Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time Summary

Greg Mortenson


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.


Three Cups of Tea was co-written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin and covers the details of Greg Mortenson's life, with a special emphasis on Mortenson's work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson, at one time, was a mountain climber as well as a part-time nurse.During his last attempt to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world, called K2, Mortenson lost his way and almost lost his life. He was rescued by a generous Balti tribal leader in a remote Pakistani mountain village. It is through Haji Ali, the village chief, that the title of Mortenson's book comes. Haji told Mortenson that there was an old Balti saying:"The first cup of tea a person shares with a Balti, he is a stranger. After the second cup, the person becomes an honored guest. But it is with the third cup of tea, that a person becomes a member of the Balti family." Meeting Haji Ali and becoming a part of the Balti village changed Mortenson's life.

Circumstances worked against Mortenson in his 1993 attempt to reach the summit of K2 and dedicate his victory to his sister, Christa. Christa had died the year before after battling epilepsy most of her life.Mortenson wanted to do something that reflected his strong appreciation of his sister's courage, so he tackled one of the most difficult mountains to climb. But he failed to reach the summit. And worse, he became separated from his mountain-climbing group and his guide during his descent. He had no water and only one protein bar left to eat. He was close to death when he wandered into the remote village of Korphe in the mountains of northern Pakistan. Although the people of Korphe were dismally poor, they fed and nursed Mortenson back to health. To repay them, Mortenson promised to return and build them a school.

Mortenson returned to Berkeley, California, where he worked nighttime shifts in a local hospital and lived in his car in order to save the $12,000 it would take to build the school he had promised the Balti village.During the day, Mortenson wrote letters, asking famous people, from U.S. senators, to television news anchors, to movie stars, to donate money to his cause. Out of almost 600 letters he mailed out, (writing many of them on an old typewriter because he had not yet learned how to work on a computer), Mortenson received only one response. After many attempts to publicize his project, the story of Mortenson's desire to build a school for the impoverished people in Pakistan who had saved his life, an article appeared in a newsletter published by the American Himalayan Society. The story caught the attention of Dr. Jean Hoerni, a physicist who had made his wealth as one of the pioneers of micro-processing. After Hoerni donated the money that was needed to build the school, Mortenson immediately returned to Pakistan.

Gathering the money, Mortenson soon discovered, was only the first in a long line of hurdles he would have to navigate....

(The entire section is 1186 words.)