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Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

By Tamatha | Books | January 14, 2010 | Comments ()

By Tamatha | Books | January 14, 2010 |


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Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder is the sort of book that you might avoid out of fear of spending hours curled up in a little ball crushed by the horrendous injustice in the world or shaking with rage and ranting incoherently for the same reason, but it's not. While it's true that Kidder, in his portrait of the amazing work that Paul Farmer and his cohorts at Partners in Health (PIH) do, doesn't shy away from the inexcusable conditions in Haiti (and Peru and the prisons of Russia, and elsewhere), I found the book to be mostly hopeful. Which, I think, is Farmer's point.

At some point in the book, one of the PIH members uses the following quote from Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does." And that perfectly encapsulates what PIH does.

For those who are unfamiliar with Partners in Health, it is a public health organization bringing much needed health care to some of the poorest people in the world. Their mission is to "provide a preferential option for the poor in health care." The work that they do is amazing (yes, I am going to use that word at least 17 times in this review) and addresses the fact that providing health care to the impoverished can't happen in a vacuum, and therefore, they provide other support, as well, to make it possible for their clients to follow through on the steps they need to take for better health.

Mountains Beyond Mountains specifically focuses on Paul Farmer, the founder of PIH, his life story, how he came to design PIH's public health care model, and the work that PIH does. It's fascinating. Not surprisingly, Farmer had an unusual upbringing, and I think that helped him to have a different perspective both on his life choices, but also an ability to look beyond and challenge some of the health care paradigms. While it is true that it is unwise to compare oneself to Farmer (you'll just feel bad and unaccomplished), one of the points of the book is that no one should -- even he thinks this. As a founding member of PIH, Jim Kim, is quoted as saying, "If Paul is the model, we're fucked." Meaning, that holding yourself up to Farmer's personal standard is impossible. Instead, you have to find a level of commitment that works for you. Burning out doesn't help anyone.

The work that Farmer and PIH does flies in the face of conventional health care wisdom regarding what is possible. And I found it totally uplifting to know that this committed group of citizens really is making a change in the world. Although it's easy to be cynical about the state things and how people treat other human beings, cynicism doesn't bring about change. And that's what is refreshing about PIH, these are people doing the impossible. I strongly recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains. It's eye-opening and engrossing. And I think it's the best way to find out the how and why of Partners in Health.

If you'd like to find out more about PIH, you can check out their website:

(And if you feel compelled to donate while you're there, that'd be amazing.)

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Tamatha's reviews, check out her blog, Baboon-Faced Gourd.


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