Summary and book reviews of Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Mountains Beyond Mountains

The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World

By Tracy Kidder

Mountains Beyond Mountains
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2003,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2004,
    336 pages.

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Book Summary

Tracy Kidder is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the author of the bestsellers The Soul of a New Machine, House, Among Schoolchildren, and Home Town. He has been described by the Baltimore Sun as the "master of the non-fiction narrative." This powerful and inspiring new book shows how one person can make a difference, as Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who is in love with the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.

At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur "genius" grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer—brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti—blasts through convention to get results.

Mountains Beyond Mountains takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that "the only real nation is humanity" - a philosophy that is embodied in the small public charity he founded, Partners In Health. He enlists the help of the Gates Foundation, George Soros, the U.N.’s World Health Organization, and others in his quest to cure the world. At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope, and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb "Beyond mountains there are mountains": as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

"Mountains Beyond Mountains unfolds with the force of a gathering revelation," says Annie Dillard, and Jonathan Harr says, "[Farmer] wants to change the world. Certainly this luminous and powerful book will change the way you see it."

Chapter 1

Six years after the fact, Dr. Paul Edward Farmer reminded me, "We met because of a beheading, of all things."

It was two weeks before Christmas 1994, in a market town in the central plateau of Haiti, a patch of paved road called Mirebalais. Near the center of town there was a Haitian army outpost–a concrete wall enclosing a weedy parade field, a jail, and a mustard-colored barracks. I was sitting with an American Special Forces captain, named Jon Carroll, on the building’s second-story balcony. Evening was coming on, the town’s best hour, when the air changed from hot to balmy and the music from the radios in the rum shops and the horns of the tap-taps passing through town grew loud and bright and the general filth and poverty began to be obscured, the open sewers and the ragged clothing and the looks on the faces of malnourished children and the extended hands of elderly beggars plaintively saying, "Grangou," which means "hungry" in Creole.

I was in ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Paul Farmer finds ways of connecting with people whose backgrounds are vastly different from his own. How does he do this? Are his methods something to which we can all aspire?

  2. Paul Farmer believes that “if you’re making sacrifices…you’re trying to lessen some psychic discomfort” (24). Do you agree with the way that Farmer makes personal sacrifices? For what kinds of things do you make sacrifices, and when do you expect others to make them?

  3. Kidder points out that Farmer is dissatisfied with the current distribution of money and medicine in the world. What is your opinion of the distribution of these forms of wealth? What would you change, if you could?

  4. Farmer designed a study to find out whether there was a...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times

Dr. Farmer does not have anywhere near the name recognition of, say, Albert Schweitzer or Mother Teresa. But if any one person can be given credit for transforming the medical establishment's thinking about health care for the destitute, it is Paul Farmer.

NY Times Sunday Book Review - Abraham Verghese

Mountains Beyond Mountains is inspiring, disturbing, daring and completely absorbing. It will rattle our complacency; it will prick our conscience. One senses that Farmer's life and work has affected Kidder, and it is a measure of Kidder's honesty that he is willing to reveal this to the reader.

USA Today - Nicholas Thomas

In this masterpiece, Kidder will take you so deep into their journeys that you can almost feel the oppressive Haitian heat.

Library Journal

Farmer's work is fascinating--as is the author's compassionate portrayal of the lives of the Haitians with whom his subject lives and works; if the book has a flaw, it is that it attempts to cover too much territory.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Kidder portrays a genuinely inspired and heroic individual, whose quest for justice will make every reader examine her or his life in a new light.

Publishers Weekly

In this excellent work, Pulitzer Prize-winner Kidder immerses himself in and beautifully explores the rich drama that exists in the life of Dr. Paul Farmer.... Throughout, Kidder captures the almost saintly effect Farmer has on those whom he treats.

Kirkus Reviews

[A] skilled and graceful exploration of the soul of an astonishing human being.

Author Blurb Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action
The central character of this marvelous book is one of the most provocative, brilliant, funny, unsettling, endlessly energetic, irksome, and charming characters ever to spring to life on the page. He has embarked on an epic struggle that will take you from the halls of Harvard Medical School to a sun-scorched plateau in Haiti, from the slums of Peru to the cold gray prisons of Moscow. He wants to change the world. Certainly this luminous and powerful book will change the way you see it.

Author Blurb Patricia Cohen
..readers are lucky that Mountains Beyond Mountains The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World has been published, not only because the extraordinary Dr. Farmer deserves the attention, but also because a sensitive and graceful writer like Tracy Kidder has chosen to tell his story. The result is a tale that inspires, discomforts and provokes.

Author Blurb James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword
A fine writer and his extraordinary subject Tracy Kidder, in giving us Paul Farmer, lifts up an image of hope–and challenge–that the world urgently needs. Simply put, this is an important book.

Reader Reviews
Keri

Mountains Beyond Mountains
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is an eye-opening book. You can find it on the “must read,” table at Barnes & Noble. This non-fiction book takes you through the journey of Dr. Paul Farmer’s life. Kidder travels with Farmer and gets ...   Read More

Nicolas

Enthraling
Whatever criticism you may have of Farmer, he has been proved correct by recent events. The story is AMAZING, and well-written. Heroes have a right to be self-absorbed.

RN Medical mission volunteer

Tracking the Messianic Healer
While Tracy Kidder does an admirable job of recounting the efforts of Paul Farmer, he also paints a vivid portrait of the messianic personality at work. Farmer seems incapable of delegating work to others. When he does, he wallows in self-...   Read More

Phil

Outstanding
I just read the other reviews. I'm stunned. What a terrific man Paul Farmer is. Tracy Kidder did a good job. The book asks us to think, not just follow a story. "watching grass grow..." Good grief. I think it probably could be a tad more ...   Read More

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