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Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
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Mountains Beyond Mountains (2003)

by Tracy Kidder

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I admit I'd never heard of Paul Farmer before, although I recoginzed this title. He was a brilliant doctor and anthropologist who as a medical student had already traveled to third world countries, and appalled by the lack of medical care for poor people, started doing something about it. In particular he focused his efforts on an impoverished community in Haiti... Widespread tuberculosis and other diseases were exacerbated by poor nutrition and squalor. Farmer set up facilities and procedures to treat and cure tuberculosis among hundreds of impoverished families, but he did so much more than that. He learned about their native culture especially voodoo beliefs and how it affected their view of illness. He traveled personally (sometimes hiking an entire day to read isolated huts) to visit the sick in their homes, especially entire families affected by tuberculosis. He made efforts to provide the poor with clean water, concrete floors and tin roofs for their modest homes (replacing dirt and leaking thatch), and dietary supplements. He conducted studies to find out exactly what types of treatment would have the best results, and worked tirelessly to bring the plight of thousands to the attention of the global medical community, raised money, started programs in other countries. Peru and Russia are featured large in the book although Haiti was always his base. It amazed me that he was so dedicated to his patients.... and I learned so much more about tuberculosis than I ever wanted to know.

I am in awe at the work this man did, the far-reaching influence he extended, even when others didn't believe in his methods at first. For example, when he found out how horribly expensive medication to treat drug-resistant strains of TB were, he personally did things to drive the price down. And it had a cascading effect. He also worked with AIDS patients in parts of the world and among impoverished communities that no one else wanted to touch, saying it wasn't worth the effort. This book is kind of a jumble- it leaps around some, tells of the author's connection with Farmer, but not much explanation about how he managed to earn the role- travelling around with Farmer to learn what he was doing in order to write this book- reminiscent to me of In Africa with Schweitzer by Dr. Edgar Berman- also his habit of questioning Farmer about his views and then noting them down in the text. Several chapters tell of Farmer's childhood and how he got to where he was when Kidder met him. The rest is a complex, eye-opening account of his life's work, ranging from squatting in mud-floored huts to take the blood pressure of his patients to flying around the globe for various meetings and conferences in his quest to do whatever it takes. Wow. (Another similar read: Witness to War by Charles Clements, inasmuch as they both deal with bringing medical care to marginalized people who desperately needed it). Did I mention? Farmer founded Partners In Health, and was a renowned infectious disease expert (among other things). There are a lot of other people in this book, who worked alongside Farmer or donated or otherwise helped with his cause, but I can't possibly name them all. You have to read the book!

more at the Dogear Diary ( )
  jeane | Oct 28, 2018 |
An interesting portrait of Paul Farmer. You get a good sense of Farmer's personality and motivations, with lots of revealing anecdotes. The story falls apart somewhat in the second half, when it becomes more of a travelogue of the author following Farmer around.

Farmer is fascinating, but not inspirational to me. I was troubled by a story where his organization decided to spend >$20,000 on airlifting a dying patient to Boston, to die there, when they did not even have a working ambulance. In this case, his staff made the decision, and from the description it seems like they did it more to make themselves feel good than to help the patient. Not making decisions to triage, to economically prioritize spending money to maximize good, might be exactly what makes Farmer inspirational, and therefore effective in raising money. But this style of fundraising seems designed to appeal to people who donate to make themselves feel good, rather than to do good. ( )
  breic | Aug 27, 2018 |
This gave a pretty decent overview of the medical issues facing Peru, Haiti, and Russia without getting too bogged down in sciences-speak. The background story on different people did nothing to add to the book and merely padded length. ( )
  benuathanasia | May 1, 2018 |
dedication from Diana to Hanne, 2003
  AlanBudreau | Apr 3, 2018 |
3.5 stars

Before Paul Farmer became a doctor, he spent some time in Haiti with poor people. He already had an anthropology degree. He realized that helping these people get well was what he wanted to do with his life. And workaholic that he seemed to be (at least doing this, what he loved to do), that’s what he did! And, he started a foundation (Partners in Health) that expanded to Peru and Russia and beyond. They treated mostly TB and HIV.

This was good. Impressive, everything he did/does, but at the same time one wonders how he managed/manages to get everything done. He had to also navigate political interactions, as well. ( )
  LibraryCin | Mar 23, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 132 (next | show all)
''Mountains Beyond Mountains'' is inspiring, disturbing, daring and completely absorbing. It will rattle our complacency; it will prick our conscience.
 
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Epigraph
Beyond mountains there are mountains.
--Haitian proverb

. . . And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realized;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying . . .
--T. S. Eliot
"The Dry Salvages"

Dedication
For Henry and Tim Kidder
First words
Six years after the fact, Dr. Paul Edward Farmer reminded me, "We met because of a beheading, of all things."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812973011, Paperback)

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.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:04 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A portrait of infectious disease expert Dr. Paul Farmer follows the efforts of this unconventional Harvard genius to understand the world's great health, economic, and social problems and to bring healing to humankind.

» see all 10 descriptions

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