Read this, just as soon as possible. You may not immediately recognize Dr. Paul Edward Farmer’s name, but you will recognize his miraculous story. Pulitzer-winning Tracy Kidder enters the good doctor’s expansive orbit long enough to produce a resonating portrait of a phenomenal human being whose life purpose is to care for and save lives: “Farmer wasn’t put on earth to make anyone feel comfortable, except for those lucky enough to be his patients.”
While shadowing Farmer to some of the more demanding destinations in the world (Haiti, Russia, Cuba), Kidder weaves in the surreal trajectory of Farmer’s life: his unconventional growing up from house to trailer with the occasional (sinking) domestic nautical foray, to his Lacoste-wearing “preppy” period at Duke University, to his “gift for academic pursuits” that earned him both a PhD in anthropology and an MD from Harvard, to his unprecedented career as a “big-shot Boston doctor” as Harvard medical professor and attending specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital especially notable for his non-presence.
That Boston absence is more than excusable: Together with Ophelia Dahl (yes, that Dahl of Roald and Patricia Neal, whom Farmer first met as a teenage volunteer in Haiti) and fellow anthropology/MD Harvardite Jim Kim (who also comes with a fascinatingly unorthodox background, who is now the president of Dartmouth College), the trio founded Partners in Health (PIH). What began officially in 1987 as a revolutionary organization that originated in Farmer’s obsessive dedication to providing healthcare to Haiti’s poorest is today an internationally prominent leader in disaster medical relief.
With admiration, poignancy, and even humor, Kidder intricately traces the rebel origins and renegade success of PIH – fueled by a wealthy Boston developer committed to giving away his millions before he dies, padded with the entire bulk of Farmer’s MacArthur “Genius” grant, encouraged by Jim Kim’s ability to make impossible statements come true (securing an unheard-of 97% reduction in a tuberculosis-fighting antibiotic), all sustained by an unwavering determination to nurture and heal.
The near impossible adventure proves legendary. While you can’t turn away from the wrenching suffering, the breathtaking odds, by book’s end, you’ll close the final cover (or turn off your audible contraption) convinced that sheer will can make miracles happen.
Tidbit: March 23, 2012 … Dr. Jim Kim as the next President of the World Bank? WOW. Who knew the good doc can sing AND dance, too? Click here to check out this fabulous, funny, historical video with his Dartmouth peeps. Bet they all had the time of their lives … TRULY.