Hannibal Free Public Library

 Mountains Beyond Mountains

Tracey Kidder

June 30, 2008


At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer—brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti—blasts through convention to get results.

About the Author

Tracy Kidder has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Award, among other literary prizes. The author of The Soul of a New Machine, House, Among Schoolchildren, Old Friends, and Home Town, Kidder lives in Massachusetts and Maine. 

1.      Paul Farmer finds ways of connecting with people whose backgrounds are vastly different from his own. Are his methods something to which we can all aspire?  Why or why not?

2.      Kidder points out that Farmer is dissatisfied with the current distribution of money and medicine in the world. What is your opinion of the distribution of these forms of wealth?

3.      Farmer designed a study to find out whether there was a correlation between his Haitian patients’ belief in sorcery as the cause of TB and their recovery from that disease through medical treatment. What did he discover about the relative importance of cultural beliefs? Do you think that this discovery might have applications, for instance, in the United States?

4.      The title of the book comes from the Haitian proverb, “Beyond mountains there are mountains.” Think about the proverb in context of the Haitian culture and in relation to Farmer’s work.   What does the saying mean? 

5.      Paul Farmer had an eccentric childhood and his accomplishments have been unique. Do you see a correlation between the way Farmer was raised and how he has chosen to live his life?

  1. Do you agree with the way that Farmer makes personal sacrifices?
  2. Mountains Beyond Mountains begs comparison with Three Cups of Tea by Gret Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  What similarities and differences do you see between Paul Farmer and Greg Mortenson?

8.      Kidder explains that Farmer and his colleagues at PIH were asked by some academics, “Why do you call your patients poor people? They don’t call themselves poor people.” How do they learn to speak honestly with each other, and what is the importance of the code words and acronyms that they share (for example, AMC’s, or Areas of Moral Clarity)?

9.      Tracy Kidder has written elsewhere that the choice of point of view is the most important an author makes in constructing a work of narrative non-fiction. He has also written that finding a point of view that works is a matter of making a choice among tools, and that the choice should be determined, not by theory, but by an author’s immersion in the materials of the story itself. Kidder has never before written a book in which he made himself a character. Can you think of some of the reasons he might have had for doing this in Mountains Beyond Mountains?

Abridged from http://www.randomhouse.com