Another silly lawsuit against Greg Mortenson over ‘Three Cups of Tea’


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Greg Mortenson wrote two books about his efforts to build schools in remote parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many people read the books, both bestsellers; some were moved by them. Were these people duped?

That’s what a Chicago judge will have to decide.

On Wednesday, personal injury lawyers filed suit, described by the Daily Beast: it “names Mortenson, his coauthor, David Oliver Relin, and Penguin, publisher of the book. The suit claims that Mortenson ‘captured the hearts and minds of Plaintiff and book lovers nationwide, duping them into buying ‘Three Cups of Tea.’”


This is not the first lawsuit over Mortenson’s books to surface since revelations were made in April about elements of his story.

It all started when “60 Minutes” broadcast a show that raised questions about Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, in which one expert said it spent less money building international schools than to promotional efforts for Mortenson and his books. That was immediately followed by a long expose by writer John Krakauer, “Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way,” which included interviews with people who knew Mortenson and who said his written accounts were inaccurate.

Without a doubt, the questions raised by these investigations are significant. Mortenson has been a very successful philanthropist, raising money for his work abroad; questions about how that money has been spent are serious.

But when it comes to reading, the claims seem, well, silly. Enticing readers to purchase a book is something all publishers do all the time. Book covers make all kinds of titillating pronouncements, such as “Immensely powerful, beautiful, addictive, and yes, incredibly thrilling...” (“The Wave” by Susan Casey”); “If publishers could figure out a way to turn crack into a book, it’d read a lot like this” (“Anthropology of an American Girl” by Hilary Thayer Hamann). Did the readers of these books file lawsuits if they were not addicted to Casey’s book, or find themselves drawn to Hamann’s like crack fiends?

Of course not.

Valid questions about Mortenson’s charitable work should not be conflated with personal injury lawsuits. Readers who were disappointed in “Three Cups of Tea” will likely find themselves like any other disappointed reader -- learning that you can’t judge a book by its cover.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg