Greg Mortenson

Greg Mortenson admires Al Qaeda. Or at least he gives the terrorists credit, following the catastrophic 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, for arriving first to distribute aid, win hearts and minds, and set up food tents where they preach against the Pakistani government and American crusaders. A Montana mountain climber turned schoolhouse builder in rural Pakistan, Mortenson’s first book, Three Cups of Tea because a surprise 2006 bestseller, winning admirers on both sides of the aisle in Washington, DC, used to train military intelligence officers, and earning him blurbs from both The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof and Thomas Friedman for his follow-up. Stones Into Schools (Viking, $26.95) recounts his further activities with the Central Asia Institute, earthquake relief efforts, and expansion into northeast Afghanistan—where he works closely with sympathetic U.S. Army officers. (Indeed, he praises the troops there for being more attuned to local sensitivities than most politicians back home.) Mortenson’s goal is to fund more schools; and the CAI has built over 130 to date, thanks also to American donors who typically pack his speaking engagements. He argues persuasively that secular education—especially for girls—is the best means of combating militancy, illiteracy, poverty, and overpopulation in the troubled “Afpak” region. Also, it may also bring our troops home that much sooner. (Royal Brougham Pavilion.) BRIAN MILLER

Tue., Dec. 15, 7 p.m., 2009

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