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This year's summer reading for entering students is Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. The book tells the story of a young doctor, Paul Farmer, who went to Haiti to do humanitarian medical work. He began working there when he was in his early twenties and just starting medical school.
In Haiti, Farmer witnessed the extraordinarily difficult conditions many Haitians face in their daily lives. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and most Haitians have extremely limited medical care, if any at all. Many people die from ailments that can be treated easily and inexpensively in the United States, less than 700 miles away. Experiencing their situation changed Farmer's life. In the book, he and his co-workers begin to change Haiti.
Early on, Farmer and Ophelia Dahl, another young humanitarian worker whom he met in Haiti, worked with local Haitians to establish a remarkably successful public-health clinic in one of the poorest parts of Haiti. Soon after, they joined forces with another doctor, Jim Kim, and a wealthy businessman in Boston who wanted his wealth put to a good purpose, to create an international organization devoted to providing medical care and related services to the poorest people on the planet.
Certainly, Mountain Beyond Mountains is an inspiring story. It shows us young people saving and improving people's lives. However, we have chosen it as our Common Reading for further reasons, and most of all because it raises difficult questions and challenges. We think some of them will jump out at you, and some will structure our discussions of the book during orientation.
As you begin taking courses in different academic disciplines at Hofstra, you will find that different kinds of questions stand out for each of them. And so, to introduce the book here, faculty with expertise in different disciplines discuss what stands out to them. We hope that you enjoy reading the book, and that discussing it with others begins to reveal some of the diversity of kinds of questions and challenges you can pursue by studying at Hofstra.
Once you’ve submitted your Enrollment-Orientation Deposit, you’ll receive our common reading, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder in the mail.
Kidder’s book takes place against a backdrop of environmental devastation in Haiti. The book challenges us to think about ethical issues, like justice and the connection between the environment and well-being. Environmental Justice is the name of a theory and movement that combines interests from civil rights struggles and ecologic consciousness-raising; it is centrally concerned with exposing the ways in which communities of cultures of color or poverty unjustly bear disproportionate burdens of pollution and other environmental hazards. Discuss with us what Paul Farmer’s experiences teach us about Environmental Justice.
The story of Paul Farmer is that of a man who underwent years of schooling and clinical training to become a physician, simultaneously earned a PhD in Anthropology, and, during this time, started a health clinic in the impoverished mountains of Haiti. During his years in medical school and clinical training he raised money, gathered medical supplies in Boston and then would return to his clinic in Haiti. His anthropological studies prepared him to understand the social factors essential to address if health care was to occur. What are these factors? What are the challenges facing health care professionals in Haiti? Discuss these issues with a physician who worked there!
Paul Farmer—like Tracy Kidder—is a graduate of Harvard University, but he is convinced that, although education is vital, it is not enough: we need to build on our knowledge to achieve global transformation and social justice, in his view, and he leads his life according to this credo. Do you agree? What is the ultimate purpose of a university education? Should the university serve primarily to provide a practical training for a successful career? A path to personal happiness and fulfillment? Or a forum for helping to end political and social injustice across the world?
Paul Farmer sets a high standard, a heroic standard, both for himself and for those around him. Throughout the book Tracy Kidder wrestles with the question of how Farmer’s example can inspire others, and the danger that it will instead intimidate others. What can we learn from Farmer’s case, and from Kidder’s reflections, about moral heroism as a form of leadership? Can the book help us navigate between the twin perils we all face in making moral choices--imposing impossible demands on ourselves, and giving ourselves easy excuses?
The central figure in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains, Paul Farmer, is remarkable for how much of his own time and resources he devotes to helping others. He is a Harvard-educated physician who gets little sleep, spends weeks away from his own family, and uses most of his paycheck to improve medical care for the poor in Haiti. How can we explain this degree of altruism – actions done for apparently no other reason than to help others? Discuss with us your thoughts on the psychology of altruism.
|Explore Mountains Beyond Mountains with us! Click on one of the buttons below to learn more.
Living on the Edge »
Life of Discovery »
A Haitian Perspective »
Perseverance and Inspiration »
Any Questions? »