For several years now, kids at H.B. Whitehorne have had Three Cups of Tea on their reading list. It’s an uplifting story of one man’s quest to promote peace through education in one of the most forsaken corners of the planet. It’s also a best-seller–4 million copies in print–that has funded a non-profit run by the book’s author, Greg Mortenson.
But a new report on 60 Minutes asserts that the book may have even less substance than one cup of tea. The CBS news show, drawing on reporting by Jon Krakauer says that many of the events in the book did not happen the way Mortenson told them, if at all. Krakauer, the mountaineer who wrote Into Thin Air, goes further in a piece for Byliner.com, a new Web site devoted to long-form journlism:
The first eight chapters of Three Cups of Tea are an intricately wrought work of fiction presented as fact. And by no means was this an isolated act of deceit. It turns out that Mortenson’s books and public statements are permeated with falsehoods. The image of Mortenson that has been created for public consumption is an artifact born of fantasy, audacity, and an apparently insatiable hunger for esteem. Mortenson has lied about the noble deeds he has done, the risks he has taken, the people he has met, the number of schools he has built. Three Cups of Tea has much in common with A Million Little Pieces, the infamous autobiography by James Frey that was exposed as a sham. But Frey, unlike Mortenson, didn’t use his phony memoir to solicit tens of millions of dollars in donations from unsuspecting readers, myself among them. Moreover, Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, has issued fraudulent financial statements, and he has misused millions of dollars donated by schoolchildren and other trusting devotees. “Greg,” says a former treasurer of the organization’s board of directors, “regards CAI as his personal ATM.”