Book review: Stones into Schools, by Greg Mortenson & Mike Bryan | Promoting peace with books, not bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Stones into Schools is the follow-up story to Three cups of tea, starting in 2003 where we left Greg Mortenson looking to expand the Central Asia Institute mission to building schools in Afghanistan. As expected the story is just as engaging and fascinating as the one narrated in the first book, and beautifully advocates for education, especially girl education and promoting literacy for girls and women. It also offers a candid view of life in countries suffering from their proximity or association with the Talibans, and of people and their daily life that's otherwise difficult to grasp from only watching the news.

It's heartbreaking to read about their work and the descriptions of horrors and tragedies during the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, when nearly every day we hear about the terrible flooding the country is now suffering from. I wonder how many schools and CAI schools are affected and if the CAI is able to help...

Despite and around all this, I found myself getting excited and worried and anxious every time the CAI "Dirty Dozen" worked their ass off to get a new school built, as each always seems to bring so much suspense and so many challenges. I think their school tally is up to 131, at the end of this book completed around August 2009.

The story gives an interesting perspective on the American military, that I certainly appreciated as someone usually suspicious of that establishment. Conversely, the narrator isn't always very kind when comparing the CAI work style with that of other NGOs working in those areas. Other NGOs tend to appear out of touch, e.g. traversing poor areas in expensive black SUVs with gigantic antennas... Perhaps the sentiment is justified.

A minor grip I have with the book would be a writing style quirk whereby every few pages a section ends with a phrasing like "but little did they know blah blah", it feels a bit like a cheap trick especially used so heavily, when it's unnecessary considering how compelling the story is on its own merit.

This really is a fantastic, inspiring and instructive story, I would recommend to anyone with either an interest in education or who generally enjoys reading to give one of these two books a try.