When mountain climber Greg Mortenson gets lost on K2—the second-highest peak in the world, located in the Karakoram Range of Pakistan—he is taken in by the village of Korphe. There, Mortenson sees a bunch of children with no school building and no teacher, so he vows to repay the kindness of Haji Ali, the chief, and the other people of Korphe by building a school.
He returns to the U.S. and tries to raise twelve grand for this school. He sends hundreds of letters but ultimately strikes out, until he's referred to a rich elderly climber named Dr. Jean Hoerni, who generously donates the money Mortenson needs for his school.
Mortenson returns to Pakistan and buys all the building supplies he needs—and under budget, too. The problem is that he can't get the supplies across the giant gorge separating him from Korphe. Oops, how'd that get there? Mortenson gathers more money from Hoerni to build the bridge.
While building bridges and schools, Mortenson mostly ignores life back home. He loses his job as a nurse, and his doctor girlfriend breaks up with him. At a fundraising event for the American Himalaya Foundation, Mortenson meets Tara Bishop. They fall in love at first site (aw) and are wed six days later (but not at a drive-thru in Vegas).
With Jean Hoerni's help, Mortenson establishes his charity, the Central Asia Institute, to help build more schools throughout Pakistan. While the Korphe school is being completed, Mortenson heads off to scout new locations—and gets kidnapped by the Taliban. Yikes. Their tea isn't very good, but at least they don't kill him, and they even let him go without incident.
The Korphe school is finished, and Hoerni dies shortly thereafter, like Charles Schultz dying the day the last Peanuts cartoon was printed. Mortenson continues the charity, building schools across Pakistan and having fatwas issued against him and subsequently lifted. When the September 11 attacks happen, Mortenson realizes how important his schools are, schools that will educate children in arts and sciences, not in militant jihad.
On one of his last visits to Korphe, Mortenson discovers that Haji Ali has died. He remembers his last words, "listen to the wind" (19.131), and this gives him an idea for another book and prompts him to expand his vision into Afghanistan. Mortenson travels to Afghanistan, where the former king sends him to an influential man named Sadhar Khan. Khan agrees with Mortenson's mission, saying "we must turn these stones into schools" (23.112), which sets us up for a sequel.
Seriously. This book has a sequel.