Three Cups Of Tea: One Man’s Mission To Fight Terrorism And Build Nations…One School At A Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, read by Patrick Lawlor
This is a book that I wanted to like more than I did. It is at its most compelling when the listener (or reader) is able to get into the nuts and bolts of how it was that Greg Mortenson, a man I have never heard of before listening to this book, built a large amount of schools in Northern Pakistan and survived being held by Taliban rebels in the border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan near Peshawar. It is at its worst when the author gets all anti-war political or when the person reading this book goes into terrible voices trying distractedly to mimic the people who are being quoted. Some of his cringeworthy accents greatly detract from the listening experience, no matter how faithful the reader may believe them to be to the people involved. If you are fond of the efforts of non-governmental organizations to improve the education of other countries, and especially of girls in Muslim areas, this book has a lot to offer about Mortenson’s generosity of spirit.
This book is part memoir and part manifesto, and the material included manages to carve a pretty narrow space between being too preachy and being too absorbed in the personal story of the author. The book begins with a discussion of Mortenson’s youth in Tanzania where his father was a medical missionary of sorts and discusses his education and the death of his beloved sister and his own passion for mountaineering that led him to travel frequently to the remote regions of northern Pakistan, where a near-death experience after a failed attempt to summit K2 led him to recover in the obscure town of Korphe and make a promise to build schools, which took him some time to fulfill. The book amps up the drama of Mortenson’s experiences by portraying his efforts at fundraising as difficult until after 2001, showing his desire to distance himself from the US army and appeal to “moderate” Muslim figures in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to squash unfriendly fatwas while building school after school in remote river valleys and seeking to build an educational empire for himself in an area of poverty that Pakistan and other governments have generally neglected.
There are some things that people share who become passionate about education of people abroad. Often, it is people who deeply value education but are not necessarily very motivated by profit and that is certainly the case for the author here. There are definitely some ways in which this book is a bit tedious, especially when the co-author tries to continually justify Mortenson’s lack of interest in keeping schedules or keeping in communication with others or getting paperwork done. Fortunately, things get better as the finances for the Central Asian Institute improve and the author is able to afford helpers who can cover for those areas where he does not do as well. And with that the book can focus on what the author is managing abroad, which is truly far more interesting than hearing about lectures in empty sporting goods stores or people on the board of his NGO complaining about how lax of an organizer he happens to be. With a bit of trimming and better reading this book could have been a bit better, but the material itself is compelling enough to make this a deeply fascinating book nonetheless and one that should find a welcome audience among people who are passionate about education as a way of counteracting the lure of terrorist ideology, even if not everyone is going to be able to buy that claim.