Saturday, July 30, 2016

Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Title: Mountains Beyond Mountains: the Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
Author: Tracy Kidder
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult non-fiction 
Pages: 312 (plus notes)
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2016 Google Reading map): Haiti, Peru, Russia, USA (MA)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my daughter

Summary (from the back of the book): This compelling and inspiring book shows how one person can work wonders. Tracy Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who loves the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.

In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life's calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder's magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication tot he philosophy that "the only real nation is humanity." 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.

Review: I had heard of Paul Farmer, but didn't really know what he did or what he was all about. Then this summer my daughter spent three weeks at Brown University taking a Global Health course from Dr. Daniel Smith and this was their textbook. She raved about it and insisted I read it.

What an inspiring book. Tracy Kidder weaves such a good story and a lot of that comes from the fact that he spent so much time with Paul Farmer and really dug in, living the life and not just observing from the sidelines. When I first began reading it I felt inadequate; what I have I done for humanity lately?! Paul Farmer seems to have an unending supply of energy, ideas, and grit (for lack of a better word). But by the end of the book I had put aside my self-pity and found inspiration instead. Farmer's work and that of the hundreds of others that work with and for him at Partners in Health are smart, interested, caring, and hard-working people. They are nurses, doctors, former patients, and interns. They see never-ending poverty, but also see possibility.

What struck me most is that PIH doesn't just try to combat disease directly. They also build schools, provide meals and jobs to their patients; they form a community. And communities take care of one another, or at least they should. And they have people like Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, and Jim Kim who are willing to fight for them at the highest levels, talking to people at the World Health Organization, in the Russian or Peruvian governments, or whomever it takes to get medicine, a charter flight, a dose of antiretrovirals, or to change a health policy. That's what is good about this book. The people and their drive to make a difference. If you want to be inspired, but more importantly, to learn, read this book!

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