According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “A phenomenon hit Seattle last week. Everywhere Greg Mortenson went, people lined up to listen to his simple message about how to change the world.” Standing room-only crowds have become a trend for Greg Mortenson since the publication of Three Cups of Tea, his novel that has graced the New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list for more than two years, and half of that time at #1.
Greg Mortenson is a humanitarian, international peacemaker, former mountaineer, and co-founder of the non-profits Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace. He is co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea, which has been a New York Times bestseller for more than 120 weeks, received the prestigious Kiriyama Peace Book Award, and was Time magazine’s 2006 “Asia Book of The Year.”
Three Cups of Tea has sold more than three million copies, has been published in 34 countries, used in more than 90 colleges and universities as a freshman, honors, or campus-wide read, and used in more than 400 high/junior high schools as a common reading experience. The book is mandatory reading for all senior U.S. military commanders, military officers in counter-insurgency training, and U.S. Special Forces deploying to Afghanistan. It is also used for training at the Norwegian war college.
The book’s phenomenal success led it to be adapted into a young readers version (Puffin 2009) and a children’s picture book, Listen to the Wind (Dial 2009), both of which were instant New York Times #1 bestsellers for several months.
Mortenson’s newest book, Stones into Schools (Viking), which continues where the Three Cups of Tea story left off in 2003, will be released in December 2009.
On March 23, 2009, Pakistan’s government presented Greg Mortenson with its highest civil award, the Sitara-e-Pakistan (“Star of Pakistan”), for his courage and humanitarian effort to promote girls’ education and literacy in rural areas for the last sixteen years. Only three foreigners have received the award.
In 2009, a bi-partisan group of U.S. congressional representatives nominated Mortenson for the Nobel Peace prize, which is given annually in Norway.
Mortenson was born in Minnesota in 1957. He grew up on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, from 1958 to 1973. His father co-founded the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, a teaching hospital, and his mother founded the International School Moshi.
Mortenson served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Cold War (1977–1979), where he received the Army Commendation Medal, and later graduated from the University of South Dakota (1983), pursuing graduate studies in neurophysiology.
On July 24, 1992, Mortenson’s younger sister, Christa, died from a massive seizure after a lifelong struggle with epilepsy, on the eve of a trip to visit Dyersville, Iowa, where the baseball movie Field of Dreams was filmed.
In 1993, to honor his sister’s memory, Mortenson climbed Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second highest mountain, in the Karakoram Range.
After climbing K2, while recovering in a local village called Korphe, Mortenson met a group of children sitting in the dirt writing with sticks in the sand, and made a promise to help them build a school.
From that rash promise grew a remarkable humanitarian campaign in which Mortenson has dedicated his life to promote education, especially for girls, in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mortenson has established more than 90 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. These schools which provide education to more than 34,000 children, including 25,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before.
His work has not been without difficulty. In 1996, he survived an eight-day armed kidnapping in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) tribal areas of Pakistan, and in 2003 escaped a firefight with feuding Afghan warlords by hiding for eight hours under putrid animal hides in a truck going to a leather-tanning factory. He has overcome two fatwas from enraged Islamic mullahs, endured CIA investigations, and received hate mail and death threats from fellow Americans following 9/11, for helping Muslim children with their education.
Mortenson is a living hero to rural communities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he has gained the trust of Islamic leaders, military commanders, government officials, and tribal chiefs for his tireless effort to champion education, especially for girls.
He is one of just a few foreigners who have worked extensively for sixteen years (spending over 70 months in the field) in places few foreigners have frequented.
NBC newscaster Tom Brokaw has called Mortenson “one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, who is really changing the world.”
Congresswoman Mary Bono (Rep.–Cali.) has said, “I’ve learned more from Greg Mortenson about the causes of terrorism than I did during all our briefings on Capitol Hill. He is a true hero, whose courage and compassion exemplify the ideals of the American spirit.”
Greg advocates that girls’ education should be the top priority to promote economic development, foster peace, and prosperity. He says, “You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads, or put in electricity, but until the girls are educated a society won’t change.”
During the half of each year he is not overseas, Mortenson, 51, lives in Montana, with his wife, Dr. Tara Bishop, a clinical psychologist, and their two children.