I've just finished this book, and my overriding thought has been that I wish everyone would read this book.
First of all, it's a fantastic story, starting out a doomed version of Into Thin Air and turning quickly into a sociological study gone inspiring redemption and adventure tale. Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer nomad type, gets lost on a descent from K2 and ends up in an isolated mountain town in Pakistan, a turn of events that changes his life and the lives of thousands of people in the region who otherwise would remain part of the vast "them."
Mortenson builds schools. Somehow he gets financial backing and local support and sets about the business of galvanizing communities around the ideas of non-religious education, especially for girls, building the facilities, staffing them, and making sure they continue to run.
It's a simple idea and an unbelievable undertaking, an inspiring story of the power of a single person to make significant change in the world.
But, perhaps even more importantly, the book provides a window into a segment of a culture that has become too easily stereotyped and dismissed as something lesser. We in the West see the clips of groups of men dancing and chanting in the streets, firing guns into the air, any time a newsworthy event comes off anywhere in the Arab world. And we think this is how things are, this is what these people do. It's the easiest way to make sense of what we see.
Three Cups of Tea dispels the myth of there being some fundamental human difference between us and them. It also treads all over many other oversimplifications, from the liberal idealization of the primitive in culture to the assumption of violence as an accepted response to any violation of religious creed or cultural norm.
Read this book. It's that rarest of printed works: a page-turner that has something important to say and vital to offer to our understanding of the world.