacked the means--or even the slightest idea of how to acquire the means--to fulfill this promise, he eventually did, and one project led to another. As he became more well-known among the people of that region and gained their respect as a man of his word, the number of school projects grew.

His work has been grounded in two principles: that progress of every kind begins by building relationships with people and that progress is the direct result of education. Mortesen learned from his friend and mentor, Haji Ali the lesson of the three cups of tea, "to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects." By respecting people for who they are and listenting to them, he could most effectively help them meet their own needs--whether he was building schools or women's centers or installing water systems or helping his schools' graduates go on to higher eduation.

Education frees young people to make choices that benefit their communities. Educating girls, Mortensen says, is the best way to change a culture: "If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls" because girls stay home, become leaders in their communities, and pass on what they have learned.

Mortensen was able to continue his work even after 9/11--though not without challenges from the Taliban and the suspicion of the US government--and he continues today.

The book illustrates that dreams come true with the right amount of drive; we can make things happen.

(Note: While I enjoyed Mortensen's story, I did not enjoy the book. Writer David Oliver Relin remarks on Mortenson's humility so much that it seems he is on an ego trip on his subject's behalf. This subjectivity damages the prose. Also, Relin makes the unfortunate choice of naming the men and women who had let Mortensen down romantically or financially, and it feels like the humanitarian and his writer use the text to settle scores. It seems to me a magnanimous person does not need to do this.


  1. Sandy there is a film I would like....and it all started here. I went to Netflix to forward you info about Blackboards, Since you are a teacher, and if you haven't seen it. You will love it. Then I saw several more, I thought you would like, they are some of my favorites. Wonderful stones!

  2. interesting critique of the idea and the execution of it. hope no one suffered because of his humanitarian efforts because of taliban retaliation...

  3. Wow! What a humanitarian hero, I thought -- until I read your last few sentences I wanted to read the book but now I don't. It is enough to know of his work and service.

  4. I read it, coincidentally my cousin who lives on Holly Pond sent it to me as a gift. I loved it, a very inspiring story. I do not remember noticing the things you remark in your last paragraph, or if I did notice at the time, I must have dismissed it... Like all of us Mortenson is only human. But there is much to value in the book.

  5. HMM. I just read this review and I'm glad I did. The topic sounds wonderful but I'm afraid I would have felt irritated by the author's subjectivity too.

  6. Thanks for becoming a "follower". I so agree with the principles of "building relationships" and "using education" to futher ideas and move forward. From scanning your blog, it looks like you keep very busy--look forward to checking in often. Mickie :)

  7. Seems like a captivating book.
    I love inspirational stories such as these. Those that reflect the lives of real people, that tried to make a difference.
    They at all times reinforce my belief in the goodness of mankind.;)
    Have a lovely weekend Sandy,

  8. I like to know the future of these muslim girls.

  9. I feel sorry for those people and I really do not like the Muslim faith because of what they do.They say Islam is peace but I don;t believe it cause we would have peace by now after all these centuries.


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