Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder spoke at Common Hour about his book "Mountains Beyond Mountains," describing the work as "a shameless effort to promote a vision I felt to be true."

In the book, which was summer reading for the class of 2010, Kidder chronicles the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard Medical School-educated medical anthropologist and founder of the international public health organization, Partners in Health. Farmer is an infectious disease specialist and focuses on treating diseases that primarily affect the poor. He is known for his innovative AIDS and tuberculosis treatments.

At last Friday's Common Hour, Kidder said that while writing the book, he was confronted with the "problem of goodness." Kidder said that Farmer's accomplishments and determination "make people feel diminished."

Kidder explained, "He makes you ask yourself, 'What's the catch?'"

Kidder said that he was concerned that his depiction of Farmer would make readers write off the doctor as a saint, so he tried to show the doctor's "foibles."

"I tried to make Farmer palatable to readers," he said.

Kidder also made himself a character in the story so that readers would have someone to relate to. He considered himself "an everyman," someone "a lot less virtuous than Paul Farmer." According to Kidder, he included himself in the book "to testify that Farmer is for real."

Kidder traveled extensively with Farmer, who works to cure infectious diseases in rural Haiti, Russia, Peru, and Africa, and is an attending physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"Haiti shocked me," said Kidder. "I spent a great deal of time and energy trying to reconcile the facts of Haiti with my American life."

After spending so much time with Farmer, Kidder said he realized that AIDS was neither too expensive nor too complicated to be solved.

"The entire range of human illness can be solved in about as difficult a setting as you can imagine," he said.

Kidder said the experience showed him "what one small group of people can do to ease the world's problems."

He said his travels also illustrated the gap between what can be done to solve international health problems and what is actually being done.

"We will be judged in part by how we respond to these terrible pandemics," he said.