Mountains Beyond Mountains


Tracy Kidder

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Themes and Colors
Cost-Efficiency vs. the Value of Life Theme Icon
Saintliness Theme Icon
America, Imperialism, and the First World Theme Icon
Science, Magic, and Religion Theme Icon
Nonprofits, Politics, and Compromise Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Mountains Beyond Mountains, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Cost-Efficiency vs. the Value of Life

In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Dr. Paul Farmer devotes enormous amounts of resources to caring for sick people, especially in impoverished parts of the world like Peru and Haiti. Tracy Kidder keeps coming back to the same question, then: Is this worth it? At times, Farmer and his nonprofit organization, Partners in Health (PIH) have to spend huge amounts of money on individual patients—amounts that, Kidder can’t help but think, might be better spent caring…

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More than once in Mountains Beyond Mountains, people refer to Paul Farmer as a “saint.” Although Farmer always denies such a label, saying that he’d have to work much harder to become one, Tracy Kidder makes it clear that Farmer works harder (and comes closer to embodying sainthood) than anyone Kidder has ever met. Farmer barely sleeps, travels constantly to attend to his patients in Haiti, Russia, and Peru, gives hours of his time…

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America, Imperialism, and the First World

It’s almost impossible to understand Doctor Paul Farmer’s attitude toward healthcare and nonprofit work without first understanding his attitude toward American foreign policy. In general, it’s important to understand the way Farmer defines the uneasy relationship between the First World—countries with wealth and power—and the Third World—countries that lack these things.

In Farmer’s view, the United States has been a major imperialist aggressor for hundreds of years, with often-disastrous consequences for the Third World…

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Science, Magic, and Religion

In the course of his education and traveling, Paul Farmer comes into contact with a large number of belief systems: religious traditions, scientific theories, and magical rituals (such as the Voodoo ceremonies in Haiti). While these belief systems seem entirely distinct, they’re all major influences on Farmer’s career. Moreover, Tracy Kidder uses his book to explore the close similarities between them.

In Farmer’s life, religion and science are virtually inseparable. From an early age, he…

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Nonprofits, Politics, and Compromise

Although Paul Farmer spends the vast majority of his time consulting with individual patients, he arguably accomplishes even more good by convincing others to donate their money and time to help him fight disease in the Third World. Farmer is a politician as well as a doctor: he makes speeches around the world, influencing powerful people to send their money to Haiti and Peru. Farmer’s nonprofit ventures require him to work with large government organizations…

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