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Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin and Sarah Thomson

three cups of tea7 of 10: Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World… One Child at a Time is one of those books where the writing and the story didn’t match up that well for me.  

This is kind of a hard book for me to write about (which is why, even though it’s now nearly the END of January, I’m just now writing about this book which was the DECEMBER “Tell Me What To Read” winner).

three cups of tea by greg mortenson, david oliver relin and sarah thomson

I mean, you can’t help but be impressed by Greg Mortenson’s story; he gets himself lost in the mountains and stumbles on this little Pakistan village, where they are so kind to him that he vows to come back and build a school for them. Except, you know, he has no money and he’s not exactly a builder or anything. Details.

He manages to raise the money, though, and the project snowballs into dozens of schools in villages all over the area. Mortenson dedicates his whole life to this venture – leaving his wife and children at home for months at a time as he goes to oversee the building of these schools, raise more money, etc. There are some dangerous experiences (he’s kidnapped at one point and is nearly killed), and 9/11 changes a lot of things, but he’s so enthusiastic and committed that it’s impossible not to be impressed and inspired.

But the writing. Oh man, you guys who said it was dry? You weren’t kidding. I made a feeble ten page attempt at the adult version and decided to read the young reader’s edition instead.

It’s hard to read a book where you feel like the story is powerful and important, but the writing just gets in the way, over and over again. It was hard to keep all the people involved straight, and I felt like narrative kind of jumped around.

Anyway, complaints aside, I’m glad to have read Three Cups of Tea, since it’s so widely known and Moretenson’s tactics are so different from the way much of the world is addressing problems in the Middle East, but I can’t help but wish they’d picked someone else to write the book.


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  1. I truly wanted to like this book, but it was so wordy that I ended up only reading 1/3 of it. I agree – while I admire his work, I just couldn't get into the actual book.

  2. I finished listening to this on CD yesterday. I thought the writing was a little precious at times, and I definitely spaced out pretty regularly. It seems like it was LOT easier to get through as an audio book than an actual book.

    Anyway, the story is really compelling. It's really a shame that the author gets in the way of it sometimes.

  3. I have both versions at home, but every time someone tells me they have read it, their assessment of it doesn't make me want to start right in reading. I think Mortenson's book is an important book, as is his work -but the book? Maybe not so much. Incidentally, my alma mater chose this book as the one every student would read two years ago.

  4. I was really into this book at the beginning, but by the end, it was getting so hard to get through for all the reasons you said! He just came out with a second book, continuing where TCoT left off, and he came to DC as part of his book tour and heard him speak. He speaks the way he writes, which I found interesting. He had a slide show of photos and such, and I really admire him and the work he's done, there were moments where I found myself zoning out for a minute or two. I haven't begun the second yet…but will likely review it on my blog when I do!

    PS. A similar book that I enjoyed more is called "Leaving Mocrosoft to Change the World" by John Wood. Same-ish story, he was hiking in Nepal and found a school with a box of tossed-aside adult books that were locked up in a small room, bc, as the teacher told him, the books would be stolen if they were left out. So, he founded a company called Room to Read that builds schools and libraries, and also funds girls scholarships in about ten countries. This one wasn't as difficult to get through….I actually finished it 🙂

    More info- http://www.roomtoread.org

  5. I loved this book, but I listened to it on CD and I think that probably made the difference for me. I didn't find it hard to get through at all on CD, so I'd recommend that to anyone who's interested in the book!

  6. I am so glad I'm not the only one who found it dry and not-that-great. My mom raved about it, but I was kind of disappointed. Excellent work, book left something to be desired.

  7. Funny, I started this one a couple of days ago. People told me that it was dry in the beginning, but I'm really enjoying it so far. Mortensen spoke in a forum at BYU several months ago; you can listen online. He is not at all an eloquent speaker, but his speech did motivate me to read the book.

  8. I didn't find the writing got in the way until about 3/4 of the way through it. All the sudden I got REALLY bored of the book although I had LOVED it up to that point. It also really irritated me that he seemed to spend tons of time serving the pakistani people and kind of desserted his own family…lame.

  9. this is the book our little med student wives' book club chose for the month. now i'm not too excited to read it =(

  10. Hmmm…how interesting. It sounds like the language and maybe even the style were a distraction form the story itself. I can't think that I'd enjoy this but the sub ject matter is interesting. Great review.

  11. I totally agree that the story and the writing didn't match up. I only liked the second third of this book, and everything else made me want to throw it against the wall. It boggles my mind when this is people's favorite book of all time in the universe.

  12. Joey just finished this book and really liked it, but he also had some trouble with it getting dry at times. I may try to read it after spring term.

  13. Thanks for the review, I really enjoyed reading it! I recommended this to you, and I have to say I could only read it once I could devote enough time to it (ie: I couldn't read it during the school year), so I read it during vacation last summer. I agree with your review that he has done admirable work, but it is hard to read what was written.

  14. I have heard those same complaints. In fact, I gave away my copy because I knew I'd never pick it up after hearing that.

    Another one that felt the same to me was Mountains Beyond Mountains by Kidder- about a doctor in Haiti. Interesting, but dry.

  15. I loved his story as well but struggled through reading and wanted to give up. I'm glad I finished it and did have a chance to hear him speak. He talks a little like his writing-his speech went an hour longer!

  16. Actually, we read this out loud (the adult version) as a family and quite enjoyed it. The writing wasn't perfect, but the story was compelling enough to hold our interest, and we learned a great deal about an unfamiliar and important culture and part of the world. We need more Greg Mortensons in the world.

  17. I loved this book, absolutely loved it. I didn't notice anything about "dry" reading, or having it difficult to follow. I'm sorry you didn't love it, it's one of my top 10 favorite books.


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