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on 14 June 2011
Though I haven't entirely finished reading this yet, I am incredibly intrigued by the entire story. The author clearly hasn't been tempted to take artistic license (unlike the pieces of Mortenson's writing picked apart in this book) so as the reader you're provided with a straightforward start-to-finish account in clear and clear direct language. Krakauer doesn't drift off into other stories or strange musings, he states and argues his case point by point, leaving nothing to the imagination. Reading this I feel like I am being educated about the goings-on not only in Mortenson's organization, but potentially very many other charitable organizations. The unpretentious narratives makes this a very enjoyable reading experience and the story itself is just immensely interesting.
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This is a valuable and interesting book on a self-proclaimed hero, Greg Mortenson, whose story never rang quite true to me. Krakauer is bitter, embarrassed, and outraged at the abuses, lies, and narcissistic entitlement that enabled this man to be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize while enriching himself in the sleaziest manner imaginable. Even worse, Mortgenson conned the best of the elite, from Obama (who gave him $100,000) to Nicolas Kristof of the NYT, who considered him a personal friend. The case he makes is convincing, thoroughly documented, and in my view admirably balanced.

Krakauer dissects Mortenson's lies on three levels: 1) the ridiculous fabrications he makes about his abduction by the Taliban, his relationships with local leaders, and his inspirational moments; 2) the complete lack of accountability and transparency that allowed him to exploit his NGO to enrich himself with naked abandon, via such practices as using donations to promote his books, keeping the profits from sales for himself; 3) the mediocre results from his incompetence, his dysfunctional organization, and lack of followthrough - perhaps half of the schools he built are unused, many he claims to have built do not exist, and he has failed repeatedly to provide training and salaries to staff them. It is a truly devastating commentary and, if properly investigated, could result in fines and perhaps even prison. Mortenson should be stripped of his power and position as ultimately he will damage his cause. Indeed, his lies have not just embarrassed those he conned, but have actually put many of those he spoke about in danger of murder or ostracism. That being said, Krakauer praises him for certain accomplishments, such as the schools where girls can receive education, and includes the arguments in favor of him, but it overwhelmingly points to a man who operates like a megalomaniac who cannot listen, cannot change his behavior or management style, and refuses to acknowledge important mistakes.

Krakauer concludes that we believed him because he appeared to be a positive story in a zone of the bleakest failure. However, it also highlights the lack of accountability that many NGOs enjoy when they are run by the wrong people. Recommended as a cautionary tale on fame, self-aggrandizement, and idealism gone awry.
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VINE VOICEon 26 May 2011
On the one hand you have Greg Mortenson, humanitarian, and three times Nobel Peace Prize nominee, whose inspirational story has been told in the best selling Three Cups of Tea (TCoT), and Stones into Schools (SiS). On the other you have Jon Krakauer, acclaimed author and journalist, still best known for Into the Wild, and his bone-chilling Into Thin Air: Personal Account of the Everest Disaster.

Let's put Krakauer and Mortenson in context: they are not strangers and have met several times. Mortenson thanks Krakauer at the end of SiS, and Krakauer has donated a substantial amount of money to the CAI (Central Asia Institute). In March 2004 however, Krakauer sent a fax withdrawing his support: ""I still believe in CAI's mission, but I am made extremely uneasy by Greg's way of running the show. Although I don't want to make any public statements that would have a negative impact on Greg's work, I no longer feel comfortable providing financial backing, or lending my name, to CAI.""

At some point Krakauer changed his mind on the "public statements" and it's difficult not to be somewhat resentful and wonder why. How often are those held in high esteem demolished by a media eager to find the tiniest bone in their closet and create from it a hideous skeleton? Scott Darsney, Mortenson's climbing partner, and interviewed by Krakauer, questions the accuracy of Three Cups of Deceit (TCoD) writing of "minor problems and transgressions ... But ... to call it `lies' and `fraud'? No way." Marjorie Kehe says in her review of TCoD, that "Most of us, if we had established one such school ... might feel that we had justified our very existences by that act" going on to say that this should be "weighed in the balance."

Krakauer's attack here comes in three parts, the first dealing with lies told in TCoT. In The Creation Myth, Krakauer tells us that the "first eight chapters of Three Cups of Tea are an intricately wrought work of fiction presented as fact." Furthermore, that Mortenson's 8-day kidnap ordeal by the Taliban was a complete fabrication, implicating a group of men who were his "guardians, not his abductors."

In Accountable to No one, against a backdrop of 20 schools successfully built, Krakauer exposes a tangle of shoddy business practices, lax accounting and high-profile resignations from the board. Time and again the picture presented is of individuals inspired by ""Greg's vision and courage"" simultaneously thwarted by the man himself. Financial discrepancies abound, with swathes of spending unaccounted for, and charges of fraud from the then CFO, Debbie Raynor.

Finally, in Ghost Schools, Krakauer posits that a lack of promised support for teachers, through wages and training, combined with schools being built in the wrong places (""If 50% of the children die before age five, who is there to educate?"") has resulted in many schools being abandoned.

Krakauer, known for his pursuit and accurate portrayal of the "facts", makes sure his sources are documented and appears to aim for transparency; the reader is given no reason for doubt. It makes for disquieting reading, pulling the rug out from under those of us who have admired Mortenson, and it remains to be seen just how damaging these allegations will turn out to be.
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on 4 December 2011
"I wish I understood the pathology that has compelled the unending need to embellish the truth so flagrantly. 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." - Tom Hornbein, American physician and mountaineer, CAI chairman 2001-2

This quote pretty much sums up the argument of the book. I remember 'Three Cups of Tea' soaring into the bestseller lists and garnering rave reviews. I didn't buy it - and now I'm glad I didn't. Because the truth behind the schmaltz was rather different. Krakauer was one of the generous millions who donated a significant sum of money to Greg Mortenson's school project, and now he is the man exposing the lies that conned him into doing so.

This is a short book, but if you've been swept away by Mortenson's two offerings, you shouldn't hesitate to read it. Krakauer lives up to his reputation by unpicking truth from lie in Mortenson's narrative - and there are a LOT of lies. Encounters and stirring promises that never happened. A 'kidnapping' that was actually a generous welcome into a community which has now been disgraced by Mortenson's dramatic retelling. Schools that are already lying empty thanks to poor building decisions and a lack of resources and support.

Although CAI itself - that's the Central Asia Institute - comes across as a worthy and inspirational organisation, it is clear that its founder is out of control. The high and rapid turnover of the more capable staff suggests that people arrive with great aspirations and leave disillusioned almost immediately.

Mortenson comes across as a man consumed by vanity and greed, driven by book sales and rapturous welcomes wherever he goes, yet failing to be accountable to anyone and siphoning off CAI funds - funds donated by individuals as well as by schools and other organisations - at a rate of millions. His pay is astronomical, he flies by private jet, none of his royalties benefit CAI, he uses CAI money to fund his expenses, and he seems to be a keen practitioner of creative accounting. In short, he is a disgrace.

I can categorically say that as of this moment, I will not be selling his books via my shop. And anyone who asks for 'Three Cups of Tea' or 'Stones into Schools' (as someone did yesterday after her friend mentioned how 'inspiring' it was) will be receiving a hearty recommendation to pick up this book instead. Read it and weep.
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on 17 May 2012
I had read 3 cups of tea (which is a great book though most of it is fiction) before I started to hear stories about Mortenson and how things weren't as he said.

Krakauer was in fact a financial backer of Morteson and the CAI and has given him approx $75,000 of his own money. However he started to suspect that his money wasn't going to the building of schools and withdrew his support.

It's a very well written and researched book. Mortenson had time to give his side of the story but never replied to Krakauer's offer.

One of the most surprising facts of the book is that the profits from 3 cups of tea do not actually go to directly to the CAI, but in fact to Mortenson and his co-author. Mortenson the donates part of the profit. This is why on the cover of 3 cups of tea you do not see any mention of the profits going to the CAI.
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on 26 July 2013
This a sad story about a man called Greg who started with the very best of intentions, but allowed himself to be seduced by money and whose integrity broke down. He has brought education and opportunity into the lives of many, for which the author gives due praise, but he has also apparently squandered donated funds on building schools in the wrong places, where they could not be supplied, or at any rate, have not been supplied, with teachers and equipment. He has obstinately refused to work with the government of Pakistan. I thought of Gregg and the Central Asia Foundation (he is no longer CEO, but still involved and drawing a large salary) as I listened to Malala Yousufzai, addressing the UN Youth Assembly on the subject of education for girls and boys, particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The situation calls for cooperation between NGO's and governments and much targeted hard work. Jon Krakauer's book, together with the original Three Cups of Tea, gives an insight into why it has been so hard to make it happen.
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on 3 July 2012
This book wouldn't be very interesting if you hadn't read Three cups of Tea. It's quite a short read and interesting for its de-bunking of the authenticity of Greg Mortensen's book. I enjoyed Three Cups of tea, but an American friend I mentioned it to warned me that there was a certain amount of scandal attaching to the author in the States. The cult of personality is hard to resist and it seems that the original philanthropic idea foundered as so many good intentions do, on the rocks of fame and money. A well documented and seemingly true expose.
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on 14 December 2015
Not with the book but with the exposure of the man I found so inspiring. After many years of dedicated work in Romania and Albania with attendant risks the discovery of a fraud is always a disappointment, a shattered illusion.

I recommend this book for its honesty, it's thoroughly researched material. I would suggest that anyone involved in volunteer charity work read this book to serve as a warning that all may not be what it seems and always to question where you have a doubt.
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on 6 January 2014
Not an excoriating take-down, but a necessary challenge to the author of 'Three Cups of Tea', who (as has been widely reported, though not as widely as his book has reached) has not been as reliable on the facts or on the administration of the charity he founded as one would wish.
Rather than in a fit of gleeful hero-bashing, the book appears to have been written reluctantly.
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on 26 June 2013
Must admit that before I read this I believed everything I read in "Three Cups of Tea" & "Stones into Schools", such that I bought it for a few friends. I thought they were excellent books but I feel kind of let down now. Very interesting how author came to his findings. Must find out wht Greg Mortensen is doing now.
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