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A Mountain of Failure Leads to Phenomenal Success in Humanitarianism

2008 MU Freshman Summer Reading Program Pick: Greg Mortenson's 'Three Cups of Tea'

May 15, 2008

Story Contact:  Christian Basi, (573)882-4430,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Here (in Pakistan and Afghanistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything – even die. This is the tradition Haji Ali, chief of the Korphe village explained to Greg Mortenson as he attempted to fulfill his promise to create an education system in the foreboding territory that bred the Taliban.

In the fifth year since the inception of Mizzou Reads, participants will read Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time by Mortenson. Mizzou Reads is a campus-wide program designed to unite all incoming students before arriving on campus through a powerful and inspirational piece of literature. In this novel, Mortenson partners with journalist David Oliver Relin to recount how his attempt to conquer the world’s second largest mountain, Pakistan’s K2, was transformed into an individual effort to change the system of education throughout isolated communities in Central Asia.

As part of the program, MU freshmen will participate in small groups to discuss the book at the beginning of the fall 2008 semester. Later, participants will summarize their discussions in larger events that will take place during the year.

Since the end of the 2007 fall semester, a committee of faculty, staff and students “brainstormed” before reaching a decision for the 2008 academic year. After comparing and contrasting the benefits of the novels Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and Ted Conover’s Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, the committee picked Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea.

Three Cups of Tea combines a compelling story of how Greg Mortenson dealt with his failure to climb K2, how he embraces a culture and its ways while not trying to impose Americanized standards; and how his simple desire to help one community ultimately affected the lives of hundreds of children and was the genesis of an international foundation,” said Jennifer Rowe, associate professor in the School of Journalism and committee chair. “The committee members felt readers could get a glimpse of everyday life in Pakistan and Afghanistan that is not focused on news events or extremist groups. The story is both gripping and heartwarming and ultimately speaks to the power associated with generosity of spirit. Our hope is for this book to be a catalyst for discussion on topics that range from adventure to education and literacy to cross-cultural and gender issues.”

Last summer, students read Paul Rusesabagina’s literary piece An Ordinary Man.

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