Monday, January 31, 2011

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Last Christmas, instead of buying my wife something she didn't really need with money we didn't really have, I donated some money to the Central Asia Institute in her name. Being the socially conscious, compassionate person that she is I figured the gesture would be appreciated. It was, but I didn't do it just to win points with her. I did it because after reading both this book and Stones into Schools I discovered a cause I am now passionate about. 

I believe that one of the greatest threats to our freedom as individuals is radical fundamentalism. This comes not just in the Islamic flavor (al-Qaeda) but Western ultra-conservative Christian as well (the CCoA) and anywhere that intolerance trumps altruism as the order of the day. I also believe that the root cause of intolerance is ignorance. Greg Mortenson believes this too, and he has set out to remedy it by building secular schools (mostly for girls) in some of the most  remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. A balanced education and hope for the future will do more for the people of this region than military might can ever accomplish. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. 

My only small criticism of the book is a stylistic one. At times David Relin writes in a gushing, aw-shucks fashion about Mortenson's accomplishments. This makes him sound like a super-human living saint while at the same time, the quotes that Mortenson himself provides are very humble and self-deprecating. I much prefer the first-person style of Stones into Schools where the humility is front and center.

This book is now required reading for senior U.S. military commanders, Pentagon officers in counter-insurgency training and Special Forces deploying to Afghanistan. It should also top the reading list of everyone who needs a little reassurance that there are still people out there fighting the good fight. 

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