Onward and Upward: The Career Trajectory and Memories of Leonard F. Peltier, MD, PhD

Lucas, George L. MD

Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery - American Volume:
Book Reviews
Author Information

1 University of Kansas School of Medicine at Wichita Wichita, Kansas

Article Outline

A recent essay in The New York Times book review section (Nehring C. “Books make you a boring person.” June 27, 2004) suggested that, perhaps, we read too much. Although the thrust of the essay was that the quality of our reading might be jeopardized by the quantity of our reading, if we consider our obligations to read The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery and the several other professional journals to which we subscribe, there might be some truth to that assertion. How then, could one recommend reading another book, particularly a book that may require a little effort to procure? (Make your check payable to the Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas, and send it to: Greystone Press, P.O. Box 411877, Kansas City, Missouri 64141-1877).

First of all, the book is small and can be read in one or two evenings. Secondly, the book could serve as a guide for a young surgeon wishing to advance an academic career, and thirdly, it is a fitting reminiscence for older surgeons who either knew Dr. Peltier personally or knew of him. This book is everything a biography should be—inspiring, informative, and enjoyable. It was lovingly written and meticulously annotated by Janolyn Lo Vecchio, Dr. Peltier's administrative assistant and the residency coordinator at the University of Arizona; Fred Reckling, MD, a Peltier trainee who ultimately succeeded Dr. Peltier as Chairman of Orthopaedics at the University of Kansas; and Fred's wife, JoAnn, an intensive care nurse who has worked with him on other writing projects. A foreword by Robert Volz, MD, is also quite interesting, particularly in describing some of the tribulations in getting an orthopaedic department started at the new medical school in Arizona.

“Onward and upward” was a favorite expression used by Dr. Peltier to encourage residents, staff, family, and friends. It is a paraphrase of a line from “The Present Crisis,” by James Russell Lowell (1844): “They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth.” Dr. Peltier's career trajectory was exactly that—upward and onward. He survived tumultuous times at the University of Minnesota, where he trained in both general surgery and orthopaedics and remained on the faculty as acting head of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery. He then became Chairman of Orthopaedics at the University of Kansas and, finally, at the University of Arizona, where he established and developed a strong Section of Orthopaedic Surgery in a “start-up” medical school.

Under the tutelage of Owen Wangensteen at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Peltier developed a strong interest in research. He was selected as a Markle Scholar while he was a resident, an honor that he continued to hold throughout his career. By the end of his career, he had amassed a compendium of nearly 200 published books and papers, all of which have been listed in this bibliography. The listing of his publications concerning the history of medicine is, by itself, worth the price of the book. His background in general surgery as well as orthopaedics led him to the study of trauma, an area in which his most noteworthy contributions were concerned with fat embolism. Stories related to this topic and stories concerning his somewhat controversial use of plaster of Paris to fill defects and cavities in bones are interestingly detailed in the book.

Dr. Peltier was enthusiastic about the history of medicine and wrote many papers on a variety of historical subjects. In 1979, he was appointed as the Classics Editor of Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, in which capacity he selected and described a classic paper and author for virtually every issue until his death. His fluency in French and German allowed him to translate articles in these languages and thus broadened the appeal of many of the symposia in that journal. Two of his books, Fractures. A History and Iconography of Their Treatment (1990) and Orthopedics: A History and Iconography (1993), are classics in their own right. A tantalizing extra in Onward and Upward is the inclusion of several small etchings of “cripples,” produced by Hieronymus Bosch, which had earlier appeared in Orthopedics: A History and Iconography.

Leonard Peltier was truly a man for all seasons. His biography is recommended as a source of inspiration for medical students and residents, a vehicle of encouragement for established surgeons, and a wellspring of source material on historical matters for scholars and historians.

Copyright 2005 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated