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Three Cups of Tea

by Greg Mortenson

Three Cups of Tea is a New York Times bestselling book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin published by Penguin in 2006. The book describes Mortenson's transition from a mountain-climber to a humanitarian committed to reducing poverty and educating girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He did this by co-founding the "Central Asia Institute," which has built over 78 schools in the most remote areas of the countries.

The book's title comes from a Balti proverb:

"The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honoured guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family...




In 1993, Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan, as a way of honouring the memory of his deceased sister Christa. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Greg and three other climbers had their ascent interrupted by the need to complete a 75-hour life-saving rescue of a fifth climber. After getting lost during his descent, he became weak and exhausted, and by chance alone, instead of arriving in Askole, where his porters awaited, he came across Korphe, a small village built on a shelf jutting out from a canyon. He was greeted and taken in by the chief elder of Korphe, Haji Ali.

To repay the remote community for its hospitality, Mortenson promised to build a school for the village. After difficulties in raising capital, Mortenson was introduced to Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer who donated the money that Mortenson needed for his school. In the last months of Hoerni's life (Hoerni dieing from leukemia), he co-founded the Central Asia Institute, endowing the CAI to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson faced many daunting challenges in his quest to raise funds for the building of more than 55 schools in Taliban territory, including death threats from Islamic mullahs, long periods of separation from his family, and being kidnapped by Taliban sympathizers.

Reflecting on the state of the post-9/11 world, Mortenson argues that extremism in the region can be deterred through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Formerly, schooling focused on the boys, but educated boys tend to move to the cities to find jobs, and seldom return. By contrast, educated girls tend to remain in the community and pass their enhanced knowledge to the next generation. Thus, Mortenson suggests, educating girls has more of a lasting benefit for the community.


The original hardcover book was released in 2006 with a subtitle Mortenson fought against, One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time. The edition sold poorly, only 20,000 copies. Mortenson prevailed upon the publishers to change the subtitle for the 2007 paperback edition of the book to his first choice, ""One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time." They did and the re-titled book soon made the New York Times nonfiction paperback bestseller list. Mortenson explained his reasoning in a talk given in Fairfield, Connecticut, "If you just fight terrorism, it's based in fear," he commented. "If you promote peace, it's based in hope." The book has remained a # 1 New York Times bestseller for 20 months since its release, is a popular University Freshman or campus read in about three dozen campuses, chosen for One Book community reads in over 50 cities, and published in over 20 countries internationally. A young adult version of Three Cups of Tea was published by Penguin on January 22, 2009.


As with much travel writing, Three Cups of Tea is repeatedly concerned with overcoming cultural divides. Though gifted linguistically and with a childhood-bestowed familiarity with exotic cultures and developing nations (his parents were missionaries in Tanzania), Mortenson is often seen struggling with cultural differences, from a foul-smelling butter tea to the commonly encountered attitude of many well-meaning Americans overseas: "Don't tell us what you want; we'll tell you." Education is also a dominant theme, for which Mortenson continues to express his passion. He explains that education is the solution to poverty.


Though Mortenson and Relin are given equivalent author credits, the book is written from Relin's perspective as an admiring journalist interviewing and observing Mortenson. In the book's introduction, Relin admits to liking Mortenson too much to be as objective as he probably should be.


Though widely praised, Three Cups of Tea was subject to some specific criticism. Bookmarks magazine wrote that, "Despite the important message, critics quibbled over the awkward prose and some melodrama. After all, a story as dramatic and satisfying as this should tell itself." AudioFile Magazine echoed these comments, "Though Relin's writing is not top-caliber, Mortenson's story comes through as exciting and inspiring."

Central Asia Institute

The Central Asia Institute is a Montana-based non-profit organization founded in 1996 "to promote and provide community-based education and literacy programs, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Central Asia." Dr. Jean Hoerni, a Swiss physicist who made his fortune in microchips, provided the initial funding for the Central Asia Institute and made Mortenson the director. The Institute is run by a board of directors, all of whom have worked or lived in Pakistan and/or Afghanistan. Today, the Central Asia Institute has expanded its focus to include teacher training programs, the establishment of libraries, and the provision of temporary education programs for refugees of natural or man-made disasters. The Institute also runs a "Pennies for Peace" program, where schoolchildren raise pennies to help fund building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


  • Kiriyama Prize
  • Time Magazine Asia Book of The Year
  • Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association - Nonfiction Award
  • Montana Honor Book Award
  • Borders Bookstore Original Voices Selection
  • Banff Mountain Festival Book Award Finalist
  • Dayton Literary Prize Nonfiction Award – runner up
  • People Magazine – Critics Choice
  • Publisher’s Weekly – Starred Review


  • 2006, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time. 1st Edition. Viking Press. ISBN 978-0670034826. Hardcover.
  • 2007, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time. Tantor Media. ISBN 978-1400152513. (Audio MP3 CD).
  • 2007, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time. Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0143038252. Paperback.
  • 2009, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Journey to Change The World…One Child at a Time (Young Adult Book). Mortenson, Greg; Relin, David Oliver; signature by Amira Mortenson, forward by Jane Goddall. Puffin. ISBN 0-142-41412-3.
  • 2009, Listen To The Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea, (Children's book). Mortenson, Greg; Roth, Susan - illustrator. Dial Books. ISBN 0-802-729448.

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This book is very very inspiring because he helped build many schools for the poor of Afghanistan and get people out of poverty


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