Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way by Jon Krakauer

Nobody likes a tattletale. On the other hand, even depressing circumspection is good.

Jon Krakauer, whose books Into Thin Air and Into The Wild I loved, has stirred up a hornet’s nest, al la Oprah Winfrey/James Frey (A Thousand Little Pieces). In Three Cups of Deceit, he provides details and “evidence” that Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, is full of lies and exaggerations, and that Mortenson has exploited the non-profit he establish, Central Asia Institute and its donors, for his own personal gain.

Three Cups of Tea is Mortenson’s huge best seller about how when lost in Afghanistan after trying unsuccessfully to climb K2 (second highest peak in the Himalayas), he ends up in a village where he is taken in and cared for. In appreciation, he pledges to return and build schools all over Afghanistan, which he does, via the non-profit he establishes, Central Asia Institute.

Three Cups of Deceit is Jon Krakauer’s claim that Three Cups of Tea is 90% false, Central Asia Institute is poorly run, and Mortenson is a deceitful opportunist.

Supporters of Mortenson (left) and Central Asia Institute agree that Mortenson may have embellished his story, and the Central Asian Institute may not have been as financial prudent as it should have, but that the outcomes overall -170 schools built and tens of thousands of children, mostly girls, educated - are still astonishing and worthy. Krakauer (right) claims that it is by and large a hoax built upon Mortenson’s ego and greed. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in-between.

More then anything else, Three Cups of Deceit is a cautionary tale of how, absent of accountability, money can corrupt even the best intentions. 

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