Mountains Beyond Mountains (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch

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Mountains Beyond Mountains
Tracy Kidder, 2003
336 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
April 2007

If you've never read anything by Tracy Kidder, start with this book.

Kidder is one of the finest non-fiction authors today. Whether he's writing about designing computers or building a house, he writes with the intricacy of a specialist and the intimacy of a novelist.

Mountains is about Dr. Paul Farmer, an infectious disease expert, who is out to change the world. After college, Farmer spent time in Haiti, where he eventually established Zanmi Lasante, a community clinic and health care system.

Lasante serves a population steeped in dire poverty, and Farmer has spent over 20 years shuttling back and forth between Haiti and Boston. While doing so, he earned his medical degree from Harvard, became a professor, raised funds, expanded the work of his foundation to cover three continents, lobbied the World Health Organization for treatment changes in drug-resistant tuberculosis, and fought for lower drug prices for the world’s poor. Oh, and along the way, he won a MacArthur "genius" award for his work.

Is he superhuman? Not quite. Kidder's gifts as a storyteller provide a sliver of insight into this very real man’s make-up—his drive, energy, religous beliefs, and sense of purpose. Even his frustrations. It turns out he doesn't sleep very much nor spend much time with his Haitian wife and daughter. Add a bit of ego overdrive and we have a partial explanation of how Farmer does what he does.

Mountains Beyond Mountains is both disturbing—because of what we come to understand about global poverty—and inspiring because of this one man’s devotion to alleviate suffering. Book clubs who have chosen this book say it has generated wonderful discussions about our country's and our individual roles vis-a-vis world poverty.

See our Reading Guide for Mountains Beyond Mountains.

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