Tracy Kidder met Paul Farmer in 1994, when Kidder was working on a story about American soldiers who were helping Haiti reinstitute democratic rule. At first, Kidder was not that impressed with Farmer, but when they ran into each other again, on a plane back to Miami, they started talking in more depth, and Kidder became fascinated. At times, Kidder weaves a traditional third-person biography of Farmer, synthesizing their talks and emails with details from the many people who make up Farmer’s complex life. At other times, though, Kidder puts himself directly into the narrative, as he does most emphatically early and late in Mountains Beyond Mountains, when he walks many hours with Farmer to visit some of the rural poor. These were but the slowest of the travels the two men shared, for Kidder accompanied Farmer on many trips, both to international summits and into the field, going with him to Moscow, Siberia, Peru, Cuba, Paris, Mexico, Montreal, New York City, and Boston.
Prior to writing Mountains Beyond Mountains, which became a New York Times bestseller, Kidder had written a number of successful books. The Soul of a New Machine (1981) won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, establishing Kidder’s reputation as a nonfiction author. He followed it with House (1985), Home Town (2000), and other books. Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren won the 1990 Robert F. Kennedy Award, given for literature that champions social justice and concern for the poor. Though The Soul of a New Machine is about the computer industry and House is about the construction of a single award-winning home, what unites them and Kidder’s other books is his dense research and literary, almost novelistic style.
Born in New York City in 1945, Kidder attended Harvard for his undergraduate work and Iowa for his master’s. Kidder served in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star.