Skip to content

Letter to UW Students

Dear UW Student,
In the 2006 UW Common Book, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, one of Dr. Farmer’s Haitian patients is amused that he cannot understand the complexities of cultures in which different world views and practices intertwine. Culture is constantly changing; it is fluid. It is formed through human interactions and, in turn, shapes them.
As students who participated in the Common Book Seminar to develop the study guide, we wanted to share with you the doors the book opened for us, and hopefully will open for you as well. There is no catch-all book, or course, or pamphlet that can teach you everything there is to know about the cultures of the world. Mountains Beyond Mountains, however, is an excellent starting point.
Farmer’s medical practice elucidates Haiti’s complex culture and connects it to a larger, global framework. As a medical-anthropologist, he highlights the significance of “structural violence” in perpetuating the deadly health disparities engulfing Haiti. The interdisciplinary combination of the humanities and sciences, anthropology and medicine gives Farmer insight into the connection between poverty and global health inequities worldwide. It is his direct contact with Haitian peasants that define his lens of the world. “Look through it and you’d begin to see all the world’s impoverished in their billions and the many linked causes of their misery” (p. 44).
Another significant issue in Mountains Beyond Mountains is the question of an individual’s responsibility to society. Author Tracy Kidder hints at this theme in the first chapter when he comments that Farmer’s “way would be hard to share, because it implied such an extreme definition of a term like ‘doing one’s best’” (p. 8). Farmer’s example leads us to ask ourselves hard questions like, how much is one person obligated to his or her fellow human beings? Do we have to give up our comforts in order to understand poverty? These subjects, among a host of others, are touched upon in Mountains Beyond Mountains, making it a book that can be read on many levels. As students ourselves, we see it as more than a good story about a good guy, and more as a springboard into new levels of inquiry and analysis that will allow you to create your own ideas and worldview, while you wrestle with your integrity and personal growth. And, hopefully one day “marry them to action” (p. 84).
We hope that you enjoy your first year at the University! Please explore the essays and other resources on this site
Madeleine Marie Clifford, Pre-Major, Arts & Sciences
Jennifer Brittany Moore, Comparative History of Ideas
Maria-Cecilia Venzon, Nursing, UW Bothell
To learn more about the UW Common Book program, visit the Common Book website at: