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Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
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Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan

A-StonesintoSchoolsGreg Mortenson cowrote the New York Times best seller Three Cups of Tea ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2007), detailing his efforts to build a school in a remote region of Pakistan. A sequel of sorts, Stones into Schools describes Mortenson’s continuing efforts, together with the organization he cofounded, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), to empower and educate local communities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The CAI currently operates 131 schools, serving nearly 60,000 students.

The Topic: When a group of Kirghiz horsemen make the treacherous journey to Pakistan in 1999 to track down "Dr. Greg" and ask him to build a school in the far-flung and nearly inaccessible Wakhan Corridor of eastern Afghanistan, the idealistic Mortenson agrees without fully realizing the ramifications. Over the next 10 years, he and the CAI’s "Dirty Dozen"—twelve determined, dedicated men of different cultures, religions, and languages—cozied up to tribal leaders, wrangled with corrupt government officials, and swayed narrow-minded ideologues to promote literacy and learning, especially among girls. Mortenson’s CAI fervently believed that universal education was the Western world’s best chance for quelling political instability and religious intolerance in the East. Before the decade ended, their efforts resulted in several schools—and even basic infrastructure.
Viking Adult. 448 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780670021154

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Stones into Schools has more characters, more regions to consider, more obstacles to overcome, more history to digest [than Three Cups of Tea]. At times, these ‘mores’ can require a slow and careful read. But be not discouraged: Like the trouble it takes to build these important and life-enriching schools, endeavoring to better understand this region through Stones into Schools is worth the effort." Bernadette Murphy

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Much of Stones into Schools hinges on the logistical challenges, but this book is also suffused with its author’s unorthodox tactics and distinctive personal style (no underwear, lots of ibuprofen). … As Stones into Schools chronicles the institute’s work, it captures the physical and political landscapes of Afghanistan in ways that make it exceptionally timely and compelling." Janet Maslin

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The detailed narrative would grow tiresome were it not for its many insights about the Muslim people of the region and the curious antics of ‘The Dirty Dozen,’ CAI’s colorful and brilliant Pakistani and Afghan project managers. … I strongly recommend Stones into Schools to Western readers wondering about the possibility of forging a peaceful future with the Islamic world, and to any who ever doubted that American meddling in the affairs of others could occasionally result in good." Robert Abdul Hayy Darr

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Mortenson] returns with an equally inspiring (and perhaps more elegantly written) follow-up volume." Bharti Kirchner

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although at times the research seems plopped into the narrative and the repetition of mysterious sentences at the end of each section becomes irritating, Stones into Schools is written with care and consistency. The book overflows with picturesque descriptions of the sweeping mountainous vistas and dusty plains of Central Asia, reflecting Mortenson’s passion for this landscape and culture." Katherine Kysar

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"If the first book was inspirational, the second sometimes reads like an infomercial. Mortenson recounts in detail all the good that has been done because of the notoriety and generosity inspired by the first book, and how much more money he needs to keep his remote schools going." Jay Mathews

Critical Summary

Critics inevitably measured Stones into Schools up against Mortenson’s wildly successful Three Cups of Tea, cowritten with journalist David Oliver Relin. What the critics discovered was a deeper, denser, more enlightening read. In Stones, Mortenson replaces a well-honed narrative arc with breathtaking descriptions of the isolated regions he visits and educational asides about the cultures and people he serves. He provides an epic amount of background information, including maps and a Who’s Who, to help readers stay on target, and his fascinating insights into the Muslim world keep the story moving along. Critics diverged over the quality of Mortenson’s prose compared with Relin’s in Three Cups, but all agreed that Stones is an inspiring and extremely timely book by a supremely passionate and dedicated humanitarian.