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on February 8, 2015
Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains" is the remarkable story of Paul Farmer. I knew nothing of Farmer before starting this book and left with a sense of awe and inspiration both for he has accomplished and how accomplished it. In an era where people bandy about the word hero fairly freely, Farmer truly deserves that moniker. His selfless devotion to the health of those in extreme poverty and the work he and his organization, Partners in Health, has done in Haiti, Russia and Peru (what Kidder covers in this book) has saved countless lives of nameless and faceless people in environments words could hardly do justice. Kidder strikes the right balance about Farmer in this book. He doesn't exalt him to saintly status. He is able to marvel and chronicle the relentless work and insane pace that Farmer keeps while not glossing over character traits that undoubtedly often frustrate Kidder and probably make Farmer challenging in the eyes of many that deal with him. For instance, despite Farmer's success with Partners in Health, Kidder wonders whether it is sustainable without him and his force of will, perseverance and personality. Regardless of your political leanings, only the most jaded and negative person could read this book and not come away somewhat mesmerized by Farmer --- and feel a bit inferior at the same time. During this era of movie star and athletic worship, Farmer is the type of individual we should be celebrating and exalting as a true hero and I'm glad someone as accomplished as Tracy Kidder wrote such a compelling book about him.
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on November 23, 2016
Thank you Tracy Kidder. It was hard to put this book down. I felt as if I'd walked every mile with Paul Farmer through remote mountain villages where he helped people suffering from maladies that took root in the midst of poverty, isolation and lack of knowledge. Reading this story, my takeaway was this: When we do have occasion to meet people like Dr. Farmer, we are fortunate if we recognize we are in the presence of someone who is living out his or her mission without holding back. Passionately, tirelessly and with perseverance. Deserving of our gratitude and support. Kidder does an admirable job by providing an accurate and respectfully written portrayal of Dr. Farmer with the power to inspire others to follow in his footsteps.
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on March 17, 2016
This book provides a glimpse not only into the medical and sociological challenges of Haiti and other impoverished regions, but into the culture of those who serve, support those who serve and in many cases obstruct those who serve. Mr. Farmer's view of all human life being worthy of an opportunity to live is refreshing in an era of global narcissism. Mr. Kidder did an exceptional job capturing Paul Farmer's character, dedication, commitment and single-minded focus, but I still came away not fully understanding what drives him at his core. This lack of understanding my be my fault as I've been trained to seek a "root cause" when I analyze a situation, in a culture where everyone has an agenda. Regardless, I applaud Mr. Farmer and the thousands of other unnamed global servants who engage on a life level helping those who most need help.
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on August 13, 2012
You won't soon read another book about any figure as inspiring as Dr. Paul Farmer, I guarantee you.

Farmer's life work has been about bringing health care to the poor and the imprisoned. In the case of the poor, mainly to the peasants of Haiti and the TB-ridden inhabitants of the slums of Lima, Peru. In the case of the imprisoned, the prisoners in Russia with multi-drug resistant TB.

Astoundingly, Farmer worked his way through Harvard Medical School while spending most of his time in Haiti, putting into practice every day what he was learning through his studies. Mostly, he did his studies remotely. I would guess that he may have been the only student in the medical school's history to have ever done that. While he showed up only to take his exams, it was hard for the university administration to object since he was one of the top students.

After graduation, he simply continued what he was already doing, ministering to the poorest of the poor. Slowly, he built up a far-flung organization around him, staffed by a mixture of low-paid professionals and unpaid volunteers, and largely funded by donations from a Boston real estate developer. In Haiti, they built a hospital in a remote location on the central plateau, expanding it piece by piece as funding allowed, and eventually turned it into a pilgrimage place for the international health community and the rural poor alike.

On the side, Farmer put out an astounding variety and quantity of books, articles and speeches. Over the last 20 years or so, he appears to have single-handedly published about as much as an entire university department. That he did this while trekking to remote Haitian villages, flying around the world constantly, running clinics and hospitals, AND practicing hands-on medicine, passes all understanding.

This man is a sort of Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer and Carl Sagan all rolled into one. The story would seem unbelievable if I didn't have confidence in the author, Tracy Kidder, a couple of whose books I have read and who did in fact spend several years writing this book. Interestingly, this is the first of his books where he actually appears as an active participant and not simply an observer. I guess this was the kind of story where to pretend to be the impartial narrator would have seemed downright callous.
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on June 26, 2017
This is one of my all-time favorite books. A giant of nonfiction writing, Tracy Kidder, delivers a vivid and moving account of the herculean efforts of Dr. Paul Farmer, one of the true heroes of our time, as he tirelessly fights the spread of drug-resistant TB and along the way improves the quality of life in the nation of Haiti and other communities around the world.
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on September 22, 2013
Let's start by saying that the author is a Pulitzer-prize award winner. He's a journalist who writes the most incredible and inspiring works of non-fiction. So, it shouldn't be a surprise that Mountains Beyond Mountains fits this description. Tracy spent years following the works of Dr. Paul Farmer, focusing on his work in Haiti and the development of Partners in Health. This man has dedicated his entire life, so far, to serving the poor and medically underserved. Despite the consequences that his work has caused in his personal life and the lack of sleep he gets, he gives unreservedly to others. Although Kidder often portrays him as a "saint", he ensures that the reader is also aware of Farmer's flaws. However, these flaws often spur him on to do even more for others. Once Farmer reaches a goal, he strives toward the next one, living out the Haitian proverb that "beyond mountains there are mountains". Mountains Beyond Mountains is a great read that flows well and takes the reader around the world to places where people struggle to obtain the simple necessities of life.... reminding us that there is much work to be done in terms of equality and health world-wide.
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on May 5, 2009
I haven't read Tracy Kidder since The Soul of a New Machine which I loved. Obviously that was a mistake. This book is excellent and its subject, inspiring: the life and work of Paul Farmer makes me believe that all the big problems of the world would be soluble if people had attitudes similar to his--and that he's capable of infecting anyone who gets anywhere near him, maybe even just reading this book. People don't of course generally have Farmer's attitudes, but still he has accomplished much by a relatively simple philosophy--that it's wrong (and unnecessary) for there to be desperately poor people in the world. For him that translates into bringing top notch medical care to every citizen of the planet. He thought that could be done without the usual rationale for how to help the poor: doing the greatest good for the greatest number with the resources you have. Farmer's biggest success was convincing the medical world that they were wrong in thinking the best way to fight TB was to concentrate on drug programs for those with TB which could be cured by the most common (read "inexpensive") drugs and ignoring (i.e. leaving to die) those with MDR (multi drug resistant TB) which needed careful diagnosis to figure out which combination of very expensive drugs were necessary. In Farmer's world view, every person on the planet deserved the same medical care; he was impervious to anyone who tried to suggest to him that that wasn't "practical". In the MDR case, he found a test site in Peru and proved his point, not the least of which was that if the world left the MDR cases went untreated, it would facilitate the spread of the most dangerous kind of TB. Farmer also thinks there's no population with AIDS that does not deserve to be treated with the latest drugs. Along the way he's brought dying children from Haiti to Boston for treatment and cures, and brought open-heart surgery to the poorest part of Haiti. The organization he founded, Partners in Health, perpetrates his messianic philosophy of medicine.
Farmer works in two very disparate worlds he very much wants to bring closer together: Harvard Medical School and the top notch Boston hospitals that gives him access to and his clinic in the central highlands of the poorest country in the western hemisphere--Haiti. He started the work in Haiti before he even went to medical school himself and obtained his medical degree plus a PhD in anthropology at the same time, while spending significant amounts of time at his Haitian clinic. He's clearly one of those smart, driven and extremely energetic souls whose drive to accomplish is nothing short of miraculous.
Kidder doesn't say how he chose Farmer as a subject for his book, but it's clear his research extended over several years during which he visited Farmer in Haiti and Boston many times--and traveled with him to international conferences and to places where Farmer was working such as the slums of Lima, Peru and the prison system of Russia. Kidder is one of those writers whose books evolve organically, without a clear chronology or even a topical outline. If there's one organizing principal it's Kidder's own experience with Farmer, from his first impressions through his broadening understanding of a complex man and his work. The book is a joy to read and Farmer's life is nothing short of an inspiration. This book may be the perfect melding of superb writer and worthy subject.
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on March 11, 2010
"It is so easy, at least for me, to mistake a person's material resources for his interior ones." ~ Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains

Today I finished Tracy Kidder's excellent book about Paul Farmer and his nonprofit, Partners in Health, a global nonprofit organization, started in Haiti, that has changed the perception of basic health care from a privilege to a social justice. Being able to have the tools to heal is a birth right, not something reserved for the wealthy and powerful. Paul Farmer has given his life for this simply articulated belief: every life matters equally.

Biography and autobiography is a fascinating thing. While we hear about someone else's journey, we cannot help but examine our own. By viewing someone else's place in the world, their contributions to humanity, we begin to consider and re-consider our place, our contribution.

As I left yoga class today, my head was swimming. I've got too much information coming at me a million miles an hour: at work, in yoga class, in my volunteer hours, from my friends and family. I'm trying to date as much as I can, and then also leave some time each day for myself. For my own thoughts and reflections. My life is bursting with, well, life.

And then I finished Mountains Beyond Mountains, and I let out a huge sigh of relief. I'm trying to just manage my own little corner of the world. Paul Farmer is out there actually saving many corners of the Earth - the most desperate, the poorest, the ones that need immediate attention before they decay entirely beyond any recognition. He is Atlas, and he will not shrug.

So give me yoga asanas, Sanskrit, sacred hindu texts, new technology, org chart after org chart, change and then more change, and any and every trouble and triumph of my many beautiful friends and family members. I can take it all in, and still feel whole and complete, still take care of my own heart and body and soul. I've got this.

If Paul Farmer can wrap his mind around treating TB, HIV / AIDS, and everything that comes along with that, in Haiti, Peru, Russia, Guatemala, Roxbury, and Lesotho to name just a few of the regions of the world his worked has touched, then surely I can do my fair share. After all, we are all just people, fallible, imperfect, stunning examples of grace. There is always more to do, always. And that is a beautiful realization. The Haitians say it best, "There are always mountains beyond mountains." Let us hope that our work is never really done, and let's celebrate that.
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on February 28, 2007
You hate to start a review off with a "beware", but here it seems appropriate. This isn't the kind of book you can read and file away, or read as a novel- although it is written almost as one and flows quite as well. This is a stirring story told by a quality author who invested time and sweat in order to follow around for a few months a very amazing doctor. Simply put, this is the story of a man who loves the poor and has chosen to fight for them by just about any means available. He is a bit of an enigma, well more than a bit, at once a kindred spirit with undesirables like Che Guevera but also with the "church ladies" as he calls them, of the religious south. He is not only generous with other people's time and money, but generous with his own. He practices what he preaches is a cliche that hardly begins to touch the life of Paul Farmer, but it is a start.

The stories of Haiti, ground zero for his work, are inspiring without being overwhelming, and the description of the ennui of the organization Farmer creates, PIH or Partners in Health, are also more inspiring than guilt producing. The author is able to convey the spirit of a very unique individual and remain honest to his craft without sacrificing much of the theme of Farmer's life and philosophy. And while it could almost be encapsulated as a devotion for the redistribution of wealth, it is far richer and far more (to use an overused term) nuanced than that. Kidder doesn't quite seem to share the extreme conclusions of Farmer's political views, and attempts to shield us from drawing the conclusion that Farmer is just another obsessed Marxist, and we gladly give him the benefit of the doubt. My only overall regret, and this not the fault of the author but of the subject, is that something is not made of the similar types that are just as devoted to the poor, who have given all to serve them, and yet look at life through a different political prism. Still, it is hard not to like Farmer even though one may suspect that he may not like you, and hard not to arrive at the conclusion that no matter your political beliefs that it is time to invest both more time and more money into helping the poor.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 16, 2011
Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning author Tracy Kidder has been writing exceptional nonfiction since the 1970s. In that time, to judge from his books, he has encountered many extraordinary people. Clearly, though, Kidder had never before come across an individual as brilliant, complex, and eccentric as Dr. Paul Farmer, his subject in this book.

Farmer is often publicly described as a secular saint for his selfless work bringing world-class healthcare to the interior of Haiti, the slums of Lima and Boston, the prisons and towns of Siberia, and many other challenging environments around the world. He has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he wins it one of these days.

Farmer's accomplishments defy summarizing. Kidder, true to form, doesn't even try. Instead, he paints an in-depth portrait of Paul Farmer, the individual, in all his boundless complexity. Farmer is, at one and the same time, a brilliant diagnostician, an unusually caring physician, an innovative public health administrator, a consummate leader who inspires thousands to walk in his footsteps -- and, in his personal habits, as eccentric as they come. In short, Mountains Beyond Mountains is a case study in genius. It's an exceptional portrait of one of today's most exceptional people.
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