The book is written from the point of view of author Tracy Kidder. It 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.