Author Tracy Kidder's book on the struggle to deliver medical and social justice

We often feel powerless against the tidal wave of worldwide poverty and disease. It is a rare individual who gives over his or her entire existence to do something about this condition, let alone attempt it one person at a time. Dr. Paul Farmer of Boston is such an individual.

Author Tracy Kidder has written a gripping biography of Farmer in the book Mountains Beyond Mountain: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, and will speak at the Student Union Special Events Center as part of the Common Reading Program.

In Mountains Beyond Mountains we learn that Farmer is recognized as one of the world's leading experts on public health and infectious diseases and is an advocate for poor people worldwide, often defying conventional wisdom and treatment.

Farmer rose from modest beginnings, and after studying anthropology at Duke University, attended Harvard Medical School where he attained both a medical degree and a PhD in anthropology. While working on attaining his degrees, Farmer went to Haiti where he did some anthropological surveys to discover the level of healthcare available to the poor. What he discovered was that Haiti had the worst healthcare system for the poor in the western hemisphere.

Through an astounding history of finagling, cajoling, begging and borrowing, Farmer created a health clinic in the central plateau of Haiti, one that he staffed, manages and often visits so he can practice medicine on a one-on-one basis as he has done for over twenty years. While continuously improving his Haitian facility's capabilities, he has become one of the world's foremost experts on tuberculosis and AIDS. He has helped institute national treatment programs in Peru, Mexico and Russia as well as managing a clinic for the poor in Boston, Massachusetts.

Farmer considers himself a practitioner of liberation theology which is a philosophy that believes, among other things, that the poor have a divine right to be free of social oppression, which includes the right to free and competent healthcare.

Kidder elucidates how Farmer feels about his long fight to deliver adequate and free healthcare to the poor with the following quotation from Farmer: "I have fought the long defeat and I have brought people on to fight the long defeat and I'm not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think we may win. I don't dislike victory."

Dr. Farmer is a popular man in Cuba and he hails the country's healthcare system as being a good example of how quality healthcare can be delivered to every citizen of a poor country.

According to Kidder, Farmer feels some justifiable rage that world politics get in the way of providing adequate healthcare to the world's needy. And in this sense, Mountains Beyond Mountains speaks directly to us, the citizens of the wealthiest country on earth. The book illuminates the fact that if we continue to ignore poverty, or rationalize its existence, it will eventually come back to haunt us. Farmer founded a non-profit group named Partners in Health that operates entirely on grants and donations received for its ongoing activities in Boston, Haiti and Peru.

Kidder has traveled worldwide with Farmer for years and this book seems to be, besides a biography, a convincing call-to-action for the residents of rich countries--the first world countries--to take off their blinders and realize that something must be done to deliver free, quality healthcare to the poor of the world. Mountains Beyond Mountains is written with eloquent prose, dialogue, characterization and a good level of tension--all the ingredients necessary and engaging to the reader.

Kidder was raised in New York and attended Harvard before serving as an Army Lieutenant doing intelligence work during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1969 and during his service there was awarded the Bronze Star. After his military service he attended the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop where he earned and MFA. Kidder was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Soul of a Machine. He has been a long-time contributor to the Atlantic Monthly and has also written for a number of other publications, including The New Yorker. His other books are House, Old Friends, Among Schoolchildren and Hometown.

This year, all incoming freshmen at Boise State received a copy of Mountains Beyond Mountains and Kidder's lecture is only one of a number of events centered around the book, which is being used as a tool for teaching in the Common Reading Program.

Kidder's lecture at Boise State will offer interested Treasure Valley citizens the opportunity to learn about Farmer's activities and to engage in a larger discussion with faculty, students and members of the community concerning a new worldwide attitude about the basic right to adequate healthcare.

Wednesday, February 28, 7 p.m., FREE, Special Events Center, Boise State, 1910 University Dr. For more information about Tracy Kidder's upcoming lecture or about the University's Common Reading Program, visit

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