Top 10 Books Written by Dr. Paul Farmer

A list 10 of what we think are PIH co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer’s most powerful books

Posted on Feb 25, 2022

Top 10 Books Written by Dr. Paul Farmer

Not only was PIH co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer an expert doctor and history-making humanitarian. He was also a prolific researcher and writer, using his medical and anthropological training, plus his proximity to the poor, to author books throughout his career about health, history, and human rights.

Below is a list of some of his most powerful works, ordered chronologically. Though spanning time and set oceans apart, these books represent one way in which Dr. Farmer will continue to teach generations to come, and assert his—and our—guiding belief: that it’s possible to change the world and cure injustice.

AIDS and Accusation

While serving Haitian communities as a young doctor, Farmer wrote about the country’s HIV epidemic for his doctoral dissertation in anthropology, which later became his first book.

Farmer describes the lives of Haitian villagers and places them in historical context, showing how developments as seemingly unrelated as the building of a dam led them to become victims of sida or AIDS. He aims to erase the stereotypical accusations cast on Haiti—as source and breeder of the epidemic—and demonstrate the role poverty and social inequality played in the spread of HIV.

Infections and Inequalities

The title might suggest a dense read for the medically minded, but Infections and Inequalities has a clear message: Treatable infectious diseases still plague the world because the people suffering them suffer social inequalities. Farmer tells the stories of patients he treated for HIV and tuberculosis in Haiti and shows what it means to be poor, challenging prevailing ideas of scholars and public health authorities that overlook these causes of illness.

The tale of 19-year-old Robert David on a heroic quest for tuberculosis drugs is one of Farmer’s most powerful bits of writing.

In short, the book drives home PIH’s message that poverty makes you sick.

Pathologies of Power

Drawing on his experiences in Haiti, Chiapas, and Russia, Pathologies of Power is Farmer’s hard-hitting demonstration of the abused rights of poor people by those in positions of power. It serves as a rallying cry to the world to take action against “structural violence”—a phrase Farmer adopted to describe atrocities impoverished people endure that many people simply regard as “the way things are.” As Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen writes in the foreword, “Paul Farmer teaches us how to stop whistling and start thinking.”

The Uses of Haiti

In The Uses of Haiti, Farmer passionately delivers evidence of the historical ties between the United States and political upheaval in Haiti—the consequences of which are felt most by the poor. As the title implies, Haiti and its poor are victims of others’ practices in the country. Farmer does not sugarcoat the link between U.S. foreign policy and the devastation felt by so many of Haiti’s people. He points out, for example, that it was a U.S. army school in Georgia, formerly known as the School of the Americas, that formally trained one of Haiti’s chiefs of national police in methods of torture.

Partner to the Poor

Partner to the Poor is a 660-page collection of 20 years’ of some of Farmer’s publications. Roughly chronological, the book tracks Farmer’s thinking over time. Chapters are organized into four sections, allowing a deeper dive for anyone interested in topics such as his earlier anthropological work on HIV or structural violence and human rights.

Haiti After the Earthquake

Haiti After the Earthquake is Farmer’s descriptive and moving firsthand account of treating the injured and ill shortly after the country’s January 2010 earthquake, and of the cholera epidemic and chaos that ensued long after the rumbles faded. The book, which includes chapters by his friends, family, and colleagues, is an attempt to remember and record the catastrophe, make sense of it, and identify causes that are not just natural. He draws on Haiti’s history to show how the country and its capital were vulnerable to the disaster. And he offers lessons learned from messy humanitarian and funding efforts that resulted in more pain to a deeply wounded Haiti.

To Repair the World

To Repair the World is a collection of Farmer’s commencement speeches meant to guide, inspire, and challenge undergraduate, public health, and medical school students. His humor, indignation, and zeal shine through in stories he shares about the people he has met and the work he has done around the world. His advice includes tips on where all of your most important achievements on this planet will come from, and what the movie The Matrix has to do with the future of medicine. Every page is packed with insight and reflection.

In the Company of the Poor

This slim volume is largely a conversation between Farmer and Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, an 87-year-old Catholic priest who is regarded as the founder of liberation theology. Farmer first read Gutiérrez’s work as a young doctor in Haiti. Much of the Peruvian priest’s writings inspired Farmer’s approach to social medicine and have guided PIH’s work since. It’s a good read for those seeking to understand some of PIH’s principles, such as our “preferential option for the poor” and “accompaniment.”

Reimagining Global Health

Written by a number of co-authors, Reimagining Global Health draws from a variety of disciplines, presenting theory, historical evidence, case studies, and frameworks to those interested in understanding global health. Students learn everything from how smallpox was eradicated, to how foreign aid works. Different from a common textbook, the authors make a case for global health as a new field of study. Farmer defines global health as a “collection of problems” and presents this book as a “toolkit” for tackling them. His teachings weave throughout and sections are devoted to PIH’s work. While its primary goal is to educate, Reimagining Global Health is also a call to action.

Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds

In November 2014,  Farmer was in Freetown, Sierra Leone, breaking bread with a group of Ebola survivors as the world’s largest epidemic of the virus raged across the country and across West Africa.

“It was the night I met Ibrahim,” Farmer recalled, referring to one of the survivors. “We started talking and he told me he’d lost 23 members of his family to Ebola. I was shocked into silence. And what he said next was: ‘I’d like you to interview me about my experience.’”

That, Farmer said, is when he decided to write a book.

Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History  details the Ebola outbreak’s origins and aftermath; the stories of patients, clinicians, and caregivers; the international response; Farmer’s own memories from Ebola treatment units; and the historical chapters underpinning it all.

And in a book about a historic epidemic, published during a historic pandemic, Farmer writes about where we go from here, in the thick of COVID-19 and ongoing, extreme health inequities across the world.

Read an interview with Farmer and an excerpt from Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds


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