THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Reviewed by Mary Stein, Friday Morning Book Club ...take our poll!

Three Cups Of Tea (May 8, 2008) Three Cups of Tea is a fascinating nonfiction account about Greg Martenson, an American mountain climber. In 1993, Mortenson attempted to reach the top of K2, the word's second highest peak, to commemorate the life of his deceased sister. He fails, and during his descent loses his way, is found and nursed back to health by the villagers of Karpe. In trying to repay their kindness, he finds his life's work.

While in Karpe, Mortenson sees eighty children with sticks in hand, quietly practicing their times tables by scratching numbers in the dirt. There is no teacher with them. There is no school house. They are in the cold open air on a mountain top, practicing what they learned from an itinerant teacher who stops by three times a week. Mortenson is touched by these children and decides to build a school for them. In the process of figuring out how to accomplish his goals, Mortenson learns about the complexity of village cultures in Pakistan and later, Afghanistan.

Three Cups of Tea shows us how Mortenson, a man without financial means, manages to raise funds and build a school for the village of Karpe, and then continues his work by building schools for many other villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is a man driven by his tremendous passion. He is an educational visionary with a wonderful "can do" American attitude. Our book club was deeply moved by the achievements of this exceptional man - so much so, that we decided to contribute to his nonprofit organization.*

Several people in our group commented that Three Cups of Tea shows us a way to achieve peace: caring for children and working with other human beings to bring needed education to children. Mortenson built over fifty schools, mostly for girls. Our book club also discussed Mortenson's personal challenges and passions. One person questioned the value of his risking his life to climb to the top of a mountain, but applauded Mortenson's equally challenging passion to help poor children achieve an education.

We also talked about the "age old question" of "nurture versus nature." Mortenson grew up in Africa with his parents who were missionaries. How much did his upbringing lead to his commitment to help people in other countries? How does one become driven to help others when it means sleeping in hovels, having little or no money for your own family, and not being with your family for months at a time? How does one become obsessed and stay committed to the obsession? How is it best to fight Al-Quaeda -- with guns or with schools for poor people who do not want to be part of Al Quaeda or the Taliban, but want education and a better life for their children?

Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea provided us with a great deal to think about and talk about. Our book club thought that Three Cups of Tea would be an excellent choice for high school reading lists and for everyone's personal library. The writing may not be high literature, but the subject matter is inspiring.

* Greg Mortenson's nonprofit organization: Central Asia Institute, P.O. Box 7209, Bozeman, MT 59771, 406-585-7841,

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