All things counter, original, spare and strange in Khujand, Tajikistan

Book Review: Mountains Beyond Mountains

I’ve begun compiling for myself a reading list I call my “way of the world” book list. It consists of books that reveal crucial pieces of the way the world works–or doesn’t work. The kind of book that refreshes my desire to act and be responsible in the world. In other words, good nonfiction. My most recent example of this kind of reading is Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, which (in addition to probably providing the title for one of my favorite Arcade Fire songs) tells the story of Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health.

Paul Farmer is a hero. He has worked faithfully in Haiti since the 80s, improving medical conditions in the central plateau of that country and investing in Haiti’s rural development. He has also been crucial in reforming global health policy, fighting tuberculosis epidemics worldwide and advocating for better health care for the poor.

Farmer’s philosophy centers around providing a “preferential option for the poor,” i.e. working for the benefit of the poorest first rather than hoping good care trickles down eventually. He got this idea from the Latin American liberation theologians, who got it (believe it or not) from the Bible. In Farmer’s view an epidemic like TB is more than a physical problem. It is a symptom of societal, environmental and spiritual brokenness. This kind of holism is often hard to find in the development world.

Mountains Beyond Mountains is an engaging book about an inspiring man. It probably goes a little too far in establishing Farmer as a sort of genius demi-saint. But it’s hard to look at the man’s accomplishments without lionizing him to some extent. He deserves the honor of a respectful biography. So read the book, if you’d like to know more about Haiti, development work, or public health.

Also, listen to the Arcade Fire song. I’m just sayin’.


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