Review: Stones into Schools
The mega-selling book Three Cups of Tea told a series of stories from the life of adventurer, mountaineer and humanitarian Greg Mortenson. In 1993, Mortenson, having failed in an attempt to climb K2, wandered into a tiny village deep in the mountains of Pakistan. Embraced by the people of this village, and seeing that they had no school building for their children, he vowed to someday return and build one. Being a man of his word, he did just that. The book detailed how he kept that promise and how he went on to build not just one, but fifty-five schools, in that area. It details the challenges he faced and how he overcame them. He is an amazing individual who overflows with passion, intensity and drive. The book was part adventure, part biography. The story was so compelling, it is little wonder that it generated so much interest.
Several years have passed since those events and Mortenson has since found fame, having seen his book spend three years on the New York Times list of bestsellers (the softcover list, that is; the hardcover edition did not sell well). In late 2009 he released Stones Into Schools the follow-up to Three Cups of Tea. As a sequel, a true follow-up, the book is very similar to its predecessor–so much so that I am not quite sure what to say in order to distinguish the two, beyond pointing out that one happens several years after the other. Mortenson is still walking and riding and driving around the wilds of Pakistan, attempting to begin schools. His heart is really for schools for girls, that marginalized population in Pakistan that he feels offers the key to the nation’s recovery from the influence of the Taliban. He also travels to Afghanistan to begin schools in that always-embattled nation. But the formula is still very much the same. He is approached to build a school in some unbelievably-remote location and, with the help of an unlikely cast of characters, he makes it happen, time after time. Reading about it never gets old.
Here is one significant difference between the two books. Where Three Cups of Tea was occasionally melodramatic to the point of hilarity (this remains my favorite quote: “After they’d traveled half a kilometer, he saw the firefight resume. The widely spaced streams of tracers leaped across the road like ellipses. But to Mortenson, who wouldn’t learn his friends had survived until the following week, when he returned to Kabul, they looked more like question marks.”), Stones Into Schools shows all the hallmarks of better writing and editing. It is, I think, just an all-around better book. Where I found I was a little disappointed by the first, I was quite impressed with the second. At the very least it is an enlightening and interesting read.
Though Mortenson, in the absence of Christian convictions, may place too great a hope in education, it is easy to see how education may be at least one key to a transformation of areas marked by extreme poverty and the influence of a faith that sees little reason to educate its girls. It’s not at all difficult to appreciate what Mortenson is doing and to get swept up in his excitement.
Verdict: Buy It