Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

By Emily Ashbolt, Biomedical Physics, 2017

If you are seeking to be both inspired and incredibly humbled by your insignificance, there are a lot of things you can do, but few in my experience accomplish this as well as Tracy Kidder does with his book Mountains Beyond Mountains. The book is a spectacular telling of the life and work of Paul Farmer, who, with an intimate group of equally amazing people, set up the non-profit organization Partners in Health.

Published in 2003, this is by no means a new book. I was gifted this amazing, brightly colored book during a mini-revival of the book this past summer. I was amazed by how quickly it became a mainstay in my bag, considering it only took four days for me to devour it.

Pulitzer-prize winning author Tracy Kidder has a knack for non-fiction, spinning captivating stories by leaving no stone unturned in his research. Following a figure as non-stop and multidimensional as Paul Farmer could not have been an easy task. Kidder shows that without being self-pitying, inserting himself in the story just enough to remind you that it is in fact a true story.

And what a story it is.

From his underserved upbringing in Florida to his journeys through Duke University and Harvard Medical School, Farmer built a healthcare empire using his immense anthropological knowledge and skills as a physician. Devoted to the most extreme use of the term, Farmer would never avoid helping one person, even if on paper it might seem more economical or efficient for him to use his time elsewhere. From the streets of Boston to the slums of Haiti to the forests of Peru to the prisons of Russia, Farmer and his partners stop at nothing to bring the best care to the most desperate patients.

At the risk of getting overexcited, I won’t give many more details: you will have to read the book. But if you are looking for a book that will simultaneously inspire you and make you feel like you will never achieve anything in your life, I could not recommend this book more highly.

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