Part I: The Creation Myth
“When it comes right down to it I am nothing more than a fellow who took a wrong turn in the mountains and never quite managed to find his way home.”
—Greg Mortenson, Stones into Schools
Greg Mortenson doesn’t hide his light under a bushel. He makes more than 160 public appearances annually, in all parts of the country and abroad, and frequently appears in the news. For each of the past three years he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama donated $100,000 of the award money from his own Nobel Peace Prize, which he received in 2009, to the Central Asia Institute (CAI)—the charity Mortenson launched fifteen years ago to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Visiting classrooms wherever he goes, Mortenson has persuaded 2,800 American schools to become fundraising partners; last year, schoolkids collecting “Pennies for Peace” boosted CAI revenues by $2.5 million. All told, his vigorous promotion of the Greg Mortenson brand generated $23 million in donations to CAI in 2010 alone.
On March 29 of this year, I attended a lecture Mortenson gave in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As he walked onto the stage in the sold-out arena, more than two thousand men, women, and children leapt to their feet to express their admiration with cheers, whistles, and deafening applause. “If we really want to help people, we have to empower people,” Mortenson pronounced. “And empowering people starts with education.” A book cover depicting Afghan girls engrossed in study was projected...