It appears that one of most exciting chapters of the book Three Cups of Tea might have been a slight exaggeration. Which is putting it nicely.
Following a 60 Minutes report on the book and its author Greg Mortenson, some are claiming the entire incident was a work of fiction. As was the original story the author told of being nursed back to health in the Pakistan town of Korphe which inspired him to begin building schools for children. In case you have not read the book here is the gist: In 1993 Mortenson was an established mountain climber. He attempted to scale K2 and failed. According to his autobiographical work, Three Cups of Tea he wandered back down the mountain lost and sick, and into a small village called Korphe. There he was shown such kindness by the community, which rallied to help him recover and send him on his way, that he promised he would return and a build a school for their children. Allegedly he went back home to the United States and began raising money to build a school.
His book told the story of his building of the first few schools and subsequent trips back to the region to build more schools. It also told the story of how Mortenson founded the Central Asia Institute to raise more money and build more schools. Mortenson, along with co-author David Oliver Reid, published Three Cups of Tea in 2020. It stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for four years. The book has been translated into 47 languages and sold more than three million copies. The book is now required reading for all U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan and it has become the handbook for people looking to bring peace to the region because it puts a human face on the suffering.
Mortenson went on to write a sequel of sorts called Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan: which talks about his belief that the region can find peace through education. It too was a bestseller on the New York Times list and brought in millions more in charitable contributions to the CAI.
All of this is great news for Mortenson and his charity, unfortunately, the folks who were with him on that failed trip up K2 now dispute his claims. So do some of the original donors who contributed money to his Central Asia Institute, which continues to raise money to build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So do people Mortenson claimed in his book to have kidnapped him at one point while he was traveling through Waziristan, Pakistan. The 60 Minutes team tracked down the people who allegedly kidnapped Mortenson and they produced photos of him with their group, while he held an AK-47 assault rifle. Not exactly what you might expect from kidnappers.
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The 60 Minutes crew also spoke with author and mountain climber Jon Krakauer who said he had given $75,000 to Mortenson for the charity in the very beginning, but now doubts the veracity of the entire story. He says the entire story is a beautiful lie. Krakauer even went one step further, calling into question how the charity funds are disbursed. He says no one is overseeing the project and he wonders how many schools are actually be built and at what cost.
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Mortenson has released a statement denying the allegations the story is a work of fiction. In his statement to 60 Minutes he maintained the information in his book is accurate and refutes any claims that he made the story up. In a statement issued by the CAI Mortenson rejected all the claims made by the 60 Minutes episode. The CAI says more than 60,000 Pakistan and Afghanistan students received an education because of the work they are doing, and no one is disputing those numbers. However, how many could have or should have been helped by the group, and whether Mortenson used a fictional story to inspire its creation, are questions no one seems able to answer .
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