best academic first lines

A lighter topic for a grim and heavy news day: what are your favorite academic first lines? First lines are tricky, and most are forgettable enough, but a few stand out. I’ll post a couple below the cut, and ask you to supply your favorites in the comments! And while “first line of the book” is the usual rule, I think first lines of articles or chapters may be equally important for some texts (given how academic texts circulate), so interpret the instructions a bit liberally.

My top-of-the-head picks:

“The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line…” W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (first line of chapter 2, also used elsewhere).

“Can capitalism survive? No, I do not think it can.” Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (first line of part 2).

“One is not born, but rather becomes, woman.” Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (the first line of volume 2).

Suggestions from previous conversations:

“Nineteenth-century civilization has collapsed.” Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation.

“Sexuality is to feminism what work is to Marxism: that which is most one’s own, yet most taken away.” Catherine MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.

“There was no such thing as the scientific revolution, and this is a book about it.” Steve Shapin, The Scientific Revolution.

I’m sure I’m missing a ton of obvious winners; post your favorites below!

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

7 thoughts on “best academic first lines”

  1. “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of
    communism. All the powers of old Europe have
    entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this
    spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot,
    French Radicals and German police-spies. ”

    Marx in his famous Manifesto

    Liked by 1 person

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