Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan And Pakistan, by Greg Mortenson, read by Atossa Leoni
This book was disappointing on a variety of levels. For one, the book was, disappointingly, not the usual sort of audiobook but rather a pre-loaded audiobook that required a AAA battery and set of headphones to listen to, and didn’t end up working very well even when those were added. And then there were the disappointments involving the book itself, not least the way that the author was so scatter-brained that the organization of the book was seriously lacking and that a great deal of the book consisted of descriptions of various events and people and situations that were mainly of interest to the author himself and not to his larger point about supporting girls’ education, although there was plenty of discussion of that too. All in all, this book feels like the author is trying to promote himself as being some sort of expert witness on education and counter-terrorism in Central Asia, and while that is clearly his intent, I just don’t feel that he does a good job of it when he makes his political grandstanding so transparently obvious. This is a book that one gains very little pleasure out of if one does not think that the author is obviously some sort of genius.
This book is not particularly well organized, but it is generally told as a series of stories that revolve around a particular area or the aftermath of a particular event. So the author begins with running over the stories that ended the author’s previous book, discussing his first trips to Afghanistan and his promise to build schools there. This takes up a considerable length of the book, to the point where one is eight or nine chapters into the book before the author moves to new material, and even then there is a lot of repetition throughout the rest of the book. This is a bit annoying unfortunately and detracts from the enjoyment of the book. The author also spends a lot of time talking about his relationship with the US military in Afghanistan and his supposed influence with the Obama-era military. The author also discusses how difficult it was to become an official NGO in Afghanistan because of all the corruption there as well as the efforts made and the envy produced by the efforts of the Central Asia Institute to help out in Pakistan after a deadly earthquake in Kashmir. One gets the sense throughout, though, that the author is not telling the full story.
This is the sort of book that would have benefited greatly from a co-author or editor who could wrangle this text and put it in a way that would be enjoyable for the reader or listener. Too little time was spent in pondering how this work should appeal to the audience, and a great deal too much time was spent on the author thinking how this work should promote his own interests and his own efforts and his own reputation, even in ways that seem a bit pointless. After all, the author spends considerable time, for example, promoting a lengthy meeting with Pakistani president Musharraf and the hopes and expectations that the author had about such a meeting for the Central Asia Institute, and then undercuts the celebratory mood almost immediately by talking about how Musharraf resigned that week and so not much came of the meeting. Likewise, the author spends a lot of time talking about how much he pushed and yelled at his staff, and what he thinks of as being dedicated may come off as being a jerk or worse, and the author just has not thought enough about how things would appear to others to minimize this negative impression, which is symptomatic of all kinds of larger problems.