Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

by Tracy Kidder

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Mountains Beyond Mountains is written by a white man from the US about another white man from the US who seeks to improve the lives of poor people of color in Haiti and other parts of the so-called Third World. What issues and assumptions regarding race, class, and nationality in relation to service and activism are raised, both implicitly and explicitly, by the book?

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Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure The World was a bestseller. It is a fascinating account of a gifted man who is driven to provide medical care to the less fortunate.

One issue implicitly raised early in the book relates to the experience of an American soldier, Captain Carroll, in Haiti. Carroll arrested a man named Nerva Juste. Juste was strongly suspected of decapitating a local official. Farmer asked Carroll why he let Juste go free. Carroll said there was not enough evidence. Farmer was not happy about Carroll's explanation. The story can be seen as a microcosm of Washington's trouble with nation building—trying to apply American legal standards to places where they do not apply.

The book raises another issue implicitly: what responsibility does the world have for destitute nations? Can America "fix" these unfortunate nations? Should it even try to do so?

Another issue raised in the book is the duty that is owed to poor people by affluent society. In other words, what are the implications of America's penchant for avarice? Farmer, a Harvard Medical School professor, is an extraordinary individual. He could have enjoyed a life replete with material possessions. But he renounced it to follow a life of service. Farmer donated his salary to Partners in Health. In Haiti, he slept four hours a day to help people in a country where 25% die by the age of forty.

Farmer has been driven to address the medical neglect of poor people. His quest has taken him to Haiti and beyond. This raises an important ethical question: how should America take care of its own citizens that lack access to medical care?

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