review: mountains beyond mountains

Title: Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World

Author: Tracy Kidder

Genre: biography, nonfiction

Form: paperback

Recommended: yes

Thoughts: Dr. Farmer works to provide medical care to the rural poor in Haiti, is a doctor of infectious disease in Boston, a Harvard professor, and works to change modern medicine’s view of treating the diseases of the poor. Kidder spent a lot of time with Dr. Farmer as they travelled the globe, walked mountains in Haiti, and corresponded extensively. It is from this perspective that Kidder tells Dr. Farmer’s story. I once heard someone say that this book is annoying because it makes Dr. Farmer out to be hero – someone impossible to emulate and yet you are left feeling like you should be trying. I think that person was slightly right, and that annoyance means that it is worth reading because there is something worth learning, pieces of life worth living, that are contained in this book. So, be inspired and be annoyed all at once.

review: the sharper your knife, the less you cry

Title: The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School

Author: Kathleen Flinn

Genre: autobiography, nonfiction

Form: paperback

Recommended: yes – but only for foodies

Thoughts: Flinn tells her story of leaving the corporate world, falling in love, and following her long-time dream of attending the Le Cordon Bleu – a famous French cooking school. Each chapter ends with a recipe – many of which looked good, but I have not yet tried any of them. Her writing / storytelling was not outstanding, but I think you foodies (probably more so the female foodies) would enjoy this story.

review: hunter

Title: Hunter

Author: J. A. Hunter

Genre: autobiography, nonfiction

Form: hardback, out of print

Recommended: Definitely

Thoughts: This is an amazing book. Amazing because Hunter tells his own story in his own own way of a land that he watched change and no longer exists. Born in 1887, he traveled to East Africa in 1908 and subsequently watched and took part in the taming of vast amounts of land. Yes, he talks more about guns than I care for, but this is balanced by observations of the tribes he worked with, cultural practices like pointing with one’s lips, and places that I have been to (e.g., Ngorongoro Crater) that seem nothing like what he describes. The land he walked in was truly wild in such a way that I doubt exists today, which is wonderfully refreshing. If you can track down a copy of this book, you should read it. Thank you Josh for sharing this book with me.

elephantGiven that you might not have ready access to this book and that every now and then I post ‘safari photos’, I thought I should share a few quotes from Hunter on photo safaris. Also, just for the record, safari means trip or journey in Swahili – nothing more.

“In my youth, the only animals that were photographed were dead animals. This made the problem of animal photography very simple. After your client had shot his trophy, he posed on the dead beast while you clicked the camera. But today people are determined to secure pictures of living animals. The animals seldom care to cooperate.”

“I must admit that animals are sometimes remarkably tolerant of picture taking. I have watched in amazement while a group of photographers ducked in and out of brush within thirty yards or so of a heard of elephants, taking light readings, changing lenses, and assuming the most incredible poses to get unusual ‘angle shots.’ The elephants must have known that they were there and still the big brutes put up with their antics very patiently. After considering the matter carefully, I am convinced that the elephants thought that the photographers were a herd of baboons. Elephants are short-sighted, so this is a natural mistake for them to make under the circumstances.”

review: when helping hurts

Title: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… And Yourself

Author: Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert

Genre: development

Form: paperback

Recommended: Definitely

Thoughts: Corbett and Fikkert talk about poverty and community development in a refreshing, and, honestly, beautiful way. In this book the poor are held with a dignity that is often denied them. The authors use personal stories thus avoiding pointing fingers at other people’s failures and also provide clear steps to take for everyone involved in development. Whether you help at a homeless shelter or a food pantry or are involved in large-scale international development projects, you should read this book.

review: the island of the colorblind

Title: The Island of the Colorblind

Author: Oliver Sacks

Genre: nonfiction, medical case study

Form: hardback

Recommended: Definitely. 

Thoughts: Oliver Sacks is a neurologist, botanist, world traveller, author, and, I believe, cultural anthropologist. In The Island of the Colorblind, he presents the stories of two island with unique medical problems, colorblindness and a neurodegenerative paralysis, at unusually high prevalences. Although I am a scientist, it is the rich descriptions of the islands and his interaction with people’s stories that give this book its strength. At times he over-displays his love of details, but I appreciate that he clearly contained this love as the books is followed by some 60 pages of interesting notes well worth skimming. This book is a beautiful balance of academia and novel. This is the first novel of his that I have read and I would enjoy getting my hands on some of his other books.