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Book and Media Review
January 2014

Review of Alfalfa to Ivy: Memoir of a Harvard Medical School Dean

Author Affiliations
  • 1National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
JAMA Neurol. 2014;71(1):115-116. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.5169

Alfalfa to Ivy: Memoir of a Harvard Medical School Dean
Joseph B. Martin
457 pp, with photographs, $34.95, ISBN 978-1-55195-701-2, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, University of Alberta Press, 2011.

Joseph B. Martin writes in his autobiography that “I never looked at a job that I didn’t take.” That philosophy, combined with a driving ambition to make an ever more impactful contribution to society, produced a remarkable life’s journey from the small rural town of Duchess in Alberta, Canada, to a neurology residency position at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, to 2 of the most important academic positions in US medicine (namely, the Chancellor of the University of California San Francisco and the Dean of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts). This journey, with all its stops, is displayed in detail in From Alfalfa to Ivy: Memoir of a Harvard Medical School Dean. Family is central to the beginning of his life’s story about how core values of integrity, honesty, hard work, and self-confidence were passed on from his father, mother, uncles, and aunts. He paints a vivid picture of growing up in a deeply religious agricultural community, where big game hunting in the Rockies, riding horses, practical jokes, and good conversation were the staples of life. One can envision that his skillful abilities to listen and understand another’s point of view were honed when joining his dad and neighbors in long conversations at his uncle’s Duchess garage.