The original hardback edition of the book was released in 2006 with the subtitle, One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time. Mortenson fought against the subtitle, and the edition sold only 20,000 copies. He continued to prevail upon the publishers to change the subtitle for the 2007 paperback edition to his first choice, "One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time." His publisher relented, and the re-titled book made the New York Times nonfiction paperback bestseller list. Mortenson explained his reasoning for the subtitle in a lecture given in Fairfield, Connecticut: "If you just fight terrorism, it's based in fear. If you promote peace, it's based in hope." 
The book remained a number one New York Times bestseller for three years after its release. The book is also a popular university freshman or campus read on about three dozen campuses, has been chosen for One City One Book community reads in over 300 cities, is published in over 39 countries internationally, and is used on over 100 University and college campuses as a Freshman Experience, Honor's program or campus-wide read book. A young adult version of Three Cups of Tea was published by Penguin on January 22, 2009.