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From the Archives: Book 49: "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and Davis Oliver Relin



Book 49: "Three Cups of Tea" By Greg Mortenson and Davis Oliver Relin
"Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Verdict: Read for a new view on the Middle East and a much better solution to the war on terror
"Three Cups of Tea" is a non-fiction story that follows Greg Mortenson's life as he strives to bring schools to children of the Middle East. What struck me most was not what Mortenson manages to accomplish, but what he sacrifices to do so. For much of the journey he lives in his car to save money for his cause. The caption of the book call's Greg Mortenson an "ordinary man" but I really have to disagree, not only because he has personally accomplished so much but mostly because nothing about his life has been ordinary. Mortenson was raised in Africa with missonary parents, a father who builds the first teaching hospital in the area that is actually run by African citizens. He then becomes an avid climber and strives to reach the top of one of the most feared peaks, K2.  He gets lost on the descent and ends up in Baltistan, in a welcoming village with no actual school and children that are teaching themselves on a cliff while writing in dirt. Mortenson begins his cause of bringing schools to the remote villages that Afghanistan and Pakistan had forgotten.
As he goes village to village, with the story flashing to moments of his life outside of building schools, Mortenson perfects the art of building schools for 12,000 American dollars. He even continues through the dangerous time of 9/11 as Americans become targets.
The story is inspiring, interesting, and I really love that it gives a new perspective on the section of the world that America has learned to hate. I also love the message that he sends: the best way to fight terrorism is not through bombs, but through giving the children a balanced education. Left with only one option, fundamentalist Islamic schools, families desperate to have their children educated will take that option. However, if you provide a balanced education option, they will not get the biased education of fundamental Islam.
My main issue with the book was that as the story progressed I slowly began to feel that it was going to end with this familiar phrase, "please send all donations to..." Really, the story changed from a difficult look at the culture and Mortenson's struggle to a tale of how great Mortenson is and how he is always struggling for money for his organization- it feels more like a fundraiser pitch. However, through all of this praise, I couldn't help but focus on the fact that though he was striving to bring education to those who couldn't afford to do this for themselves (which is admirable, don't get me wrong) he also fails to be there for his family members, leaving them two to three times a year, for months at a time. So while he is doing so much for children in the Middle East, he fails to be there for his own. I realize the book is a focus on his efforts for schools so it may just seem that way, but the lack of focus on his family is evident.
In essence, I liked the first three quarters of this story. The last got a little too, "he's so wonderful" feeling and edged on a pitch for donations. In fact I actually was slightly surprised that the book didn't end telling the reader how they could donate. I know many of you have probably read this book as well, if you got a different feeling, please share with me!


***There have since been allegations made that Mortenson made up quite a bit of this book and used the charity as a launching point to promote his book. He was eventually ordered to pay restitution. You can read more about it here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/three-cups-of-tea-author-greg-mortenson-to-retire-from-charity/  
That said, I think the message and the overall point, made up or not, is a good one. The only real why you can fight an abstract concept is through education.

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