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Mountains Beyond Mountains Paperback – August 31, 2004
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“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.”
-Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
“[A] Skilled and graceful exploration of the soul of an astonishing human being.”
-Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“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.” -James Carroll, author of Constantine's Sword
“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.”—Jonathan Harr, author of A Civil Action
“A profoundly inspiring and important book about one of the truly great men of our time.” —Ethan Canin, author of Carry Me Across the Water
“Here is a genuine hero alive in our times. Mountains Beyond Mountains unfolds with the force of gathering revelation. Like all of Tracy Kidder’s books, it is as hard to put down as any good and true story.”—Annie Dillard, author of The Writing Life
“Mountains Beyond Mountains is the only book I’ve read in years that made me feel like cheering. It left me uncomfortable, guilty, and exhausted—but it also inspired me, kept me up all night, and moved me to tears. Some readers will find their lives changed forever; everyone else will emerge, at the very least, with an unexpectedly revised set of values. Tracy Kidder has given us not only an unforgettable book but an unignorable life lesson. Hurrah!” —Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
“Rarely has idealism fared so well on the planet as in Tracy Kidder’s eloquently reported Mountains Beyond Mountains. One is tempted to call Paul Farmer’s passionate sensibilities and loving ambitions otherworldly, but only in sadness that there are too few of him in the world. Kidder has provided us all, as the Farmerites say, with a road map to decency, and such an endowment is beyond measure.” —Bob Shacochis, author of Easy in the Islands
"Is there anything Tracy Kidder can't do? This is a beautiful book, and a masterful one. Even better, Mountains Beyond Mountains is a page-turner that will crack your conscience open." -Stacey Schiff, author of Vera
“An incredible story about an incredible man told by an incredible writer. Mountains Beyond Mountains is the sort of book that makes you want to buy a hundred copies and pass them out like a street corner evangelist. It's the sort of book that will affect your life in a profound way. In a good way.” -Thom Jones, author of The Pugilist at Rest
“Saints are notoriously difficult people, but who knew one could be so funny, so utterly charming, and finally so deft in accomplishing that most impossible of all job descriptions--changing the world? Tracy Kidder's spellbinding story presents us with an unlikely saint and finally, with inspiration so compelling it makes the usual cynicism about global change seem indulgent foolishness.”
-Patricia Hampl, author of A Romantic Education
From the Inside Flap
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 bookis 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."
"From the Hardcover edition.
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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.