Three Cups of Tea, co-written by David Oliver Relin, is Greg Mortenson’s memoir, a book that recounts Mortenson’s adventures in bringing education to isolated areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The title is derived from an ancient saying that states that the first time you share a cup of tea with someone, you are merely a stranger. The second time, you become a friend. The third, and you are part of the family. Mortenson’s point was to get to know the people that some people might consider their enemies.
What started out as a promise to a small Pakistani village whose members had worked together to save his life after an unsuccessful attempt to climb one of the most dangerous mountains in the world (called K2), ended up with Mortenson creating a non-profit organization. Mortenson’s group sought to construct schools in Central Asia so that impoverished communities could educate their children. With a special emphasis on bringing education to Muslim girls who were often forbidden to go to school, Mortenson raised money and put together the Central Asia Institute to meet this goal. In the process, Mortenson’s life was threatened by local warlords in Asia, and he had to endure hate mail from fellow Americans who thought his efforts were misdirected. Muslims were, after all, enemies of the United States, were they not? Not so, thought Mortenson. He believed that education would bridge the gap that had developed between radical Muslims and the Western world. The first school was built by U.S. school children who made contributions to Mortenson’s cause through their collection of pennies: 62,400 of them. Fifty more schools would be added.
Three Cups of Tea has sold over three million copies and has been published in thirty-nine different countries. Robert Gates, U.S. defense secretary, has praised the book, and Special Forces troops deployed to Afghanistan are required to read it. Time magazine gave the book its 2006 Asia Book of the Year Award. Although some critics point out the flaws in the writing, most agree that the book is inspiring. Margot Hillel, reviewing for Reading Time, thought so and went on to discuss the book’s power. Maria Speidel, writing for People magazine, stated that the co-author, David Oliver Relin, never had to stretch his writing to prove Mortenson is a hero.