Book Review: Three Cups of Tea

A book I never finished…

Three Cups of Tea, one man’s mission to support peace”¦ one school at a time

By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I borrowed this book with determination to read and like it. I loved both the topic and the setting (Pakistan and Afghanistan). Three Cups of Tea is a  highly popular, highly praised New York Times Best Seller, so obviously many people have loved this book. In the the early 1990’s  Greg Mortenson  attempted and failed to summit K2, but it was this trip to Pakistan that inspired Mortenson to return and tackle a new challenge – building a school in a desolate high altitude Pakistani town. Twelve years later he had built  55 schools across the region. Mortenson has a strong faith in education which he believes is the best way to combat the war on terrorism. I could not agree more with this premise.  Over several months, I managed to read  over one-third of Three Cups of Tea before I put it down for good.

There are several reasons I didn’t enjoy the book. It was written by Relin with input by Mortenson. In the Prologue, Relin writes he was worried during his interview process with Mortenson;  he wasn’t sure Mortenson had a clear recollection of events. I immediately began to wonder if the story is faithful to the truth, or perhaps  a journey into the mind of a person who has remembered things happening in the way he likes to remember them, instead of how things actually happened.

I didn’t particularly like or dislike Relin’s writing style, it isn’t bad, nor is it captivating. However, my overriding distaste for this book lies in one specific irritation. Greg Mortenson comes across as arrogant and conceited. I have no way to know if he is like this in real life, but he certainly appears  this way in  the pages of Three Cups of Tea. After awhile, I got tired of the constant “Wow, isn’t Greg Mortenson great” attitude of the story; look at how he connects with Islam, look how well he connects with nature, look how he genuinely connects with people, look how the people love him and so on and so forth. It got sickening. I have read a lot of non-fiction climbing books and in general Mortensen epitomizes the stereotype of the climber, self-centered and self-absorbed. He appears to put himself at the center of everything, even the photos in the center of the book are mostly of him. It becomes evident he is not one to go about doing philanthropic work without tooting his own horn, loud and long.

Whether this was Mortenson’s affect on the book, or Relin’s overwhelming love for Mortenson coming across in the pages, I couldn’t say.   Either way, I didn’t enjoy this book and had to put it down.  

As a last note, I believe this is a story that should be told and the idea of 55 schools built in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the help of an American, is heartwarming.  If you’ve read Three Cups of Tea, please feel free to  leave your comments.    


  1. Amanda says:
    March 5, 2008 at 1:51 am
    Thank you for doing this! As an employee at the bookstore, I often heard customers commenting on how bad the book was, but they finished it anyways! I would always tell them they “shouldn’t feel OBLIGATED to finish a book” just because they started it, and I would end with “life is too short to read crappy books!” I will usually give a book 3 chapters to convince me to read it…after that, it goes back to the bookstore!


  2. reader says:
    April 2, 2008 at 4:27 pm
    After reading, Three Cups of Tea, I did not feel that Greg Mortenson seemed arrogant or conceited. I think he is just one of those people who are completely focused on a goal and will do whatever he can to accomplish it. Fortunately, his goal is worthwhile and hopefully will make a difference in the world


  3. Looks like you were correct!!

    I felt the exact same reading the book, and in the end I only managed to read half of it. From working in the aid sector I know the most arrogant people rarely make a genuine difference.


    1. Yep, I was correct, however, I wish I hadn’t been. It’s really sad for the organization. Thanks for the comment!


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