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'Three Cups of Tea' comes under fire for authenticity

A CBS "60 Minutes" investigation that aired Sunday took aim at the authenticity of parts of the New York Times bestseller, "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time."

At issue are some of the stories in the book, which chronicles Greg Mortenson’s journey to build schools in some of the most volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the pivotal story in which Mortenson is nursed back to health after wandering into a village in Pakistan after failing to reach the summit of K2, the world's second highest mountain. The report also questions the spending practices of the Central Asia Institute, the charitable organization founded by Mortenson.

The book, which received an overwhelming majority of a public vote to be selected as Rochester Reads title in 2008, resonated with area residents who showed an outpouring of support for Mortenson's work. As part of the community read, Mortenson spoke at student assemblies and to an overflow crowd at a public forum at John Marshall High School auditorium in February 2008.

"I can't speak to the allegations, but I would have to say he was an inspiring speaker," said John Hunziker, a spokesman for the Rochester Public Library. "People came from all over Minnesota to see him."

Mortenson also donated hundreds of his books to the library and didn't charge for any of his time, travel or lodging, Hunziker said.


"We paid nothing for any part of his coming," Hunziker said.


The book inspired many community members to contribute to the Central Asia Institute. Pennies for Peace fundraisers in the schools brought in almost $7,000. Mary Graf, of Rochester, and her friends collected an additional $8,000.

After learning about the allegations Monday, Graf said she was concerned about the possibility of financial mismanagement but wants more evidence. She also said allegations didn't change the fact that she and many others were inspired by Mortenson's work.

"Even if three-fourths of what Greg Mortenson said in his book is true, I think the work that he's doing over there is totally honorable," she said. "He's had a profoundly positive influence not only on American people, but also the military."

"Three Cups of Tea," co-authored by writer David Oliver Relin, stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for four years after it was first published in 2006. It has sold more than 4 million copies and became required reading for U.S. military service members headed to Afghanistan.

President Obama gave $100,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize money to the Central Asia Institute.

The allegations come in part from another best selling-author, Jon Krakauer, who wrote "Into Thin Air." He originally supported the Central Asia Institute but later broke from the agency.


In an interview with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle , in Montana, where the institute is headquartered, Mortenson denied several "60 Minutes" allegations and defended his financial dealings but appeared to concede that one key story in his book was not literally true.

"I stand by the story of ‘Three Cups of Tea,'" Mortenson said in a written statement but added, "The time about our final days on K2 and ongoing journey to Korphe village and Skardu is a compressed version of events that took place in the fall of 1993."

Viking, the publisher of "Three Cups of Tea," said in a statement on Monday that it will review the book and its contents with Mortenson.

As per the allegations that the institute has spent more money promoting his books and speaking engagements in the United States than on philanthropy overseas, Mortenson said that a percentage of institute money that goes toward schools is higher than "60 Minutes" assumed because it has been building a "nest egg" of savings to make the institute sustainable into the future.

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