Mountains Beyond Mountains

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Mountains Beyond Mountains Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Tracy Kidder
 John Tracy Kidder was born in the 1940s in New York City. He attended elite schools: Phillips Academy for prep school, then Harvard University for college. At Harvard, Kidder had planned to study political science, with his parents’ approval, but as a sophomore, he switched to studying English. After graduating in 1967, he served as a lieutenant in the military for two years, during which he saw active duty in Vietnam. Afterwards, he was admitted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, often considered the most prestigious MFA program in the country. It was during his time in Iowa that Kidder decided to focus his creative energy on writing nonfiction and journalism. His first book, The Road to Yuba City (1975), about the Juan Corona murders, was particularly successful, but his second book, The Soul of the New Machine (1981), about the early days of the computer industry, was a hit, winning the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction. Kidder has continued to write prolifically since the 80s, winning many awards in the process. He’s taught writing and journalism at Harvard, and contributed to hundreds of magazines. Currently he resides in Massachusetts.
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Historical Context of Mountains Beyond Mountains
 In the late 18th century, the people of Haiti—Africans who’d been shipped to the West Indies to work as slaves—rebelled against their French colonial masters, and succeeded in driving them out. As a result, Haiti became the first independent black republic in the Western Hemisphere. But for the next 200 years—up to the present day—Haiti has endured great poverty and political strife. At times, the United States has supported military dictatorship in Haiti, believing that such a regime would benefit American business interests. In 1990, the Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president of Haiti; however, next year, he was overthrown by a military coup supported by the United States. Aristide’s rise and fall had dire consequences for Haiti: the country was thrown into a civil war, making it almost impossible for Paul Farmer (a supporter of Aristide) to practice medicine.
Other Books Related to Mountains Beyond Mountains
 While Kidder’s book doesn’t allude to very many works of fiction, it explicitly mentions two: Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1869) and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (1955). Tolstoy’s novel—one of the most famous ever written—is an ambitious, 1500-page work that follows an enormous cast of characters over many decades. Tolstoy pokes fun at the intellectual fashions of the 19th century, in particular the celebration of Utilitarianism (the ideology that the greatest book is that which causes pleasure to the greatest number of people). Farmer, who read War and Peace at the age of 11, undoubtedly sees similarities between Tolstoy’s smug Utilitarians and the present-day bureaucrats who discourage medical treatments in the Third World for fear that they’re not “cost-effective.” Farmer frequently mentions The Lord of the Rings, another long, epic story, in which a group of heroes sets out on a long, difficult quest. Farmer thinks of himself as setting out on a quest of his own: the quest to “cure the world.”
Key Facts about Mountains Beyond Mountains
  • Full Title: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
  • Where Written: Massachusetts, Haiti
  • When Published: November 2003
  • Literary Period: Postcolonial nonfiction
  • Genre: Biography
  • Setting: Haiti, the U.S.A., Russia, Peru
  • Climax: John’s death
  • Antagonist: While there aren’t specific antagonists, one could say that disease and institutionalized poverty are antagonists in this book
  • Point of View: First person (narrated by Tracy Kidder, the author)
Extra Credit for Mountains Beyond Mountains

Renaissance Man: Paul Farmer is the subject of Tracy Kidder’s book, but he’s also an accomplished author in his own right. In between practicing medicine (i.e., in between airplane flights), Farmer has authored six books, all on topics of anthropology or medicine.

A lasting impression: Since spending time with Paul Farmer in the late 90s and early 2000s, Tracy Kidder has been a major donor and spokesperson for Haitian charities. He wrote a second book about social strife in Haiti, Strength in What Remains, and his personal website links to the homepage for Partners in Health, Farmer’s nonprofit group.