Thursday, April 10, 2008

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

There's a reason this book is a New York Times bestseller. Wow! "Three Cups of Tea" is the story of Greg Mortenson, American mountain climber turned humanitarian worker in central Asia. This one man, operating on a shoestring budget, has accomplished more in the fight against terrorism than the entirety of the rest of America’s efforts, and he’s done it by building schools for kids.

Mortenson’s method of building schools in Pakistan was partially birthed out of his lack of money -- he couldn't just show up with a shipment of supplies and an American crew. Instead, he had to raise money, and then he took the little he had back to Pakistan where he relied on locals for know-how, for wisdom, to purchase materials and to supply the labor. It did not go smoothly, but it may well have been the only possible method that would work.

I’ve thought about Greg Mortensen and also Dr. Paul Farmer (Mountains Beyond Mountains) because both men are extraordinary in what they’ve been able to achieve and how they have achieved it. Both left the comforts of life in America to live like the people they work with. For example, Mortensen went hunting for a week over glaciers with a group of Pakistani men and, like them, he brought no mountain gear, not even hiking boots. Farmer lived in Haiti with few possessions and in a hut just like his patients had. Back in the US, they also lived as cheaply as possible. Mortenson slept in his car until he sold it to buy a plane ticket back to Pakistan.

I think their roots may have helped them develop this enormous flexibility. It occurs to me that neither man had what would be considered a "normal" American childhood. Farmer grew up in a bus; Mortensen was a missionary kid in Africa. I'm intruiged because I've read about and met many missionaries who don't even come close to this level of assimilation to their new culture, and they don't get the results, either. Those I've met who live closest to the lifestyle of the people with whom they work and who rely on local people instead of on fellow missionaries are far more successful. (This would be a good topic for somebody's dissertation.)

I can’t praise Mortensen’s work highly enough. I wish his book was required reading for everyone involved in foreign policy because it brings a face to moderate Muslims in Pakistan and a remarkable cultural understanding. "Three Cups of Tea" is exciting, it’s relevant, it’s timely, it’s inspirational. I give it 7 stars out of 5. If you read only one book this year, read this one.

5 comments:

Joyce said...

Once I'm done with the "Buy Nothing In April" challenge I want to get this book. Thanks for the review! I love this kind of non-fiction.

kale for sale said...

Thanks for the recommendation and your thoughts on this one. I keep passing the book up but I'm going to have to read it now.

Donna said...

Hope you both enjoy it!

Mariajaan said...

Mhhh, I can´t concentrate so much in the admirable ordeal of GM because the book is written so poorly. I know this sounds trivial, and I do feel bad mentioning it but people should be prepared for excessive praise, melodrama, and too much filling. The man is admirable, and his work as well, but the book deserved a better editor. The subtitle is also misleading. He became a mentor as a personal quest, he was not planning to join the fight against terrorism, although indeed what better than education can do this work?
It reads very fast. I also recommend this book because in general people like inspiring, positive stories.
Best regards!

Donna said...

Mariajaan,
Thanks for dropping by. I agree that the author gushes over Mortenson. My high recommendation for the book really is based on Mortenson's work, but I appreciate your comment. Muchas gracias.