Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea — One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . Once School at a Time

Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, 2006, Penguin, New York.


The easy answer is to say that Three Cups of Tea is a book about using education to combat the seeds of terrorism in Pakistan and throughout the Muslim world.  This is a nice nutshell of an answer, but it hardly does justice to the myriad of issues raised in the book.   A fascinating read, to be sure, set in one of the most remote and breathtakingly beautiful areas of the world, there are several points one must consider after reading it.

1. Ignorance is the root of poverty.

2. Ignorance is the root of bigotry.

3. One person can make a huge difference.

4. War is almost never the answer.

5. Education is much much cheaper than war.

6. One must respect another person’s perspective before one can ever hope to change or improve it.

7. The Media (mainstream or otherwise) is a very poor source of information.

8. A Muslim is not a Mujahedin is not a Taliban.

9. Most people just want to live peacefully despite what their governments do.

10. Countries are not ethnic groups and ethnic groups are not determined by color, location, or religion.

11. Not all ignorant people are stupid, and not all stupid people are ignorant.


Finding myself strapped for time today, I don’t have time to expound on the above points.  But I do suggest that everyone read this book.  As a Christian, my duty is to bring the light of Christianity to people around the world.  I, personally, would not have participated in Muslim practices in order to do what Greg Mortenson did.  However, it is interesting that no one mistook the respect he showed to Muslim beliefs as a devout belief in them, but loved him that he would go so far to respect them as people that he would not step on their beliefs.  Whether I think he was right to do this or not is beside the point.  It worked for what he was doing.  And I, if I were so endowed with financial means and did not have 100 of my own similar projects to fund, would be right there supporting him.

At San Jose State University, a lot of my friends were from Iran.  I am saddened that I lost touch with them.  I have known others who fled Iran during the upheavals of the 70’s when the Shah was deposed and replace by the Ayatollah.  All ot these people were kind, generous and friendly to me.  Many of them practice Islam, and none of them tried to make me into a Muslim or every talked of killing the infidel.  While i understand and appreciate that there is a jihad in progress, I also understand that this jihad comes from ignorance and indoctrination, much in the same way that militant anti-Muslim hatred comes from a narrow-minded and often heretical quasi-Christian indoctrination.

Hatred is easy.  It takes very little education or thought.  Love is much more complicated, because it must overcome societal stubbornness as well as personal selfishness.  Not many would be willing to step into the cross hairs as Greg Mortenson did without regard for personal risk.  Not many are even willing go fore-go a latte to buy a book for someone they will never meet.  Half the battle in the war against ignorance is understanding the problem.  The book certainly brings home the information.  The other half of the battle is to actually step out of selfish mode and do something about it.  This takes, not just a few dollars thrown at the cause, but an actual commitment to thinking about others and how to help those that need a leg up.  It takes understanding that government funds rarely solve anything because they never get to the people who really need them in the ways that will really help.   A little money and a well-conceived plan of action will do what a lot of money and an ignorant bureaucracy cannot.

Finally, the book makes clear that the people of Pakistan were not without desire to be educated.  They did everything within their power to help build schools and to promote them.  The children showed a hunger to learn.   The impoverished in this country need to understand that, not only are people not willing to give aid where “tax dollars” are supposed to be the answer, but people who could actually help (i.e., not a handful of celebrities who just throw a few fund-raisers) aren’t about to waste time and money on people who will not be invested in their own improvement and who will be a good return on their investment.



Filed under Economics/ Book Reviews

3 responses to “Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

  1. Since posting this book review, I have run across disturbing news about CAI, the charity founded and run by Greg Mortenson that allegedly poured all its money into building schools in cooperation with local Pakistanis and Afghans. Seems that, as Three Cups of Tea became a runaway best-seller, and the money grew exponentially, so did the corruption.
    In the following article:
    we hear that the great story of Mortenson’s deeds may have been mostly that. I hesitate to say that no good was done, but there seem to be other charities that did much more good with much less money and much less misappropriation of funds.
    In a related story. the book’s co-author (actually THE author), David Oliver Relin, apparently committed suicide.

    I tend to believe that the conclusions of the book are still valid, even though the players may be less than truthful about many events. And I personally know other bringers of humanitarian aid to the region who have helped to tear down the wall of hatred with their acts of love. Especially Christian aid has gone far to heal the wounds of hate between Christians and Muslims in many cases. For this reason, I believe the premises to still be true, that wars and bombs are not the best way to deter terrorism. Love is.

  2. Howard Berg

    Mr. Mortenson spoke at the Libertarian convention in Las Vegas a few years ago, after first having to delay his talk because President Obama’s arrival cancelled all flights landing in Las Vegas for half a day without notice. Although Mr. Mortenson does not talk about his exact political values, much of what he spoke about was in line with libertarian principles, and he detested how much harm and damage the US government is causing around the world. He was inspiring and humble, which was the most obvious take from his speech.

    I did hear about the controversy with CBS 60 Minutes a few years ago – when I first watched it I was shocked, but now after doing more research and following the continued work of Greg Mortenson, I tend to believe that much of CBS story was not accurate, Several of CBS 60 Minute shows have recently been discredited or shown to be lies. There is a film-maker Jennifer Jordan who is investigating CBS and making a documentary which will be interesting to watch

    • True that all good has its nay-sayers. I am obligated to tell both sides of the story and to let the buyer beware. It remains for people with much more resources than I to put boots on the ground and discover the whole truth. We can all agree that most of the war machine is money wasted on empirical dreams which benefit a few at the expense of the masses on both sides.
      But I also see a cautionary tale for all welfare-minded. It’s easy to build something but hard to keep it going. People were behind the war to get Bin Laden for a year or two, then interest waned (except among weapons manufacturers). Every year in the US we spend billions establishing new programs to help the poor. These are rolled out with much fanfare. But usually, these programs languish, either for lack of political funding, or because the participants do little to maintain what they have been given. Real investment for the poor takes a lot of commitment from everyone involved. Most of us don’t really have the kind of perseverance that it takes for success.

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