Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

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

The good that one person can do, December 12, 2008

Greg Mortenson is an extraordinary man who builds schools. "Three Cups of Tea" chronicles his journey from obsessive mountainerring bum to hands-on philanthropist. Mortenson is personally responsible for building dozens of schools for boys and girls in extremely remote and impoverished sections of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Along the way, Mortenson encounters illiterate-yet-wise village elders and communities based on tradition, justice and hospitality. The slow and predictable pace of this life is attractive to we hyperactive Westerners. But the beauty of the life and its setting is offset by the harshness of the climate and paucity of resources.

"There Cups of Tea" often reads like "The Perils of Pauline," with the author careening from one hair-raising calamity to the next. If he's not battling altitude sickness on K2, he is dealing with locals with their own agendas, America military men hunting terrorists or lonely potential donors relcutant to part with their money. There are times when it seems impossible that one person would have experienced so much. But through it all shines Mortenson's admirable humanity. He truly loves the people he serves and they love him back. The tragedy of then story, spanning the 9/11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan, is that it shows that it is within our means to influence the Muslim peoples of central Asia -- without resorting to force, bribery or intimidation. Mortensen learns that respecting the traditions of the people is the basis of all interactions. And when he builds a school in a village where none has stood for centuries, thus providing the children with hope of a brighter future, he believes that he is to strangling terrorism at its roots of hopelessness and ignorance.

Mortenson and David Oliver Relin have put together a great read that is part travelogue, part cultural study and part biography. Would that there were 50,000 Greg Mortensons in the world.