When teachers ask students to read biography or memoir, I know their secret hope is that students will learn something about a role model. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is a book that honors that secret hope. It’s the story of Paul Farmer, a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases and who has dedicated his life to helping the poorest of the poor in the central plateau of Haiti.
Farmer is a graduate of Harvard, and as a young man established the Haitian clinic Zanmi Lasante. (The name means Partners in Health in Creole.) This is the only health care available to thousands upon thousands of Haitian peasants. Farmer is now one of the world’s leading experts in treating communicable diseases including AIDS and tuberculosis. He has more energy than most of us could imagine; he seems to me to be a sort of secular saint who now has medical organizations in many areas of the world. His deep feeling for the impoverished Haitians is awe inspiring. He is so giving, so caring and wonderful, that when reading about him, it’s difficult to put the book down. The comments on the back of the book cover such as “He has embarked on an epic struggle” and ‘He wants to change the world” as well as “A genuine hero alive in our times” are not hyperbole. You’ll agree, again and again, as you follow Farmer’s career. He received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant in 1993. His life story will make you want to change the world, too!