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One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time

A-Three Cups of TeaIn 1993, Greg Mortenson, 35, created success out of failure when he veered off course in his descent from K2, the world’s second-highest peak. He fortunately encountered a tribesman, who took him to his remote Muslim village in Pakistan. Recovering from his grave illness in Korphe, he noticed children scratching lessons in the dirt and promised to build a school for them. In the process of fulfilling his pledge, Mortenson endured many hardships—from raising funds to surviving fatwas by angry Islamists and even a kidnapping by tribal militiamen. Over the next decade, his project evolved into the Central Asia Institute, which has, to date, constructed 55 schools for girls throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Penguin. 349 pages. $15. ISBN: 0143038257

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Today, 13 years after Mortenson’s failure as a mountaineer on K2, his success as a humanitarian continues to grow. … Laced with drama, danger, romance, and good deeds, Mortenson’s story serves as a reminder of the power of a good idea and the strength inherent in one person’s passionate determination to persevere against enormous obstacles." Marilyn Gardner

People Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"An inspiring chronicle. … Though the coauthor sometimes tries too hard to milk the drama in Mortenson’s story, he doesn’t have to; this is one protagonist who clearly deserves to be called a hero." Maria Speidel

Washington Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A glint of hero worship in the pages (is there any discomfort that Mr. Mortenson can’t endure?) is only a tease to spur on the reader. The mystery is how such a physically strong but self-effacing personality was able to surmount the prejudices and paranoia rife in this part of the world in order to undertake a successful project that thrives today." Ann Geracimos

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Three Cups of Tea is a swashbuckling, sprawling adventure tale in which we accompany the former ‘climbing bum’ across mountain passes and wobbly bridges on a mission to open schools for village children in northern Pakistan. … His story would have been better served, though, by a tougher editor and a book that was shorter, leaner and freer of fawning." Pamela Constable

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"Part mountaineering memoir, part puff profile, but largely a testament to a generosity that transcends politics and religion, Three Cups shares the story of a consummate outdoorsman-turned-infidel saint. … Parade editor Relin’s fawning portrayal (Mortenson’s only vice seems to be perpetual tardiness) can verge on tall tale, but the nobility of Mortenson’s mountain-moving mission shines through the humdrum prose." Timothy Gunatilaka

Critical Summary

While critics agree that Three Cups of Tea should be read for its inspirational value rather than for its literary merit, the book’s central theme, derived from a Baltistan proverb, rings loud and clear. "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger," a villager tells Greg Mortenson. "The second time, you are an honored guest. The third time you become family." An inspirational story of one man’s efforts to address poverty, educate girls, and overcome cultural divides, Three Cups, which won the 2007 Kiriyama Prize for nonfiction, reveals the enormous obstacles inherent in becoming such "family." Despite the important message, critics quibbled over the awkward prose and some melodrama. After all, a story as dramatic and satisfying as this should tell itself.