Book Review: Three Cups of Deceit

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way of Chris Mortenson and his best-selling books “Three Cups of Tea”, and “Stones into Schools”.

Three Cups of Tea tells the supposedly true story of Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute (CAI) building schools in Pakistan while on a rip-roaring adventure of Taliban kidnappings amongst other tales. I received it as a present and enjoyed the moving story.

Except that, as it turns out, much of the story is stretched, elaborated and in parts completely concocted.  Jon Krakauer writes, in Three Cups of Deceit, how the seemingly sociopathic Greg Mortenson not only fabricated key parts of the story (and in contradiction of earlier, published articles by his own hand) but also ran the organisation for personal gain.

It’s definitely worth a read, even if it is a little sad to realise that a hero is actually a charlatan.

A point many of Mortenson’s supporters make is that he still did good – he and his CAI did build schools, did educate children and did raise awareness of society building as key methods of improving living standards and understanding in troubled parts of the world.

The problem I have there is that many people who donate money to charities, NGOs and similar programmes will donate the money to a cause anyway. Therefore, a significant portion of  funds that went to the CAI would have gone to other causes if it weren’t for Mortenson’s lies.  Moreover, that money wouldn’t have been squandered on Mortenson, on promoting his book, or on the now-empty schools built in the wrong places without equipment or teachers.

Mortenson redirected money away from good, solid causes and into his own pocket.

Published by David Kirk

The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and other commenters and are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organisation. David Kirk runs Milliman’s actuarial consulting practice in Africa. He is an actuary and is the creator of New Business Margin on Revenue. He specialises in risk and capital management, regulatory change and insurance strategy . He also has extensive experience in embedded value reporting, insurance-related IFRS and share option valuation.

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  1. Hero or Charlatan? Neither…
    A hero is merely someone being labeled as such by others; it’s a subjective, non-rational label. You may have thought at one time, “Gee he’s a hero” but that says something about *you*, not him.
    A charlatan is someone proven to be untrustworthy, to be a scammer. And you don’t know that one way or another yet, because it takes *evidence* right?

    Your posting is less than useless on accounta it’s a simple repeat of hundreds of others. Catch up! Read while waiting for the rest of the answers from 3rd party investigations.

    1. The purpose of my post is to highlight that those who say “Mortenson did some bad things but ultimately he still did good” is not good enough.

      I’m surprised by your re-definition of words to support your point. Can we also agree that Mortenson labelled himself a hero? There’s no point in arguing semantics after that.

      Before I posted my review, I did some checking to see whether there had been significant refutation of the allegations. There hasn’t been anything other than clarification of some details. The responses to date on are not persuasive at all.

      The best thing the CAI could do is to publicly hire one of the big four audit firms and engage them openly for a full and comprehensive forensic investigation of the CAI, their finances and financial management and their activities and outcomes with a commitment to publish the full report no matter what. This is the right thing to do to regain support in the short-term and finally put the allegations to rest. I have seen no commitment to publish this full report – which is why the rumours still swirl.

      Thanks for the comment. The irony wasn’t lost on me that you seem to make the same type of comment all over the web.

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