The book is written from the point of view of author Tracy Kidder. The book is set mainly in Haiti and Boston, Massachusetts. Kidder first met his subject, Dr. Paul Farmer, in Haiti in 1994. At the time, Kidder was researching a story about American soldiers sent to reinstate Haiti's democratically elected government led by president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Kidder again met Farmer on his flight back to Miami, Florida from Haiti and began to learn small pieces of Farmer's life. Farmer was born in Massachusetts and grew up as one of six children in a poor household in Florida, yet he was able to attend Duke and Harvard, where he earned his M.D and Ph.D. The rest of the book details Farmer's inspiring life and accomplishments, including Farmer's work with the health and social justice organization Partners in Health, especially in Haiti, Peru, and Russia. Farmer's concept of working for social justice is described in the book as a long defeat.
Tracy Kidder describes him best:
"And I was drawn to the man himself. He worked extraordinary hours. In fact, I don’t think he sleeps more than an hour or two most nights. Here was a person who seemed to be practicing more than he preached, who seemed to be living, as nearly as any human being can, without hypocrisy. A challenging person, the kind of person whose example can irritate you by making you feel you’ve never done anything as important, and yet, in his presence, those kinds of feelings tended to vanish. In the past, when I’d imagined a person with credentials like his, I’d imagined someone dour and self-righteous, but he was very friendly and irreverent, and quite funny. He seemed like someone I’d like to know, and I thought that if I did my job well, a reader would feel that way, too." (excerpted from www.thereaderscircle.com)