'3 Cups of Tea' Co-Author Commits Suicide & Book Scandal May Have Had a Part

This is so tragic. Three Cups of Tea co-author David Oliver Relin has reportedly committed suicide. And authorities say he died from "blunt force trauma" to the head, which sounds like a horrible way to go. They offered no other details. Relin's family says he was "depressed."

It's dangerous to speculate why anyone commits suicide. Relin seemed to have it all: He was a bestselling author, had a family, he was only 49. But the journalist and his coauthor, Greg Mortenson, were involved a scandal last year that may have been weighing on his mind.


Three Cups of Tea was an enormously popular book about Mortenson building schools in poor villages in Pakastan and Afghanistan. The book, which has sold over 4 million copies, also raised millions for a charity founded by Mortenson.

But last year author Jon Krakauer alleged that Mortenson had fabricated large portions of his book. 60 Minutes did a segment on it. Mortenson was also accused of misusing funds for his charity and eventually paid back $1 million to it.

Relin wasn't accused of any wrongdoing but it's not a huge leap to imagine this must have weighed on him. It can be difficult to fact-check everything a co-author is telling you. You check what you can, but essentially you are there to make someone else's story into a readable narrative. This is an arrangement based on trust. It's sad that Mortenson broke that trust with Relin.

I feel bad for Relin. He got caught up in a mess that he had little to do with, and he probably felt as duped as anyone. Relin was a longtime journalist who was respected for his work writing about children's social causes. And yet his most read work ends up being a cloud over his name. He also apparently had a difficult relationship with Mortenson and resented that he was named as co-author. He also had to hire a lawyer to defend himself from a lawsuit against him accusing him and Mortenson of defrauding readers.

Even people who have had nothing like this happen to them can find themselves facing down suicidal tendencies, so there's no saying if this was the "cause" of his suicide. But it sounds like Relin was a fragile soul and it's tragic that his scandal may have contributed to his state of mind.

Did you read Three Cups of Tea?


Image via Penguin

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