Greg Mortenson: <em>Stones Into Schools</em>

Book clubs, rejoice: The rollicking sequel to Three Cups of Tea is here.

Dec 3, 2009
Outside Magazine
Required Reading

Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution (Metropolitan Books, $27.50)—Caroline Fraser tracks Kenyan lions and New Mexican prairie dogs to offer a happily unwonky look at the history of the conservation movement.
To Hellholes and Back: Bribes, Lies, and the Art of Extreme Tourism (Holt Paperbacks, $15)—Renegade travel writer Chuck Thompson confronts his greatest phobias—the Congo, India, Mexico City, and Disney World.

Stones Into Schools

Stones Into Schools

So how do you follow up a book that remained a blockbuster bestseller for nearly three years? If you're climber turned philanthropist Greg Mortenson, you go deeper into Taliban country. This month, Mortenson, who found his calling building schools for girls, returns with Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Viking, $27). The sequel picks up where Three Cups left off, tracing the nonprofit Central Asia Institute's evolution since Mortenson's ascent. The author's struggles with his newfound fame play a central role: While his colleagues—a group of ex-refugees and former Taliban fighters affectionately nicknamed the Dirty Dozen—build schools, their leader gets stuck raising cash on a book tour in the States and suffering anxiety attacks as a result. "I felt as if I were standing inside a tunnel with the walls squeezing in," the famously shy Mortenson writes.

More gripping is the action in Afghanistan. Mortenson & Co. construct schools in Taliban strongholds from the Korengal Valley to the farthest reaches of the Wakhan Corridor. In his free time, he drinks tea with the former president of Pakistan, funds the reconstruction of a school in Kashmir after a deadly earthquake, and advises the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

How does he find the time? Well, it's hard to read this book and think that "Doctor Greg" is entirely stable. He continually makes promises that are hard to keep. "Greg, this is Afghanistan," exclaims his "most remote projects director," Sarfraz Khan. "You cannot help everyone." But what makes Mortenson so remarkable is that he delivers on those wild promises, resorting to extreme measures (like hiding under a pile of ripe animal hides, in a firefight, to enter the Wakhan Corridor) to do so. The result is a story that's a feel-gooder not because it's inspirational but because it's action-packed.

Filed To: Culture, Afghanistan

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