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

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Greg Mortenson has built a global reputation as a selfless humanitarian and children’s crusader, and he’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is also not what he appears to be. As acclaimed author Jon Krakauer discovered, Mortenson has not only fabricated substantial parts of his bestselling books Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools, but has also misused millions of dollars donated by unsuspecting admirers like Krakauer himself.

This is the tragic tale of good intentions gone very wrong.

77 pages, ebook

First published January 1, 2011

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About the author

Jon Krakauer

63 books13.7k followers
Jon Krakauer is an American writer and mountaineer, well-known for outdoor and mountain-climbing writing.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,366 reviews
Profile Image for Jennifer.
257 reviews3 followers
April 20, 2011
the moral of the story seems to be: don't fuck with jon krakauer's money
366 reviews253 followers
June 18, 2011
I saw Greg Mortenson speak in Miami in July last year and was captivated by his story. Each delegate at the conference were given a copy of Three Cups of Tea (the young adult version) and a hardback copy of Stones into Schools. I thought this was very generous of the publisher, but according to this exposé, Mortenson usually buys the books for such events using his charity's funds, so that (a) he can receive royalties (not his charity, mind!), which he wouldn't if the publisher donated the books or if they were bought at wholesale prices and (b) the books can stay in the bestseller lists. This is appalling and I would like to find out how the books I received were procured. I am going to write to the conference organisers and I'll update this review if I get a response.

This title is an excellent piece of investigative journalism and is divided into three sections: one section exposes a number of myths/lies in Mortenson's books, one section deals with the financial fraud and malpractice of his charity, and one section deals with the failures resulting from him trying to run everything as a one-man show. It's distressing reading and has made me feel angry and upset about being taken in so easily by Mortenson last July. Like Krakauer, I hope the charity itself can continue, but with proper management and accounting practises. I also hope something will be done about the financial fraud that has been going on for years.

Unlike Mortenson, who receives all the royalties from his books, whilst his charity funds his personal travel and buys the books being given away at events, 100% of Jon Krakauer's proceeds from the sale of Three Cups of Deceit will be donated to the "Stop Girl Trafficking" project at the American Himalayan Foundation.
Profile Image for La Petite Américaine.
207 reviews1,432 followers
February 13, 2020
In 70 pages, Three Cups of Deceit managed to destroy one of my heroes--and I don't mean Greg Mortenson, whom the book intends to demonize. Instead, the fallen hero here is author Jon Krakauer, thanks to this ebook, which left me queasy with disgust.

We all know that it's nothing new for me to hate an author, but Three Cups of Deceit is different because I've been an ardent Jon Krakauer fan since I was 17. When 20 years of admiration are undone in a 70-page ebook, it's is a weird place to be.

When Krakaeur appeared on 60 Minutes in 2011 accusing Greg Mortenson of 5 different types of fraud, I did what most probably did: I assumed Krakauer was right and shut off the TV. But I didn't follow the scandal, or Greg Mortenson's subsequent fall from grace. I bought Three Cups of Deceit last year because I love Krakauer's writing, not because I cared about the content.

Now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it, I do care about the content—and I don't think I'll pick up another Jon Krakauer book...ever.

What the hell happened in 70 pages that managed to turn me against my longtime favorite author? To answer that, we have to look back on Krakauer's writing over the last several years.

After writing two of the greatest adventure stories of the 20th century, Krakaeur shifted dramatically. It started in 2003, when he swapped adventure writing for expose-style journalism. That shift in subject also marked a change in tone: his curiosity-driven prose morphed into rage-driven narratives. Yet Krakauer's anger fit the topics he was covering. Shock and outrage work well in Under the Banner of Heaven and Missoula. And though Krakauer's anger borders on crampy adolescent whining in Where Men Win Glory, his rage is understandable, perhaps even relatable.

But there's something unsettling about the depth of Krakauer's anger in Three Cups of Deceit. Turn to any page, and you'll find barely-contained fury. But instead of fitting with the text, that fury undermines Krakaeur's credibility: the book doesn't read like an investigation, but like a screeching demand for justice by an author out for blood and hell-bent on revenge.

What gives me the right to make such a claim, other than the fact that it's apparent on every page?

Well, I've been reading pissed-off Jon Krakauer books for a long time. I know his style, and I recognize his shortcomings as a writer. He's particularly gifted at persuasion, which he achieves by intertwining facts with subtle plays on readers' emotions. That makes for effective storytelling, but it's shitty journalism. And it's particularly shitty in this book, where Krakauer distorts the truth, and then data dumps in order to pass off his emotions as facts.

Trying to separate facts from an author's feelings is hard, not to mention irritating.

But let's see if we can give it a shot anyway.

Fact 1: Krakauer has an integrity / credibility problem
Before we start, let's remember that Krakauer isn't an academic, or a formally trained researcher or journalist. (He got an Environmental Studies degree in 1976, and he worked for Outside Magazine for a while). He's just some guy who writes books based on research gleaned from surfing the Internet. The lack of training and credentials is important, because it calls into question Krakaeur's competence. This is an important consideration, as many of Krakauer's sources in Three Cups of Deceit have accused him of distorting facts, twisting words, and purposefully misquoting them.

Fact 2: Greg Mortenson doesn't know how to run a nonprofit
The only fact in Krakauer's verbal slaughter of Greg Mortenson is this: Mortenson never should have been in a leadership position at the CAI. *That's it.* Mortenson was a visionary, a brilliant fundraiser, and excellent at executing projects, but he was notoriously bad at planning, project management/follow-up, staffing, and bookkeeping. He lacked the necessary experience to be in a leadership position, but he stayed in that role because he created the charity.

Krakauer says that "to a number of people, Mortenson's [irresponsible work performance] was more pathological than quirky." (Whoa! That sounds serious...and ominous! Who are these mystery people? Have you got a direct quote? Wait a minute....opinion stated as fact! A claim you can't prove, presented as truth! Good one! You almost got me there, Jon!) Well, that's stupid. Mortenson's inability to plan, his disregard for rules, his lack of followup, and his obliviousness to financial realities sound like classic symptoms of adult ADHD--that's essentially a learning disability, and hardly indicative of some evil embezzling mastermind.

In any case, Krakauer proves nothing.

Let's get back to our fact-hunt.

Fact 3: Greg Mortenson repaid the CAI and stepped down from its board

An investigation by the Montana Attorney General faulted Mortenson not for fraud, not for misappropriating or embezzling funds, but for misusing funds--aka, sloppy bookkeeping, aka a screwup.

That's it.

Mortenson reimbursed the CAI, resigned from the board, and resumed his charity work.

Isn't that kind of open and shut?

Wow. It seems Krakauer wrote himself into a frenzy over something pretty...minor.

Fact 4: Three Cups of Tea isn't a literary fraud
Few things make me giddier than a phony writer being outed, but Three Cups of Tea was never selling fiction as truth. (Krakauer would say my assertion "demonstrates how difficult it is to correct a false belief after...having made an emotional investment in that belief." OMG, manipulative jerk).

So what of Krakauer's accusation that entire sections of Three Cups of Tea were fabricated?

Um. Duh? I mean, come on, Jonny-boy, you're not telling me you believed that whole kidnapped-by-the-Taliban bit, are you? Oh no...you didn't fall for the Mother Teresa tale, did you? Christ, Jon, you should have been able to spot bullshit on the first page! I mean, aren't you supposed to be smart or something??

I'm not siding with Three Cups of Tea out of some emotional investment (I have none), but because it was obvious from page 1 that the story was largely horseshit.

It was so glaringly obvious that in 2006, I couldn't even get past the first chapter for months: the "Christ-like figure descending the mountain" imagery set off my b.s. detector big time. And that was little 26 year-old, pre-graduate degree me, so spotting bullshit clearly didn't require expertise or careful reading. When I finally read the introduction, where co-author David Oliver Relin explains that he took creative license because Mortenson was impossible to track down, I was finally able to read the book.

Um....an author admitting in the 2006 intro that he used literary license? Uh....the publishing process itself, which requires stories to change again to meet editors'/publishers' requirements?

Humor me, Jon: How is that a scandal? How is that fabrication?

Hey, Jon? It's not Relin's fault you fell for the fantastic claims in the book. It's your fault. You may be an engaging writer, but you're a bad reader.

Fact 5: No good came from Three Cups of Deceit
Here's the result of Krakauer's bad reading and irresponsible reporting: the reputational hit cost the CAI millions in donations, which meant that countless Afghan and Pakistani girls lost the chance to get an education. Closer to home, the stress from Krakaeur's expose gave Mortenson a heart attack (literally), Mortenson's 12 year-old daughter tried to kill herself, and Mortenson's coauthor David Oliver put his head on some railroad tracks.

WOW! Taking down a man, his daughter, his life's work, a charity, the benefactors of that charity, and a fine writer, all in 70 pages? That's got to be some kind of record. Clearly, awesome stuff happens when a personal vendetta is the driving force behind your book!

And I suppose Mortenson should be the one to bear the blame for all of it? Not Krakauer, though, right? I mean, don't shoot the messenger...right?

Well. Maybe we need to rethink that philosophy, especially when the messenger is a goddamned jerk.

Yes, I'm pointing the finger at Krakauer. Yes, I'm saying he's responsible for the negative repercussions of his book.

Fact 6: Jon Krakauer was one of my favorite writers....

...but now I want to tell him off. I'd say:

Hey, Jon, I get you. Seriously. There are 3 things unleash the crazy in me: people who lie, authors who try to bullshit me, and people who mess with my money. You think (but can't prove) that you got all 3 offenses from Mortenson in one fell swoop. Believe me. I feel your rage.

But here's the thing, Jon. You're not an untouchable, or somehow exempt from the rules because you're a best-selling author. Writers--all of us--have some degree of responsibility for what we write. If you were really concerned about misdeeds by Mortenson, you could have pursued the legal route. But you didn't. You wrote a sensationalist, manipulative ebook in which you let your rage distort the facts, while you tout your assumptions as the truth--and you did it not out of concern for the CAI or its donors, but because you wanted revenge. Even worse? Not only do you refuse to accept responsibility for *any* of the tragic fallout from your book, but you've managed to convince yourself that what you've done in Three Cups of Deceipt is noble.

That's cowardly and immature. And sick.

Fact 7: Why I'll (probably) never read another book by Jon Krakauer
I think I only ever liked Krakauer's books because there was something so familiar about them. (No, I'm not projecting--I'm recognizing similarities). I know what it's like to show the world how tough you are by pouring rage into dangerous endeavors and extreme sports. And I've lived the pattern Krakaeur describes: convincing yourself that brooding and obsession fuel good research; allowing frenzied rage to drive your quest for the truth; adopting the conviction that exposing a liar is noble and good.

The problem with rage-fueled moralistic quests is that we all misfire at some point, and the wrong people get hurt. Krakauer misfired big time here, and he doesn't even see it.

I asked Krakauer last week if Three Cups of Deceit was worth it, despite the tragic fallout. He looked me in the eye and said, "Yes, absolutely" before launching into some explanation. His response was enough to make my flesh crawl. I stopped listening.

Krakauer's response unsettled me because I realized that he's writing from a dark place. And he's in deep. This book isn't just Krakauer's compulsive hunger to tear down someone else. It's Krakauer's attempt to undermine your faith in someone who was actually doing good.

Krakauer wants you to join him in that dark place where he resides. After all, dark places are no fun when you're all alone.

That's horrible.

After 20 years of championing Krakauer, I now feel like the gullible reader, taken in and emotionally manipulated by my favorite writer. But let's give credit where credit is due. At least Krakauer is talented enough to perfectly articulate how that feels: "It's difficult to correct a false belief after people have made an emotional investment in that belief being true. When our heroes turn out to be sleazebags self-deception is easier than facing the facts."

When our heroes turn out to be sleazebags...

Yeah, screw this guy.

Profile Image for Laura Gembolis.
461 reviews43 followers
November 6, 2011
I did not read Three Cups of Tea. It seemed - from a distance - like a schmaltzy look at attempting large social change. That doesn't interest me, because I feel the terms are simplified to tell a story. And in that simplification, things are presented in a way that is too good to be true. This simplification loses how challenging it is to create lasting social change.

Jon Krakauer gave money to Greg Mortenson early on to support building schools in Afghanistan with an emphasis on reaching girls. Krakauer has three main concerns with Mortenson: 1) his story is not true and likely falsified to make a better story and therefore a better fundraising appeal, 2) he mismanages funds, co-mingling his personal and business expenses and then lets the non-profit entity, CAI, pay for them, 3) he has not built nor sustained the number of schools he claims to support.

This has stirred a lot of controversy including a 60 Minutes segment and an explosion of discussion on blogs. Krakauer also feels that Mortenson has rejected attempts to make CAI more transparent and accountable because ultimately he does not want to change his practice. Krakauer then goes on to guess why Mortenson does not want to be more transparent. It's this lack of transparency that I believe is the biggest problem - it hurts Mortenson but it hurts other organizations engaged in this work. And by this kind of work - I mean more than efforts in Afghanistan - I mean social change that seems insurmountable.

Supporters of Mortenson argue there are cultural misunderstandings that have lead to confusion which justify Mortenson's version of events. My concern is the US's consumption of celebrity driven activities and causes.

For me, this is a good example of the cult of celebrity. People wanted Mortenson's story to be true. I think some people still want it to be true. It helps them believe change is possible and feel that they have contributed to that change. And small projects are a bit like the question - "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" If a project does not receive a lot of attention and no one is around to see it, does it make an impact? The answer is yes - but will it be funded?

That is an imperfect comparison - but I do believe that people struggle with understanding social change as it is happening. We seek simplified stories that make big steps toward progress appear possible in our lifetime.

Recent update: http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/gov...

Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,910 followers
November 8, 2011
I made three sincere attempts to read Three Cups of Tea before giving up. It was poorly written, and so self-congratulatory that I started thinking of it as "Three Cheers for Me!"
Now I'm glad I didn't waste my time slogging through it. It's so full of lies, a more appropriate title would have been "Three Quarts of Wee."

This little book is easy to understand, even if you haven't read Three Cups of Tea. Krakauer gives direct quotes from that book, then details specifically how they are untrue.

Krakauer documents the pure fabrication that made Greg Mortenson's story so compelling for unwitting readers and contributors. Not only is Mortenson a pathological liar, he's also a thief. He spends hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) in donation money on himself. He ignores requests from financial managers of CAI (his charity organization) for documentation of how these funds are spent. A former treasurer of CAI says Mortenson "regards CAI as his personal ATM."

Swindler, liar, narcissist Greg Mortenson has hurt a lot of dedicated, good-hearted people, and he has squandered millions of dollars that could have been used to improve so many lives. Equally offensive is the way he created ill will in Pakistan and Afghanistan by telling lies about people there who had shown him hospitality and trusted him to bring something good to their countries. These people were outraged when they heard what was in Three Cups of Tea. We certainly don't need to foster more mistrust of Americans in these countries.

Only Jon Krakauer could make me read something like this all in one sitting. It's only 75 pages, but the print is tiny, so if you have eye trouble, get it for an e-reader or wait for a large-print version.
Profile Image for Eric_W.
1,920 reviews355 followers
June 2, 2012
Having enjoyed Krakauer’s work in the past, I picked up this Kindle single on spec. Turns out to be quite a read. Krakauer was an emotional and financial supporter of Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time, the mountaineer who created a non-profit empire building schools in Pakistan ostensibly as a way to thwart the influence of the Taliban and Islamic revolutionary teaching. He became somewhat of a cult figure and was soon jetting around the country giving inspiring talks about his good works. Emphasis on *his* good works.

Krakauer, who had donated $75,000 to Mortenson’s foundation, the Central Asia Institute, became disenchanted as he heard more and more stories of misuse of funds by Mortenson and his lack of accountability. This single is the story of Mortenson and Krakauer’s investigation into the Foundation.

That story is interesting enough, but I have become intrigued by the thesis proposed by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind As it happens, I poked around the 60 Minutes website, seeking more information about the Mortenson case. In early April 2011, they broadcast a story detailing some of the allegations against Mortenson and his foundation. I didn’t watch the show, but I did read all 354 comments about the story on their website. Commenters were divided into two camps: those who had an emotional attachment to Mortenson and his good works and who accepted everything he said at face value; and the other, a very small minority (perhaps 10%), who were more interested in presenting evidence of Mortenson’s malfeasance, arguing that just doing “some” good was not enough to ignore facts related to his lack of accountability and problems with the CAI. Both sides would respond to each other but rarely listen to what the other was saying. It seemed to me a classic example of what Haidt saw in the dichotomy between emotional and rational ways of looking at issues. I won’t try to summarize Haidt’s book here but will save that for my review later. Nevertheless, it was disheartening to see how little communication surfaced in the comments between the two groups which consolidated based on their respective pre-conceptions.

A good friend and I discussed this with regard to the Wisconsin recall election, Andy unable to understand why so many union members were voting for Walker, totally against their economic interests, and I trying to apply Haidt noting that it represented a difference in prioritizing values. If, for example, you believe in supporting authority and that same-sex marriage is an abomination, your view of the world will be less influenced by the economic interests valued more highly by other groups. (That’s presented perhaps a little simplistically, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Since Krakauer’s little essay appeared (by the way, I love Kindle shorts) Mortenson has settled for more than a $million with the Montana Attorney General (he was charged, among other things, with using CAI funds for personal expenses and the IRS was after him also for not declaring those as income.) The CharityWatch organization (American Institute of Philanthropy) has also published several articles detailing the CAI’s malfeasance.

References: https://doj.mt.gov/campaigns/investig...

Profile Image for Jokoloyo.
449 reviews270 followers
October 22, 2017
In current condition, I cannot comment much about the content, but there are many sources in the net for your own judgment. The book is very thin and some of the details were written for necessity than for readibility. This book has too much details for me even for a thin book.
Profile Image for Milan/zzz.
278 reviews55 followers
November 20, 2011
Mr. Mortenson is a pathological liar. Yes he had nice idea, he performed many good things in Central Asia BUT all that as far as I'm concerned because what he was doing behind the scene doesn't justify him a bit. Of course I do hope charity will fulfill its mission without him and I hope even more that he'll face the justice.
However, the main thing is a massive disappointment he'll surely raise in hearts of thousands of people who fell in love in his personality while reading his books. I'm not one of them. Somehow I found the guy quite repulsive and I didn't finish his “Three Cups of Tea”. He presented himself as egoistic, self-promoting thief but I have to admit I never thought I should add to the list that he is above all A LIAR.

I have many friends who were raving about his books and couldn't quite understand how I feel about him. I even suspected that they were accusing me of being cold and detached from people's suffering (which couldn't be more far from truth) and I feel such an anger on theirs behalf. I found his lies ridiculous; I laughed several times while reading this book when Krakauer (an amazing journalist) presented parts from Mortenson's books and then what actually happened.

I'm SO voting for this book! Now I'll browse through my friend's list and whoever listed “Three Cups of tea” on her/his shelf I'll send recommendation for this book.

5 stars because of the importance of the story!
913 reviews401 followers
July 8, 2011

I remember reading a goodreads review of Three Cups of Tea One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time which criticized the book for sounding almost defensive in its relentless hero-worship of Mortenson -- as if the author were responding to attacks on Mortenson's character, the reviewer observed. Looking back, I think that reviewer was remarkably prescient.

In Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, Jon Krakauer accuses Mortenson of fabricating many of the vivid anecdotes in Three Cups of Tea One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time, failing to follow up on his schools once they're built to ensure that they are fulfilling their purpose (many of the buildings stand empty), mismanaging funds and stubbornly refusing to be transparent about his use of his non-profit organization's money, being a difficult boss to work for and a poor team player, etc., etc. Some accusations seemed petty and poorly established; others were more serious and difficult to dispute.

It's hard to know how to react. "My inclination is to reserve judgment until we know more, for disorganization may explain more faults than dishonesty," says Nicholas Kristof in his interesting New York Times article. And if there's one thing everyone agrees on, even Mortenson's supporters, it's that Mortenson is disorganized.

Kristof adds that "in their struggle to raise money, aid groups sometimes oversell how easy it is to get results. Helping people is more difficult than it seems, and no group of people bicker among themselves more viciously than humanitarians." This is one of the difficulties of working for a good cause, in my view -- the legitimate and pressing need for funding can tempt people to resort to all kinds of false advertising and marketing techniques, to an almost Machiavellian extent which seems rather inconsistent with the supposedly altruistic raison d'etre of the institution.

Another tendency I've observed in people spearheading non-profit organizations is a blurring of boundaries between their personal needs and the needs of their organization. Certainly, in order for humanitarian individuals to devote full days to their organization, they need to earn a living wage from the organization's funds if they're not independently wealthy. They need to be able to eat, travel for the organization, present themselves well...where do you draw the line?

A non-profit founder I know of travels first-class from Israel to America, justifying the expense by explaining that he works tirelessly during his brief visits and sleeping comfortably on the flight beforehand is a necessity, not a luxury. Is this entirely self-serving, or is there some legitimacy here? I'm sure there are lots of gray areas like that, particularly for Mortenson.

It's hard to know how much slack to cut. Krakauer doesn't seem to want to cut Mortenson any. I just don't think it's that simple. After all, the guy did build his schools as promised even if some of his efforts were misguided and the results were overhyped.

As Kristof sums up, "the greatest loss will be felt not by those of us whose hero is discredited, nor even by Greg himself, but by countless children in Afghanistan who now won’t get an education after all. But let’s not forget that even if all the allegations turn out to be true, Greg has still built more schools and transformed more children’s lives than you or I ever will."
Profile Image for W.
1,185 reviews4 followers
October 15, 2019
I had read Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen, before this.I loved it.And then,I read this.It was painful to discover that Mortensen wasn't such a hero after all,and had fabricated his story ! Millions of dollars,in donations were pouring into the coffers of Mortensen's Central Asia Institute,yet his book never mentions the staggering amounts involved.Three Cups of Tea,is full of drama,including the alleged kidnapping of Mortensen,who claims to have worked in dangerous areas to build schools.
According to John Krakuer,no such kidnapping took place.He alleges that Mortensen and his staff liberally embezzled funds,meant for the construction of schools,as the US public blindly trusted him with massive donations.What's more,many of the schools built by Mortensen,remained ghost schools,without any students,and without any teachers.The saddest thing about Mortensen's story is that the co-author of Three Cups of Tea,David Oliver Relin,committed suicide.This lends further credibility to Krakauer's allegations.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,618 reviews478 followers
April 23, 2011
I've tried to read Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time. I didn. I didn't like it. It seem to much like a saint's life, among other things. I couldn't even finish it. I noted with little interest when the news about irregularities concerning the charity. I paid a little more attention when Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an op-ed piece in this week's New York Times. Then when Amazon had this up I made the decision to read it because Jon Krakauer can write.

In part, it seems that Krakauer got a little angry when he discovered that the money he donated might have been misused. If the findings are correct then this speaks more about be sure who you give your money to. There are some slight problems with this essay, from a findings point of view. Two of Krakauer's named sources are less than reliable. Two more relible sources for on-site schools are not named (why?). Yet, all in all it does seem to be pretty damning.
Profile Image for Jenn.
267 reviews
July 4, 2011
Well, this was a downer. When I first heard there was someone challenging Greg Mortensen I was protective and actually pissed off. But then I discovered it was Jon Krakauer and 60 Minutes. Their allegations are real and valid. There is a bit of "according to a former employee" as well as some he said she said happening, but other than that, it's a pretty airtight argument. Basically Mortensen exaggerated his original story, lied about being kidnapped by the Taliban, and misused funding. When Mortensen was asked to respond to Krakauer's allegations, he couldn't really do it. He talked in circles to Outside magazine, dodged questions, and basically did a shoddy job of defending himself.

I was a huge fan of Three Cups of Tea, not the writing or the actual book, but of the story, the idea of building schools in Pakistan and other areas of the middle east to combat terrorism in a preventative way. The teacher in me was inspired by his ambition and follow through. Yes, there are still schools that he built that are in operation. The Central Asia Institute has the potential to be a legitimate charity. It isn't all bad. But is isn't all real either. How disappointing is that?
Profile Image for Peter Derk.
Author 24 books336 followers
April 11, 2019
There is a very short list of people you absolutely do not want to fuck with. Jon Krakauer is one of those people. Because if you fuck with him, there's a chance that he will write an entire (granted, short) book about what a terrible person you are. It will contain exhaustive detail, including financial and travel records, and will even take passages from your memoirs and show what a hypocrite you are. It will be as fair as possible, granting you those few things you did right, but even that won't be near enough to balance the scales. I've read a handful of takedowns, and this one is a doozy. If Krakauer started a service where, for pay, he would take down a target of your choosing, sort of like those dudes you can pay at the renaissance fair to make fun of someone, he'd make bank.

It's easily Krakauer's worst book. Not because it's inaccurate or doesn't complete its goal. It's just not a hyper-compelling read. It's more like a prosecutor's case turned into narrative, kind of.

I do have a funny story about Greg Mortenson, the person whose character is in question in this book.

My library did one of those programs where everyone reads the same book for a few years. These seem like a good idea, in theory, but there's a problem. For one, reading is such a personal thing. That's why there's, I don't know, a billion of books. Because your choice for something to read and mine are pretty different. So what're the odds of getting something that even 50% of people will actually like?

Sometimes a city will go the route of picking a book that's "important." Has a message or the author did something important, and the book itself is kind of secondary. The book is just a delivery system for a message and doesn't have to be good as a read. These are probably my least favorite type of choice. Because it reinforces that books are A) Homework and B) Kind of shitty as experiences. They're a vector to get an idea in your head, but if that's what you're trying to do, just pick a documentary and try to get the whole community to watch it. Much easier, much less painful for the individuals, even if the documentary is not a great film.

Anyway, 3 Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson was one of our choices. By "our" I mean "not my."

We got a ton of copies, young reader versions, all that, and because our publicity manager was...I'm looking for nice words to say "insane" and "out-of-touch" and so on. I'm still thinking. Give me a sec...

Because our publicity manager was insane and out-of-touch (sorry, couldn't pull it off), we had A TON of publicity promo materials. Mostly little quarter-sheet cards with Greg's face on them.

I had one co-worker at the time who thought Greg was really doofy-looking. I said, in one picture, that Greg looked like her husband, which I should've apologized for. I met her husband after that, and they don't look alike.

Anyway, whenever someone went on vacation, they could count on something happening at their desk. A prank of sorts.

When this person went on vacation, a group of us painstakingly cut out pictures of Greg's face from leftover promo items, and we taped them everywhere. Over the faces of her family in pictures, corners of her monitor. We put them in places where they would be found, but not right away. Bottom of a computer mouse is a great spot for this. The person sits down after spending 30 minutes taking these dumb faces down, is ready to get to work, and their mouse doesn't work. They turn it over, bam, another Greg face. The phone cradle is another good one. Tape it over the little button that clicks down and hangs up the phone. When the phone is in the cradle, the Greg face is covered. When the phone is picked up, the person doesn't usually notice right away. They just don't get a dial tone. When they reach to click the button, as we do, BAM. Greg face.

There are probably still dozens of Greg faces in her former office space. She left our workplace long ago, but I couldn't help but think about her when I listened to this book. Maybe she had some insight into Greg face and his stupid Greg face. Maybe she could tell you, just by looking, what Jon Krakauer spent hours researching and writing down.
Profile Image for Scott.
291 reviews303 followers
November 18, 2019
Whatever you do, don't piss off John Krakauer.

Greg Mortensen did, and Three Cups of Deceit is the result, an eighty page takedown where Krakauer puts him up against the ropes, pounds him merciliessly, then dances around his slumped and disgraced form.

Mortensen makes this pounding he receives so, so easy, and (if even half of what Krakauer talks about is true) so, so justified.

You may not have heard of Gretg Mortensen. I hadn’t. He is the founder of the charity CAI (the Central Asia Institute), a group whose goal is to build schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortensen wrote a famous bestseller about how he came to found his charity – Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time.

In Three Cups he details how after a failed expedition up K2 he got lost and wandered into a remote village, then ended up promising to build them a school. Returning to the USA he started fundraising, got the school built, and then had a number of adventures, including being abducted by the Taliban for eight days.

You’ve no doubt seen this sort of thing before. A (usually) white person with a bit of a saviour complex, telling stories about their tough times in developing lands, helping
Not unusual, but not terrible either, providing that people actually get helped, and money is spent where it is needed.

Except… a large part of this story is apparently complete tosh. Mortensen lies about the village he visited, lies about where schools were build, and even defames Pakistanis who generously hosted him by claiming that they were Taliban operatives who held him captive. (They were not. They were kind and welcoming hosts who were super-pissed when they found out what he had written about them)

He appears to have fabricated this story for his own personal glory, and to both sell books and do well on the speaking circuit. On the face of it, he comes across as the James Frey of charitable giving.

This would be bad enough, but his charity’s finances are also very, very questionable, with numerous financial advisors and auditors quitting in disgust over Greg’s using the charity as his personal ATM, and refusing to document his expenses. He got CAI to pay for private jet flights to his book talks (where he was paid money he didn’t share with CAI) and used the charity to buys thousands and thousands of copies of his books – at full retail price so he would still receive a cut and the book would remain on the bestseller list.

Apparently he has had to pay a cool million back to the charity since all this came out, but from what Krakauer writes that would be a small fraction of the largesse he has treated himself to on charity dollars over the years.

The icing on the corrupt and dodgy cake comes in the revelation that many of the schools CAI has built are in locations that don’t suit the local population, or are so unsupported that they are pretty much empty, leading them to be labelled ‘Ghost Schools’.

Overall it’s a pretty sad picture, of someone who may have begun with the right intentions but who has become just another dirty cog in the dodgy international aid ‘industry’.

So what drew John Krakauer to take Mortensen down? Well, it seems Krakauer fell for his sales patter. Inspired by Mortensen's (fake) tales of Himalayan inspiration and his (often ineffective, poorly targeted and badly supported) building of schools in Pakistan Krakauer donated somewhere around 75,000 dollars to CAI.

When he began to hear about problems in CAI he investigated further, and on finding evidence of corruption he began this book, the publishing of which blew CAI’s dodginess wide open.

At a quick eighty or so pages it’s a quick read, and a fascinating insight into charitable corruption, and the ways unscrupulous people can doubly exploit those who are already globally exploited.

My only word of warning is that if John Krakauer ever gives you money to do something, make sure you damn well do it, or his next eighty-page sucker punch could be aimed at you.
Profile Image for Negin.
613 reviews151 followers
October 18, 2015
I have not read “Three Cups of Tea” nor do I plan on doing so. Jon Krakauer is angry and I believe that he has every right to be. He was fooled by Greg Mortenson. This very thoroughly documented book is about the duplicity and inconsistencies in “Three Cups of Tea” and its sequel, “Stones into Schools”, as well as Mortensons’s non-profit organization, Central Asia Institute (CAI) where the funds are heavily mismanaged.

As far as reading goes, it was a bit boring for me, hence why I’ve given it 3 stars. I feel sad for the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan, as well as for all those who donated to CAI.

A quote that I’d like to share:
“When our heroes turn out to be sleazebags, self-deception is easier than facing the facts.”
Profile Image for Susan (aka Just My Op).
1,126 reviews57 followers
August 22, 2011
Reading this very short 75-page book is like being told as a child that Santa doesn't exist – all the arguments are logical but you still don't quite want to believe them. When I first heard of Three Cups of Deceit, I assumed (because I wanted to) that it was written by some disgruntled hack who just wanted to share the spotlight by defaming Mortenson. When I learned it was written by Jon Krakauer, an author I respect, I thought it was worth a second look.

Mr. Krakauer, once an ardent supporter of CAI, the nonprofit organization that Mortenson is affiliated with, became disillusioned with Mortenson and decided to dig into the story for himself. He seems to have done his research well. His allegations of Mortenson's portraying as truth that which is fiction, and misuse of CAI funds, seems well founded.

I still believe that Mortenson has done some good, has helped some of the people that he claimed to have helped. It saddens me to see that he apparently has lost his way, or at any rate, is not choosing the most honorable path. What saddens me more is that people want to believe, people want to help to the best of their abilities, and this causes us to lose faith. When someone donates, especially in these times when fewer people can donate or must donate less, the donor wants to know that his money is being used wisely, is being stretched as far as it can for the purpose intended. The controversy over Mortenson's work and actions hurts all nonprofits. Donors are at a loss, not knowing who and what they can trust. And that hurts everyone.

Some quotes that were especially meaningful to me:

“What's disturbing is not the amount Mortenson was paid, but that he lied about it – and that dozens of such falsehoods are strewn thought the book.”

“In all fairness, Greg Mortenson has done much that is admirable since he began working in Baltistan sixteen and a half years ago. He's been a tireless advocate for girls' education. He's established dozens of schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan....”

This one seems especially relevant:

“With one hand Greg has created something potentially beautiful and caring (regardless of his motives). With the other he has murdered his creation by his duplicity.”

And I really, really wanted to believe in Santa Claus.
Profile Image for Alexa.
Author 5 books3,204 followers
January 20, 2022
Second time I've read this--was jonesing for a revisit as I've delved deeper into mountaineering non-fiction, specifically more K2 stories. Listened to the audiobook from the library (previously read as an ebook when it came out), and it still packs a punch. A stunning piece of investigative journalism. Fascinating looking over the Goodreads reviews and how polarizing they are--I come to this with no nostalgia for the source material, and find every argument compelling. Of course most interesting is the question of "what's happened since" given this was pubbed so long ago now.

For me, this one slots in nicely alongside Bad Blood and Empire of Pain, in terms of being a portrait of an ambitious, enigmatic figure who engaged in shady practices in a corporate environment and got caught, and what that indicates about them as a force of personality. Particularly interesting to me hearing so many massive names in mountaineering having a falling out with someone they once trusted.
Profile Image for ALLEN.
553 reviews121 followers
April 10, 2020
In 1993 a free-spirited American named Greg Mortenson, having failed to climb the K2 mountain, descended over a glacier into far northern Pakistan. He went a little off-course into the wrong village and wound up in the care of a local chieftan who gave him physical care and philosophical comfort. As a result Mortenson Founded the Central Asia Institute (CAI) and built numerous successful schools throughout the region. Mortenson wrote two books -- THREE CUPS OF TEA and a sequel, STONES INTO SCHOOLS (2009) to tell the story.

This is a charming tale of international goodwill and American derring-do, but sadly much of it is simply not true. Most of the "schools" lacked roads and staffs, and it was close to impossible to get accurate accountings of how CAI spent its money. In 2011 Steve Kroft exposed the deceit on an episode of 60 MINUTES, and the following day Jon Krakauer's "Three Cups of Deceit" appeared as an online article. Though fairly short (112 pp.), this book is an amplification of that original muckraking article. It is well worth reading for its insights into the waywardness of so much American charity and the gullibility of those who believe that a well-meaning American with common sense can cut through hundreds of years of corruption and sectarianism halfway around the world.
Profile Image for Paula.
428 reviews36 followers
April 7, 2020
The only thing this book claims is Mortensen is a crap administrator, the only thing it proves is Krakauer is a media whore with his vampire teeth firmly entrenched in Mortensen's hide.

So Greg didnt live in a basement where his wife and kid starved to death to contribute every penny of his BEST SELLING book to those who's cause he championed SUCESSFULLY and brought to the forefront of the wealthy community in the world. What an asshole- or Krakaur would have you believe. Kraukaur, who never did anything to benefit any of the participants in any of the stories that made him rich. WTF John?

Krakaur is looking to make ANOTHER dollar off bashing Mortensen's undeniably decades long successful campaign. For a man (Krakauer) who makes his living off penning his personal accounts that have never done one ounce of good on any front- he has some set of balls to challenge the guy who created an unprecedented social awareness.

Three cups of Tea, the book this one controverts, is without doubt one of the greatest non-profit marketing campaigns that ever took place- there is no CIA without 3 cups of tea. Is it LOADED with poetic license? Stories where one town replaces another? Hell yes! A record breaking best seller in fact- for good reason- with a fantastic moral that has literally changed the world. Many morally significant books are a blend, like for instance the bible.

Krakauer wants to shit all over him for it. This isnt the pot calling the kettle- this is the pot calling the white bed-sheet black,

Much of this information will keep the uninitiated shocked, but when you realize the director of MOMA- museum of Modern art makes 2.7 million dollars a year for running his non profit- AND he's never penned a best seller- and never has to suffer through the backwoods of war torn Pakistan without his family- and his "benefits" like travel expense- which for a man in NYC running a museum in NYC- has a spectacular paper trail that's not included in his comp- Are we really going to judge mortensen?

Mortensen's story has been one of the greatest sources of philanthropic donations and social change ever- but if you want to be small minded and live by IRS rules and degrade his accomplishments because soem of it has benefited him or his family? If children all over america realize how great they have it, how important it is to have an education and that they have the power to enrich the lives of children all over the world, to let that generation know America is not vial and greedy- can you put a dollar on the potential piece? And the book is Greg's. He is the author. really? who can argue how valuable that book is as a work of marketing for his organization? It is Mortensen's best seller- and he should get paid.

Krakauer is just being petty. Read the original book and you know Mortensen is not an administrator, he's not gonna file his paperwork, and he started this from nothing, He's not mother Theresa and he should never have been put in charge of something that got this big- becasue you have to have a mind that thinks outside the box to make this happen, and you cant chove him back into a box because someone else says so- Run Free Greg- and do your thing. I'm with you.
Krakaur BTW- keeps every single penny made off his books on the 1996 Everest dead he capitalized on, the profits from McCandless's body, and raped women in two different books.
He's pissed Mortensen's best seller about building schools benefited the writer who devoted his life to building this schools... opposed to exploiting the dead and victimized-
slimy judgemental hypocritical, Krakauer makes me sick.
Profile Image for Eduardo.
143 reviews4 followers
April 24, 2011
Krakauer can write and I like that he injects himself into the story sometimes because I often wonder, "what would I do if I were in this situation?" Krakauer answers that question for me. Rather than a story, he is really just writing an exposé of Greg Mortenson's escapades since the events that led to the construction of his first school. It is interesting to read but it is sad on several levels.

First, it is sad because I can no longer feel the same way about what I read in Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time and Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While I lament that loss, I view it as a sort of coming of age. It is like Krakauer telling me that my parents are Santa Claus. It was necessary, even if painful.

Second, it is sad because I can no longer hold Mortenson in the same high esteem that I did before now. Krakauer softens the blow ever so slightly by mentioning on several occasions that Mortenson has done a great deal of good. It is just difficult to understand how much good he has really done and how much is just self-aggrandizement.

Third, it is sad because I wished that I had gotten more of Krakauer's narrative that I have come to enjoy so much. It is hard to accept that the point of Krakauer writing this was not to narrate, but to get it off of his chest. As Gustav Holst said of music, "Never compose anything unless the not-composing of it becomes a positive nuisance to you".

In the end, I got out of this exactly what I have gotten out of his other books, which is a clearer feeling of what it would be like to be in the subject's place. I am confused and saddened by what I have read, which is exactly what Krakauer is for having written it.
Profile Image for Don.
319 reviews8 followers
August 3, 2011
The good news is Greg Mortenson had/has a nice idea. The bad news is that he's a pathological liar with little regard for credibility and accountabulity -- but he's happy to spend 41 cents of every non-profit-donated dollar on dubious Afghani schools, and 59 cents on what amounts to the glorification of Greg Mortenson.

Krakauer is an awesome "new journalist," and this "Kindle Singles" form was an outstanding platform for this work. What Krakauer has always done so well is to dlve into a fascinating subject/personality, and shine a light on it ... And from where I sit, he leans on truth and his own perspective -- IN THAT ORDER. From that standpoint, things can get a little hairy. Even in Into Thin Air, he told the truth. Bam! "Here's what happened." and you know what? One of the people who came out looking pretty bad in that horrific scenario was one Jon Krakauer. He let the truth -- or at least what he observed and wha happened according to others who was there, and pretty much let the chips fall. And it made a lot of flks unhappy because they looked bad and dumb and selfish, just as he did.

There were two things that bothered me, though, about "Deceipt."
1) He should have given Mortenson a better opportunity to respond (maybe he did, but it didn't come across that way in the book; and it gave Mortenson an easy out: "Whaaa, whaaa, he ambushed me," which is B.S.
2) I really didn't see the need to call for Mortenson's disassociation from CAI. Heck, just once and for all convince him to have somebody oversee his books, and emphasize the good that is coming from the cause. If he came clean and said, "I got carried away, it quickly got beyond the scope of my comfort zone, but I'm allowing a real board of directos to take control and we'll keep administrative costs to 88 percent," I think CAI would become more relevant and meaningful than ever. But seeing his responses to Krakauer and 60 Minutes, it doesn't look like thats going to happen.
Profile Image for Arlie.
1,130 reviews
August 19, 2016
I'm sorry to say that I think everything in this book is accurate. I read Mortenson's 'Three Cups of Tea' several years ago (and have since given it to many high school students to read), and I loved it. It was beautiful and inspiring and touching. And largely made up. I picked up Krakauer's book as I was so impressed with his journalism in 'Into Thin Air'. He comes across in both books as a reliable and well-researched writer. After reading 'Three Cups of Deceit', I find it hard to believe I didn't notice how much Mortenson's book flowed like fiction. There are so many disturbing facts in this expose, but what bothers me most is how Mortenson has misused money that so many were eager to give. We talk about racism and prejudice toward Muslims, but when Mortenson seemed to be helping and giving, people opened up their pockets and let the money flow (to the tune of $20 million in 2007 alone). How many of those people will give to the next Muslim project? I left this book sad, a bit disheartened, and glad that I worked with Wycliffe, an upstanding organization whose president raises his own salary apart from donations to the organization.
Profile Image for Veena.
4 reviews3 followers
May 27, 2011
Krakauer makes some pretty serious allegations in this quick read (only about 70 pages long), which I was drawn to because of Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea. He alleges that Three Cups of Tea only remained at the top of the NYT best-seller list because Mortenson himself used funds donated to his charity (for building schools in Pakistan) to go online and buy his own book from Amazon. It was sort of sadly funny to read that Mortenson was furious when he heard that Three Cups of Tea was pipped from the #1 spot, and immediately rushed online to buy more copies of it.
More seriously, Krakauer writes that Mortenson treated the Central Asia Institute as some sort of personal ATM, spending extravagantly and refusing to account for any of the expenses to anyone.
He lied in Three Cups of Tea in the chapter about his kidnapping by the Taliban (he was never kidnapped, in fact he was welcomed warmly and treated as a special guest by a Pakistani tribe, who now plan to sue Mortenson for the libel in the book. Old colleagues of Mortenson's and ex-donors to CAI discuss their experiences of working with Mortenson in interviews with Krakauer in this book.
Someone pointed out to me that Krakauer himself has been accused of fudging facts about his Mt. Everest expedition in his book Into Thin Air, so his claims should be taken with a pinch of salt. I agree, all that rarified air, all these mountaineers.. ;-) But more seriously, I will observe that nobody has accused Krakauer of spending money meant for charity on himself. Nobody has accused Krakauer of being a fabulist, especially not about anything he did in normal altitudes. People have simply disagreed with his representation of events in Into Thin Air. I am inclined to believe him on Mortenson being a fraud because he sounds very much like he was also duped by the man. Having donated to CAI, he can rightly question the way it spends donors' money. Now, I am not going to read Mortenson's next book, Stones into Schools, because I am quite convinced Mortenson spends money meant for charity wrongfully, lies about his experiences, and has not done as much as he has claimed to help people gain access to education in Pakistan.
Profile Image for Mary Bloodworth.
50 reviews
April 19, 2011
For starters, I've not read Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea. I have to admit a certain (often misguided) bias against something that stays on the bestseller list for that long. I blame Dan Brown and Mitch Albom for this. I have however read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air which I thought was wonderful.

So with only a little understanding of the issue I read this because ooh - scandal! I'll start with the fact that Jon Krakauer is pissed. He feels personally conned because he donated $75,000 to Mortenson's Central Asia Institute and feels that it was squandered, with many other donations. He wants to expose the fact that everything's not as selflessly generous as it seems to be at the CAI.

It does seem like Mortenson is an asshole. He wants things his way and will avoid or thwart those who question him. In Myers-Briggs speak he is an extreme P; comes up with wonderful visions but can't be bothered with the nuts and bolts of making it happen. The stories presented as facts in his books are works of fiction Krakauer argues, citing quotes from others involved.

Finances at CAI are obscured, poorly documented, and a bit shady. Board members and staff alike have resigned because of this. While money made from Three Cups of Tea only goes to Mortenson, the CAI pays for his travel and lodging on book tours. He rarely turns in expense reports.

Krakauer also notes that a number of schools Mortenson claims to have started are sitting empty, built but not equipped or staffed. However, some are thriving, including ones that focus on educating girls. And building some thriving schools in areas where they didn't have any is a large accomplishment. So why Mortenson feels the need to exaggerate and falsify his story is a mystery. It's this that Krakauer exposes in his book.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,109 reviews1,845 followers
Want to read
July 3, 2011
Why didn't Barnes and Noble order this book for the stores?
Profile Image for Stacey.
101 reviews3 followers
April 23, 2011
I haven't read Three Cups of Tea (never intended to, and I don't plan to now - the excerpts quoted in Three Cups of Deceit are made up of clunky writing paired with hero worship - I wouldn't be able to stomach it), but I was aware of the basic story and of the work that Greg Mortenson's foundation does in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Three Cups of Deceit, Jon Krakauer (who, unlike Mortenson and his co-author, is actually a good writer) provides an articulate, sweeping, and devastating critique both of Mortenson's book and of his charitable work.

It is astonishing to me that people continue to write and publish fictionalized nonfiction books, but the evidence certainly seems to be clear that that is exactly what Mortenson has done. Krakauer painstakingly walks us through the many deceits of Mortenson's account (most notably, the entire first story of the book - the whole premise of his promise to build a school in Korphe, as well as Mortenson's claim to have been kidnapped by the Taliban and to have paid his respects in person to Mother Theresa's body - among many others). Krakauer has gone to great lengths to substantiate the claims he makes. I have read many related articles and interviews, and, so far, I have not read anything that refutes the many sources Krakauer has drawn on for his research (including former members of the CAI board, former CAI staffers and consultants, and various American, Pakistani, and Afghan people Mortenson mentions in his book).

What is more shocking, though, than just another writer making false claims is the charges Krakauer makes about Mortenson's mismanagement of his foundation and the outright malfeasance. Whereas a strong charity puts at least 85% of its donations into the work it is organized to do, CAI uses only 41% of its donations to actually build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The majority of the money goes to support Mortenson's book tours and related publicity. Mortenson and his coauthor receive the royalties from the book - not the CAI. Money that school children have raised (in Pennies for Peace) to build schools has gone to help Mortenson sell his books. It's shameful. On top of that, it appears that Mortenson has exaggerated the number of schools that have been built, and, worse, many of the schools that *have* been built are standing empty ("ghost schools"). Some were built in places where schools were not needed or wanted, others were built but not properly supported by CAI to get off the ground. Mortenson had a noble idea and the charisma to get it funded, but it has not been the success that he has claimed it is - and the failures have been primarily due to his own mismanagement.

I found this quick read to be equal parts fascinating and rage-making. I would highly recommend it.

Profile Image for Natalia.
452 reviews16 followers
April 20, 2011
In a way, I think too much has been made of Mortenson's playing fast and loose with the actual events he writes about in Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools. the most concerning revelations made in this article/book concern the gross financial mismanagement going on at the Central Asia Institute.

Over and over, I have read comments online to the tune of, "Mortenson and the CAI do such good work! All the critics are just haters trying to discredit him! It's obvious he's making a difference so what's the big deal if he's missing a few receipts?" And I just cringe. Financial transparency is crucial for non-profit agencies. When donors entrust their money to an agency, they deserve accurate accounting as to where their money is going.

The first text on the CAI website states, "Central Asia Institute is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with the mission to promote and support community-based education, especially for girls, in remote regions of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan." However, their own audited financial statement states that over 50% of their program expenses are spent on domestic "outreach". While I guess promotion and outreach within the US technically falls under the idea of promoting community-based education in Pakistan and Afghanistan - I expect the majority of donors believed their donations were going to school-building not to Mortinson's book tour. Based on my review of their financial statements, it does seem to be clear that the CAI is paying for Mortenson's travel expenses while not receiving proceeds from the sale of the books. This is clearly inappropriate use of a 501c3's funds, even if the tour results in higher fundraising totals for the agency.

Add to that the questions being raised about how many schools have actually been built and how successful they are, as well as the high turnover in staff and history of board members leaving the organization (familiar symptoms of a mismanaged non-profit) and my immediate feeling is that until they get their house in order, there are many, many other worthy non-profits who can more transparently account for how they spend your money.

Krakauer makes a point of saying that Mortenson and the CAI do really good work, and are certainly not a scam, and I am sure that is true. But receipts matter, financial accountability matters - and when the real work you are doing is powerful and important, why bother exaggerating it?
Profile Image for Ulla.
328 reviews8 followers
May 24, 2011
I'm sad and disappointed. I read "Three Cups of Tea" and I loved the idea of building schools for girls in empowerished areas to help communities better their lives and to bring about peace. I felt like Greg Mortenson was a new Mother Theresa or Gandhi. I was totally swept off my feet. Now, after reading Jon Krakauer's book, I am trying to come to terms with the fact that likely some of the contents of that book are a complete fabrication, and Greg Mortenson probably isn't everything he claims to be.

However, I am not truly convinced that this book holds the key to the complete truth. The piece bears signs of being written out of bitterness and anger, and under a tight deadline so as to get the story out there sooner rather than later. Some of the people who claim that Greg Mortenson is lying clearly have an interest in doing so in order to make themselves look better.

This doesn't change the fact that there are too many checkable facts which are wrong in the book such as the Mother Theresa death bed story, the Taliban kidnapping story as well as the salary he claimed to be making over the years and the one he actually received - and this is just to name a few. There are conversations even with friend's of Greg that dispute details in the book. We have to believe Jon Krakauer's word, though, about the fact checks, because he rarely reveals specifically where he got the information from - there are only about 10-12 footnotes in the entire book which seems strange to me.

But overall it's enough for me to believe that something certainly is up. Now, whether it is clear-cut lying and deceit or just a completely disorganized guy trying to run a non-profit that has grown bigger than he can handle remains to be seen.

Either way, I'm still sad and disappointed.
Profile Image for David.
512 reviews37 followers
September 22, 2011
This bare knuckles expose is a quick and entertaining read. Krakauer convincingly makes his case that Greg Mortenson is a big fat liar. I haven't read Three Cups of Tea or Stones Into Schools but my wife did and enjoyed them greatly. She recommended them to me very highly and I promised I would read both. Unfortunately I must break my promise. Also unfortunately we've made a few donations to the Central Asia Institute and I feel it's money thrown away.

Not having read Mortenson's books did not pose an impediment to understanding the issues presented by Krakauer. I had seen the 60 Minutes story, which was essentially a video of this book, and enjoyed it very much. There's something about exposing frauds that I find fascinating and this book didn't disappoint. At 71 pages it's about the size of a novella and can be read in less than two hours. I would have rated it five stars but the subject matter is so completely narrow and it's relevance will be so short lived that I knocked it down one star.

On the back cover of the book there's a note that 100% of JK's proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the "Stop Girl Trafficking" project at the American Himalayan Foundation. Somehow I don't doubt that statement.
Profile Image for Kathy Hiester.
436 reviews16 followers
August 17, 2011
I had read Three Cups of Tea and then in the midst of a conversation with a friend I was told about Three Cups of Deceipt. Now, You could say that I spend much of my time in LaLa Land as my head is always in a book and I rarely watch TV so I totally missed the boat on this controversy. I believed that the all these schools were being built, that they were being staffed, that students lives were being changed but now I agree with Krakauer's conclusion from his painstaking research. Krakauer did his homework and wrote a well-written analysis of the entire Central Asia Institute with Mortenson at its head.

As other reviewers here have said, the story is still playing out in real time, but the evidence looks damning. I agree with Krakauer's conclusion from his painstaking research and do not see how Greg Mortenson can stay at the helm of the Central Asia Institute. Mortenson has been reaping a multitude of financial benefits from the CAI and assuming that CAI is even able to survive this crisis I have lost faith and so will many others after they read this book.

5 Stars
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