Tracy Kidder: Inspired to Write Paul Farmer’s Story

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Who is Tracy Kidder and how did he meet Paul Farmer? Why did he want to learn about Farmer’s life?

Tracy Kidder was embedded with US Army officials during a political intervention in Haiti: the US was attempting to restore Haiti’s leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, after he had been removed by the military junta.

Read on to learn about Tracy Kidder and Paul Farmer.

Tracy Kidder: Connecting With Paul Farmer

Kidder first met Farmer in 1994 during a political intervention in Haiti. Kidder was embedded with US Army officials who were attempting to restore a democratic leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in Haiti, which had been ruled by a military junta for the previous three years. Kidder and Farmer happened to be taking the same flight on the way back to the states, and Kidder used the opportunity to learn about Farmer’s life.

Farmer was 35 years old and worked part of the year at a hospital in Boston. For the rest of the year, he worked at his hospital in rural Haiti. Farmer was frustrated by how many diseases around the world would be preventable if people were only given the appropriate treatment. He thought that people in the US, particularly “white liberals,” needed to recognize that big change couldn’t happen without some sacrifice on their part. For example, Farmer hoped that if someone learned about a disease afflicting the poor, they’d give money to help treat it rather than assuming it’d resolve itself.

Later, Tracy Kidder had dinner with Farmer in Boston. He wanted to use Farmer’s knowledge of Haiti to inform his reporting on the US’s political intervention aimed at restoring Haiti’s democratic government.

In 2000, Kidder visited Farmer in Haiti to observe the area and the hospital he worked in first-hand. Farmer’s hospital was called Zanmi Lasante, meaning “Partners in Health” in Creole. It served a great need for medical care in the local area. Though there were other hospitals and clinics, many required patients to pay more than they could afford for treatment, including for the medical equipment used to treat them, like gloves. Furthermore, many clinics lacked basic sanitation.

In contrast, though the staff at Zanmi Lasante sometimes made mistakes or botched lab testing, they were able to offer more affordable services. Farmer insisted that the hospital treat nearly everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. 

Some of Farmer’s accomplishments included:

  • Serving one million people in the local area, including with a staff of community health workers who treated people with tuberculosis in their homes for a fraction of the cost of treatment in the US
  • Reducing transmission of HIV from mothers to babies
  • Funding construction of sanitary water systems and schools
Tracy Kidder: Inspired to Write Paul Farmer’s Story

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Mountains Beyond Mountains summary :

  • How Dr. Paul Farmer came to operate a hospital in Haiti
  • What the connection is between sorcery and tuberculosis
  • How Dr. Farmer's organization is a model for treating patients in poor countries

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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