Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World Part II, Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

Tracy Kidder

Part II, Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

Chapter 6 continues to focus on Paul Farmer's background; this chapter shifts focus to Paul himself and especially to his experience in higher education. As a child, Farmer had been very gifted intellectually. In college, he really blossomed, both intellectually and socially. He had many friends at Duke and took the opportunity to study in Paris, where he took a course with the famous anthropologist Claude-Levi Strauss. After studying broadly in the sciences, Farmer focused on medical anthropology. He also found a mentor through his reading: the German Rudolf Virchow. Virchow worked in many fields—medicine, archaeology, education, politics—but Virchow's primary appeal for Farmer was the way he analyzed the social and economic roots of illnesses. Even when his superiors fired him because they found his analysis distasteful, Virchow did not back down: long before it was universally accepted, Virchow pointed out how the social conditions in which individuals live shape their health, a foundational tenet of modern public health.

While at Duke, Farmer also met many of the socially active Catholics trying to solve poverty among workers in America and in Central America. Through one of them—Sister Julianna DeWolf—Farmer met a number of Haitian farm workers. They sparked his interest, and he began to study Haiti obsessively, including its language of Creole. Paul Farmer had found his purpose. He applied to two colleges (Harvard and Case Western Reserve) where he could get graduate training as a "doctor-anthropologist." Farmer took the $1,000 he had won at Duke for an essay and his experience volunteering in emergency rooms there and went to Haiti in 1983. He went to explore the politically volatile nation, where he planned to work in a hospital run by people he had met during his time in Paris. However, once there he found it too separate from the people of Haiti, and sought out another position, this one with Eye Care Haiti, a charity which ran clinics in the country.