First awarded in 2016 with the overt purpose of becoming a “Nobel prize for philosophy” the Berggruen Prize is a million dollar award given each year to a significant individual in the field of philosophy. It is awarded by the Berggruen Institute to “thinkers whose ideas have helped us find direction, wisdom, and improved self-understanding in a world being rapidly transformed by profound social, technological, political, cultural, and economic change.”
The 2020 winner is Dr. Paul Farmer is a medical anthropologist and physician. He has been a leader in the development of public anthropology, as well as in improving health care for the world’s poorest people. He is the author of Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History.
In 2014, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea suffered the worst epidemic of Ebola in history. The brutal virus spread rapidly through a clinical desert where basic health-care facilities were few and far between. Causing severe loss of life and economic disruption, the Ebola crisis was a major tragedy of modern medicine. But why did it happen, and what can we learn from it?
Paul Farmer experienced the Ebola outbreak firsthand—Partners in Health, the organization he founded, was among the international responders. In Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds, he offers the first substantive account of this frightening, fast-moving episode and its implications. In vibrant prose, Farmer tells the harrowing stories of Ebola victims while showing why the medical response was slow and insufficient. Rebutting misleading claims about the origins of Ebola and why it spread so rapidly, he traces West Africa’s chronic health failures back to centuries of exploitation and injustice. Under formal colonial rule, disease containment was a priority but care was not – and the region’s health care woes worsened, with devastating consequences that Farmer traces up to the present.
This thorough and hopeful narrative is a definitive work of reportage, history, and advocacy, and a crucial intervention in public-health discussions around the world.