Great Opening Sentences

This selection is not trying to compete with The Observer or any of the other literary giants who fill their pages with lists during the dead Summer months. This list is of non- literary opening sentences, which nonetheless are tremendous in their own way. Poetic, lyrical, sweeping, magisterial: These sentences offer a new dimension in the competition for greatness. Possibly they won’t unhorse Dickens from his number one slot (It was the best of times, it was the worst of times) but they do make up a good field of contestants.

Karl Marx and Friederich Engels The Communist Manifesto (1848) (Politics)

“A spectre is haunting Europe- the spectre of communism.”

Radcliffe Salaman The History and Social Influence of the Potato (1949) (Agriculture)

“Just as it is impossible to discuss intelligently the history of the potato without a reference to those early agriculturists who won and fashioned it, so it would be futile were we to leave undescribed the peculiar setting in which both plant and man evolved their mutual understanding.”

Peter Asch and Richard E Quandt RaceTrack Betting: The Professors’ guide to Strategies (1986) (Statistics)

“We are going to tell you how to bet at the racetrack.”

Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner Freakonomics (2005) (Economics)

“Anyone living in the United States in the early 1990’s and paying even a whisper of attention to the nightly news or a daily paper could be forgiven for being scared out of his skin.”

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone (2009) (Anthropology/Economics)

“It is a remarkable paradox that, at the pinnacle of human material and technical achievement, we find ourselves anxiety- ridden, prone to depression, worried about how others see us, unsure of our friendships, driven to consume and with little or no community life.”


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