Staff pick: ‘Mountains Beyond Mountains’


File this under “things I wish I had read while we were covering the earthquake in Haiti.” Over the holiday weekend I read “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder. Published in 2003. It’s the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, visionary/anthropologist/humble servant who founded Partners In Health, which began its amazing work in Haiti’s central plateau before branching out all over the world. I can’t tell you now why I picked it up. I am not normally drawn to a subject so likely to make me feel depressed and hopeless. But for some reason I decided to read it, and became enthralled.

Once I got past the whole this-guy-is-a-freaking-saint-and-if-saints-are-what-Haiti-needs-then-it’s-totally-screwed feeling, the takeaway from “Mountains Beyond Mountains” is that it is possible to heal the sick. It is an actually doable thing. And it’s not even that hard. It just takes the following:

1. Money

2. Willingness to see impoverished people as people who are worthy of support

3. Time 

4. Patience

5. More of the above

What makes PIH effective is that it doesn’t just administer medicine. PIH also gives patients a baseline safety net: sometimes a stipend, food, upgrades to their dwellings, whatever it takes to give bodies a chance to repair themselves. It’s seemingly impossible to do what they do. But they do it. They even dare to take on global health policy leaders and manage to turn bad treatment protocols into effective medicine. It’s an amazing story that fills me with hope and honestly makes me wonder what the heck I’m doing sitting at my cubicle at msnbc.


Staff pick: 'Mountains Beyond Mountains'