Three Grains of Salt

"It's a beautiful story," says Jon Krakauer of the harrowing and inspiring experiences that led to Greg Mortenson's best-selling Three Cups of Tea, "and it's a lie."


Oh boy.  What's this?  Following the 60 Minutes segment on Sunday that called into question many of the details of Mortenson's book, and also alleged significant financial improprieties involving the huge amounts of money donated to Mortenson's philanthropies in the past several years (including $75,000 from Krakauer himself), a war of words has drawn in everyone from the publisher of Mortenson's next book to local tribal chiefs in Waziristan.  Is Mortenson another James Frey, the media darling of the moment who knew all along that his non-fiction included quite a bit of fantastic fiction?  Has he enriched himself at the expense of schoolchildren in America who donated their pennies and schoolchildren in Central Asia who never received their promised schools?  Or is this much ado about nothing, the public airing of private rivalries and disagreements from the worlds of competitive hiking and even-more-competitive publishing?

Krakauer (author of Into Thin Air,Into the Wild, and Under the Banner of Heaven) minces no words in the 60 Minutes segment (transcript here), saying readers of Three Cups of Tea were "taken for a ride."  Mortenson responded in an email to some of the allegations here.  In the meantime, Publisher's Weekly reports that Penguin, Mortenson's publisher, is "reviewing the entire situation."  For a much longer interview with Outside Magazine, in which Mortenson defends himself at length, try here.

Jim Keane, S.J.



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Bill Collier
7 years ago
I enjoyed "Three Cups of Tea," so I was disappointed when I heard that Krakauer (a writer I enjoy and admire) and others are alleging improprieties and outright dissembling on Mortenson's part. At the end of the 60 Minutes segment, Krakauer noted that Mortenson "isn't Bernie Madoff," and that Mortenson and his organization (the Central Asia Institute) have undeniably done a lot of good. I hope that scrupulous fact checking is done, and that Mortenson faces up to any wrongdoing or unethical acts that may have taken place. That would include his stepping away from the CAI so that a new director could hopefully salvage the reputaton of the organization and the important work of educating Pakistani children (especially girls) at "the roof of the world."  


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