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The Quest of One Man Whose Selflessness May Inspire Others

The story of the Harvard-trained physician and medical anthropologist who co-founded Partners in Health, an international charitable organization that provides health services to the sick and needy in Haiti and other countries, was this year’s required summer reading for the incoming class of Smith’s first-year students.

 Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, a recent nonfiction book by local author Tracy Kidder, is written from Kidder’s first-person perspective as he developed a friendship with Farmer and visited him over several years. The book gives an intimate account of Farmer’s compassion and practical application of health service to people who cannot afford it. In the rugged Central Plateau of Haiti, Farmer first began his service to the poor while still a medical student, opening a hospital, Zanmi Lasante (Creole for “Partners in Health”), which serves a population of more than 100,000.

“Paul Farmer is a remarkable person,” says Tom Riddell, associate dean of the college and dean of the first-year class, who chaired the committee that chose the summer reading assignment, “and Tracy Kidder is a top-notch nonfiction writer. We chose Mountains Beyond Mountains because it’s a very compelling and well-told story about an understanding of the world and a commitment to combating inequities and disease. It’s about global poverty, the science of health and treatment, responsibility, dedication, organization and institutional and international politics.”

Before classes started, students met in small groups in residence living rooms to discuss Mountains Beyond Mountains with staff and faculty members as part of orientation programming. Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer who has taught at Smith, joined Farmer on a visit to the college that evening to read from the book and discuss Farmer’s work with audience members in John M. Greene Hall.

Kidder’s book joins past summer reading selections such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; My Year of Meats by 1980 Smith graduate Ruth Ozeki Lounsbury; The Gangster We Are All Looking For by Smith faculty member Lê Thi Diem Thúy; and last year’s choice, Kettle Bottom, by Diane Gilliam Fisher.

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