Three Cups of Tea

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Three Cups of Tea
ThreeCupsOfTea BookCover.jpg
Cover of Three Cups of Tea
Author Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Country United States
Language English
Genre Memoir
Publisher Penguin Group
Publication date
2006, 2007, 2008
Media type Hardcover, Paperback, Audio CD
Pages 368
ISBN 978-0-14-303825-2
OCLC 83299454
Followed by Stones into Schools

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time (original hardcover title: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time) is a book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin published by Penguin in 2007. For four years, the book remained on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller's list.[1][2]

Three Cups of Tea describes Mortenson's transition from a registered nurse and mountain-climber to a humanitarian committed to reducing poverty and elevating education for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Following the beginnings of his humanitarian efforts, Mortenson became co-founder of the Central Asia Institute (CAI), a non-profit group that, as of 2010, reports it has overseen the building of over 171 schools.[3] CAI reports that these schools provide education to over 64,000 children, including 54,000 girls,[4] where few education opportunities existed before in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.[5][6][7]

The book's title comes from a quote by Haji Ali, said to Mortenson: "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family..."[8]

In April 2011, critiques and challenges of the book and Mortenson were released. Author Jon Krakauer alleged that a number of Mortenson's claims in the book are fictitious and accused him of mismanaging CAI funds.[9][10][11][12]


In 1993, mountaineer Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, located in the Karakoram range of Gilgit-Baltistan, as a way of honoring the memory of his deceased sister, Christa. As a memorial, he had planned to lay her amber necklace on the summit of K2."Schools for Pakistan and Afghanistan", Richard Halicks, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, April 16, 2006.After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson 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, alone, he became weak and exhausted. 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.[13]

Mortenson soon found out that the village had no school. To repay the remote community for their hospitality, Mortenson recounted in the book that he 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 his life, Hoerni co-founded the Central Asia Institute, endowing the CAI to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan.[14]

According to the book, Mortenson faced many daunting challenges in his quest to raise funds for the building of more than 55 schools in Taliban territory. Some of these challenges included death threats from Islamic mullahs, long periods of separation from his family, and being kidnapped by Taliban sympathizers.[15]


Though Mortenson and Relin are given equal credit for authoring the Three Cups of Tea, it is written from Relin's perspective as a journalist interviewing and observing Mortenson. In the introduction, Relin admitted that his desire to see Mortenson's project succeed likely influenced his objectivity as a reporter.[16] Elizabeth Kaplan, the agent for the book, later acknowledged that the relationship between Mortenson and Relin was difficult.[17] Mortenson, who was often traveling, was hard to track down, and Relin spoke publicly about how Mortenson should not have been named a co-author.[17] As detailed in a New York Times article, Relin "suffered emotionally and financially as basic facts in the book were called into question" and later committed suicide on November 15, 2012.[17][18]


The original hardback edition of the book was released in 2006 with the subtitle, One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time. Mortenson fought against the subtitle, and the edition sold only 20,000 copies. He continued to prevail upon the publishers to change the subtitle for the 2007 paperback edition to his first choice, "One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time." His publisher relented, and the re-titled book made the New York Times nonfiction paperback bestseller list. Mortenson explained his reasoning for the subtitle in a lecture given in Fairfield, Connecticut: "If you just fight terrorism, it's based in fear. If you promote peace, it's based in hope." [19]

The book remained a number one New York Times bestseller for three years after its release.[20] The book is also a popular university freshman or campus read on about three dozen campuses[citation needed], has been chosen for One City One Book community reads in over 300 cities[citation needed], is published in over 39 countries internationally, and is used on over 100 University and college campuses as a Freshman Experience, Honor's program or campus-wide read book. A young adult version of Three Cups of Tea was published by Penguin on January 22, 2009.

Criticism, allegations, responses, and lawsuits[edit]


In 2010, South Asian scholar and anthropologist, Nosheen Ali, criticized Three Cups of Tea in that “it constructs a misleading narrative of terror in which the realities of Northern Pakistan and Muslim life-worlds are distorted through simplistic tropes of ignorance, backwardness and extremism, while histories of US geopolitics and violence are erased.” [21]

In regard to Mortenson's management style at the Central Asia Institute, Nicholas D. Kristof, normally a supporter of his, has said that Mortenson is "utterly disorganized," and added, "I am deeply troubled that only 41 percent of the money raised in 2009 went to build schools."[22] As a deeper look into Mortenson's business dealings, British journalist Jonathan Foreman wrote in a 2008 Daily Telegraph story that CAI's success is due in part to Mortenson's use of intuition and that he makes decisions at the last minute. Foreman further wrote that Mortenson is habitually late for meetings but that the combination of those traits work well and are important to the success of his work in the Balti region of Pakistan. Baltistanis have no tenses in their language, are vague on their timekeeping, and make their own decisions largely based on intuition.[23]


On the April 17, 2011 broadcast of CBS News' 60 Minutes, correspondent Steve Kroft alleged inaccuracies in Mortenson's books Three Cups of Tea and its sequel, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as financial improprieties in the operation of the Central Asia Institute. In particular, CBS News disputed Mortenson's claim that he got lost near K2 and ended up in Korphe; that he was captured by the Taliban in 1996; whether the number of schools built and supported by CAI is accurate; and the propriety in the use of CAI funds for Mortenson's book tours. 60 Minutes asked Mortenson for an interview before their broadcast, but he did not respond to their requests.[24]

60 Minutes made the following allegations:

  • The events recounted in Three Cups of Tea—Mortenson getting lost on the way down from K2, stumbling into Korphe, and promising to build a school—did not take place.[24]
  • The story recounted in Stones into Schools about Mortenson's capture by the Taliban did not occur. His purported kidnappers state he was a guest, and the Taliban did not exist in the country at that time.[25]
  • Schools that the Central Asia Institute claims to have built either have not been built, have been built and abandoned, are used for other purposes such as grain storage, or have not been supported by CAI after they were built.[24]
  • The amount of money Central Asia Institute spends on advertising Mortenson's books and paying the travel expenses of his speaking tours, including hiring private jets, is excessive relative to other comparable charitable institutions.[24]

Jon Krakauer, a former financial supporter of CAI, has questioned Mortenson's accounts separately and was interviewed for the 60 Minutes segment. The day after the broadcast, Krakauer released his allegations in a lengthy online article, Three Cups of Deceit — How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way.[26] In the article, Krakauer documents how he had earlier been captivated by Mortenson's story, had donated substantial sums to CAI, and that he had later heard stories of misconduct and began investigating. Krakauer states that he invited Mortenson to address his allegations, including setting up an interview where Mortenson lives, but Mortenson subsequently canceled the interview.[27]


Mortenson wrote a statement in response to the allegations made against him that was published in the Bozeman Chronicle: "I stand by the information conveyed in my book, and by the value of CAI's work in empowering local communities to build and operate schools that have educated more than 60,000 students." Mortenson further stated, "The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993..."[28]

Scott Darsney, a respected mountaineer and friend of Greg Mortenson, wrote an email, subsequently turned into an exclusive article for Outside magazine's online version, as a response to the allegations against Mortenson.[29] Darsney questioned the accuracy and fairness of both the Krakauer piece and the 60 Minutes report. Darsney had been interviewed by Krakauer, and maintained that Krakauer either misquoted or misunderstood what he said.

As a response to Krakauer's allegations, CAI produced a comprehensive list of projects completed over a period of years and projects CAI is currently working on. The list was released in December, 2011 (see external links below).


In May 2011, Jean Price and Michele Reinhart, Democratic Party representatives in Montana, along with Dan Donovan, a Great Falls attorney, filed a class action lawsuit against Mortenson and are asking a federal judge in Missoula to place all proceeds from the purchases of Mortenson's books into a trust to be used for humanitarian purposes. The total of Mortenson's book sales to date stand at near $5 million.[30][31][32] In June 2011, Jean Price announced she was dropping out of the suit, explaining that she had never read the book.[33] In Illinois, former school teacher Deborah Netter, also dropped her Illinois lawsuit against Mortenson in early July 2011, joining the Montana lawsuit in mid-July.[34][35][36] The Montana lawsuit was subsequently dismissed on April 30, 2012.[37] In October 2013, a class-action lawsuit claiming damages against Greg Mortenson over Three Cups of Tea was rejected by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.[38]


  • 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
  • 2007 Nonfiction Runner-Up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize[39]
  • People Magazine – Critics Choice
  • Publisher's Weekly – Starred Review
  • Mom's Choice Award 2009[40]
  • 2009 Italy: Premio Gambrinus “Giuseppe Mazzotti"[41]
  • Powell Book's Puddly Award (nonfiction), Portland[42]
  • 2010 The Christopher Award: "To affirm the highest values of the human spirit" [43]
  • 2010 The Mason Award - Extraordinary contribution in literature (George Mason University DC)[44]


  • 2006, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time. 1st Edition. Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670-03482-6. Hardcover.
  • 2007, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time. Tantor Media. ISBN 978-1-4001-5251-3. (Audio MP3 CD).
  • 2007, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time. Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0-14-303825-2. 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 0-14-241412-3.
  • 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 978-0-8037-3058-8.


A sequel to Three Cups of Tea, titled Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan [2], was released on December 1, 2009 by Viking Press. "Stones Into Schools..." is a follow-up to Three Cups of Tea and explores the progress of Mortenson's seventeen-year effort to promote female literacy and education, with an emphasis on the expansion of his efforts into Afghanistan, and his expressed admiration to help the U.S. military to promote peace and build relationships with the Afghan shura (leaders).[citation needed]


  1. ^ CNN reports number of years Three Cups of Tea on NYT Bestseller list,; accessed December 9, 2016.
  2. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Bestsellers", The New York Times, March 16, 2008.
  3. ^ Newslog, Bridgewater State University
  4. ^ Pakistan Observer, "Education Emergency in Pakistan"
  5. ^ "Journey of Hope". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-12-08. 
  6. ^ "Mortenson Campaigned to Build Schools in Asia", ABC News, March 8, 2006.
  7. ^ Worldview: The lesson jihadis fear most – In the remote reaches of Pakistan, former mountain climber Greg Mortenson is besting extremists by building schools", Philadelphia Inquirer, January 13, 2008.
  8. ^ Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, NY (2006), pg. 150.
  9. ^ Three Cups of Deceit, Jon Krakauer, April 2011.
  10. ^ "‘Three Cups of Tea,’ Spilled", by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, April 20, 2011
  11. ^ "Greg Mortenson’s Tepid Defense," by Tom Wright, Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2011
  12. ^ "Can't Get There From Here," Outside journal, Apr 27, 2011
  13. ^ "Fresh Air", with Terry Gross,National Public Radio (NPR), February 7, 2002.
  14. ^ "Another Way to stop Terrorism", Parade Magazine, March 5, 2006.
  15. ^ Marilyn Gardner, "A failed mountaineer becomes a philanthropist after a village without a school saves his life", Christian Science Monitor, September 12, 2006.
  16. ^ Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time. Introduction by David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, 2007 edition, p. 5.
  17. ^ a b c Leslie Kaufman. "David Oliver Relin, Adventurous Journalist, Dies at 49". The New York Times, December 2, 2012.
  18. ^ "Coroner: Three Cups of Tea" co-author David Oliver Relin commits suicide", CBS News, Accessed December 3, 2012.
  19. ^ "Educating the World One Step at a Time", Alison Walkley, Fairfield Citizen News, March 7, 2008.
  20. ^ Best Sellers - The New York Times - November 15, 2009
  21. ^ Ali, Nosheen, Books vs Bombs? Humanitarian development and the narrative of terror in Northern Pakistan “ Third World Quarterly, Issue 4 2010, pp 541-559
  22. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (April 20, 2011). "‘Three Cups of Tea,’ Spilled". New York Times.  |section= ignored (help)
  23. ^ Jonathan Foreman “Pakistan: Free to Learn” The Telegraph, 16 February 2008
  24. ^ a b c d "Questions over Greg Mortenson's stories". CBS News. April 15, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2011. 
  25. ^ "We Never Kidnapped Greg Mortenson". The Daily Beast. Apr 18, 2011. 
  26. ^ Link to Krakauer's Kindle article, "Three Cups of Deceit ..."
  27. ^ Stemle, Cary (April 20, 2011). "The Greg Mortenson Scandal: One University's Bitter Cup of Tea". Time. 
  28. ^ Gail Schontzler (April 15, 2011). "Mortenson under fire from ‘60 Minutes’ — Bozeman philanthropist denies allegations". Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Retrieved April 21, 2011. 
  29. ^ Scott Darsney, “Scott Darsney Questions the Accuracy and Fairness of “Three Cups of Deceit””, Outside Magazine, April 26, 2011
  30. ^
  31. ^ CNN Wire Staff. "Planned lawsuit targets charity, author of 'Three Cups of Tea'." CNN. May 7, 2011. Retrieved on May 7, 2011.
  32. ^ Complaint against Greg Mortenson and CAI, May 5, 2011
  33. ^ Price drops out of lawsuit in Montana
  34. ^
  35. ^ Washington Times - Woman Drops out of Three Cups of Tea Lawsuit; July 7, 2011
  36. ^ Illinois Woman Drops Lawsuit Against Mortenson
  37. ^ Mont. judge dismisses lawsuit against ‘Three Cups of Tea’ author Greg Mortenson, publisher
  38. ^ "Fraud suit against Greg Mortenson's '3 Cups of Tea' rejected". Los Angeles Times. 2013-10-11. Retrieved November 5, 2013. 
  39. ^ Dayton Literary Peace Prize - An International Award
  40. ^ Mom's Choice Award 2009
  41. ^ [1]
  42. ^ "Puddly Awards 2010". Powells Books. 2009-08-12. Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  43. ^ "Christophers honor 13 authors & illustrators for books about love, courage & communication across cultures". The Christophers. 2010-04-07. Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  44. ^ 2010 The Mason Award

External links[edit]