Mountains Beyond Mountains Summary

Tracy Kidder

Mountains Beyond Mountains

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Mountains Beyond Mountains Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.

The plot of Tracy Kidder’s award-winning nonfiction account of a renowned doctor can be deduced by reading the title along with its subtitle: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Could Cure the World. In this biographical work, Tracy Kidder writes in first person as he meets his subject, Dr. Paul Farmer, on a mission to save the world from poverty and infectious disease. Although the book is set mainly in Haiti and Boston, other areas of the world are written about, including disease ridden areas of Peru and Russia. Kidder follows Dr. Paul Farmer, a man with a slight Messiah complex, going around the world with the urge to save people from poverty and to eradicate Tuberculosis.

In 1994, Tracy Kidder was in Haiti, writing a story about U.S. soldiers trying to maintain Haiti’s newly democratic system. On his flight back to America, he met Dr. Paul Farmer and learned about his life and his crusade. Farmer really connected with people below the poverty line as he himself grew up in a poor home in Florida. After earning an medical degree and PhD from Harvard and Duke University, he cofounded and joined PIH (Partners in Health), a nonprofit healthcare organization based out of Massachusetts. Mountains Beyond Mountains is divided into five parts, detailing his life, accomplishments, exploits and attempts at saving the world.

The first part, titled Dokte Paul (which is Dr. Paul in Haitian Creole language), talks about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston as well as Zanmi Lasante, a healthcare organization and center created by Partners in Health in the central village of Cange in Haiti. Zanmi Lasante means “Partners in Health” in Haitian Creole, and it was essential for both adult and pediatric patients in Cange, which was suffering from great bouts of Tuberculosis, as well as other poverty related illnesses and diseases.

The second part, The Tin Roofs of Cange, brings in stories about Paul Farmer as told from those closest to him – family and friends. He started Partners in Health with three others, one of which was his then-fiancé, Ophelia Dahl (the daughter of Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl). But his dedication to PIH and his overseas practices causes him to break off the engagement. However, despite their tumultuous relationship, they are still close friends and continued to work together on their health organization.

Part three, Medicos Adventureros, cites a great loss for Farmer, when in 1995, a multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis infection (MDR-TB) took the life of Father Jack, a close friend he had made on his trips in Lima, Peru. As a result, one of the co-founders, Dr. Kim, convinced Farmer to bring their PIH organization further into Peru, mostly because of problems arising from DOTS, which is (Directly Observed Treatment, Short-Cause), bringing light to one of Farmer’s main antagonists in his fight against infection – the World Health Organization, whose inflexible rules were making it difficult for them to do their job.

The fourth part was called A Light Month for Travel and it brushes over Farmer’s travels and work in Peru, Haiti, Russia and various other places where disease was rampant, and Dr. Farmer works hard to cure.

Finally, O for the P is the final part, set in 2000, and that refers to something they are used to saying in their health centers: “a preferential option for the poor.” This is very important because it shines a light on everything that Dr. Paul is trying to do, which as a whole seems impossible. Working towards the “long defeat” is a common motto for this doctor, because as Tracy Kidder realizes near the end, is that although it is Dr. Farmer’s crusade to help people as he comes across them, it is his mission to do more than that – to save the world. He wants to eradicate disease and forever help those in need which is an impossible goal – the long defeat. And despite the fact that he is determined to win at this, and get rid of this evil once and for all, believing he can do it, despite that there is no way he can, it is the fact that he tries to tirelessly that makes him an incredible human being.

However, even though in the book he fails to eradicate this evil and get rid of TB for good, he does succeed in implementing new prescriptions for multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis by the World Health Organization, and does amazing work at helping cure countless people in multiple countries where they don’t have the means to help themselves.

Tracy Kidder does a great job in portraying Paul Farmer as the savior that he indeed is, despite his efforts at a complete victory, it is his desire to give the poor a better life than they deserve, and to be one of the few that don’t turn their backs on them, that makes his legacy one that people can look up to. And even though he is not done doing good, he has already done immeasurable work with the WHO and the PIH, and even gave the author inspiration to write a book that has won many awards and spread a message of the fight against poverty and disease. As Tracy Kidder himself says: “[Doctor Farmer is] a challenging person, the kind of person whose example can irritate you by making you feel you’ve never done anything as important, and yet, in his presence, those kinds of feelings tended to vanish.”