From the Bookshelf – Christmas 2008, Part 2


Last time I was talking about Garrison Keillor’s latest Lake Wobgeon novel, Liberty.  It took me a little while longer to get through Three Cups of Tea, mainly because my holiday vacation came to an end, leaving me less time to read.

Three Cups of Tea is a chronicle of Greg Mortenson and his mission to, well, as it says in the title, “to promote peace… one school at a time” in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Without retelling the whole story, which would be a crime since a.) you should read the book yourself and b.) the book is way more engaging than I could be, I was amazed at how naive Mortenson was at the outset, but how he came to understand the local cultures.  My impression is that those of us in the developed West have an incredible cultural bias that makes us consider people like those in the mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan “uncivilized.”  In several amusing and eye-opening anecdotes about Mortenson’s experience, these faulty assumptions are clearly exposed.

At the end of the book are suggestions about what you can do if the book motivates you, including making contributions to the Central Asia Institute, the non-profit Greg Mortenson leads, to further the work of providing an education to children – especially girls – in this region of the world.  One thing the book did for me was show just how little impact U.S. foreign policy has had, and the limitations of governmental involvement.  Mortenson probably could not have accomplished a tenth of what he has if he were an “official” representative; he’s been able to be more flexible, and hasn’t been burdened by the added suspicion that would come with being an agent of the government.

For the last few Christmases the adults on my wife’s side of the family (which is most of the family I have) have taken the money we would have used on gifts to donate to a charity.  There are thousands of worthy causes out there, many of them very close to home, but next year I’ll suggest the Central Asia Institute.

(The last installment of Christmas 2008’s From the Bookshelf will be Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture.  Stay tuned.)


2 thoughts on “From the Bookshelf – Christmas 2008, Part 2

  1. Saw Mortenson on one of the news magazine shows not long ago and was very impressed with him and his ability to put things together without any real experience in the field. I am looking forward to this book myself.

    If you are interested in a no-illusions book about Afghanistan, you should have a look at Sarah Chayes’ memoir about her efforts running an NGO relief agency. I’ve read excerpts of it and it will drop the scales from the most committed believer in the “America Is The Good Guy” rhetoric.

  2. Oh, excellent! Thanks for the reminder about Sarah Chayes – I always enjoyed listening to her on the radio. I think you’ll enjoy Three Cups of Tea because it isn’t just a motivational or inspirational book, though it is those things and can be read that way, but because of its insight into the cultures Mortenson encounters.

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