Study Guide Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

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The protagonist is Paul Farmer, the most amazing doctor who works the long defeat his entire life, meaning he works incessantly to eradicate poverty and give decent health care to the poor even though the attempt is almost impossible to achieve.


The greatest antagonist in this book is poverty and the inherent epidemics that come with it. Of course, the people who turn their backs on poverty are also the antagonists as are the government policies that allow it to flourish.


The climax occurs when Tracy Kidder finally realizes the true definition of Paul Farmerís character: he is a man who is more interested in trying to win over the long defeat, even though he wants to win. The man tries to eradicate the evil of poverty and illness among the poor and itís his trying that makes him great.


Many of the goals Paul has set for himself come about, including the adoption of new prescriptions for MDR-TB by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, again, the outcome is still uncertain, because there is still so much for people like Paul Farmer to do. If the world continues to turn its back on the health needs of the poor, then the outcome will once again be uncertain rather than hopeful.


Tracy Kidder travels with, and chronicles the life and work of Dr. Paul Farmer. Farmer's mission is to serve the poor in countries like Haiti, Peru, and Russia. It runs from approximately 1982 to 2003. Farmer's crusade is to end infectious disease and bring lifesaving medicines to those that have no access to it and most need it.


The first and most important theme is: the poor deserve decent health care and living conditions. This is the message that Farmer promotes his whole life from the individual patient to the greatest politicians of all the countries of the world.

Another theme involves the idea of the long defeat. This refers to Farmerís realization that changing the fortunes of such poor countries as Haiti may be an impossible goal, but that he refuses to give in and not try to win.

A third theme involves the idea of the fortunate of the world turning their backs on the poor and needy. In spite of their great wealth, they fail to see the less fortunate around them and usually do nothing to alleviate the problem.

A final theme is more subtle, but nonetheless important: the importance of trying to imitate Paul Farmer even though no one can ever be like him. This means taking on the same work with the same devotion as he does and hoping that youíll win over the long defeat.


The mood is often troubling and dark, but there are so many lights of hope along the way that reader canít help but feel uplifted by the end.


Tracy Kidder was born in New York City on November 12, 1945. He graduated from Harvard in 1967. He served as a 1st Lieutenant in the Army in Vietnam from 1967 - 1969 for which he received a Bronze Star. After the war, he earned a Masters of Fine Arts degree from The University of Iowa. He began writing for the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1973 and has served as a contributing editor since 1981. In his relationship with the magazine, his articles have includes subjects such as: energy, architecture, the environment, and more. He also contributes to The New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review.

The Road to Yuba City: A Journey into the Juan Corona Murders (1974)
The Soul of a New Machine
(1981) Pulitzer Prize and American National Book Award
Among Schoolchildren (1989)
Old Friends
Home Town (1999)
Mountains Beyond Mountains
My Detachment: a Memoir
He has also written several short works of fiction.

He has received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award (1990), the Ambassador Book Award (1990) and the Sarah Hale Award (1998).

Kidder lives with his wife and two children in western Massachusetts and Maine.

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