One Thanksgiving, during a family trivia game, I discovered that I know the first and often the second lines of quite a number of books, stories, and poems. That doesn't mean I've read them all, but that some beginnings are memorable. For instance,

  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)
  • Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy)
  • Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick, Herman Melville)
  • As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. (Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka)
  • In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien)
  • Heather had invented the game, but Picket made it magic. (The Green Ember, S.D. Smith)

To this collection I must add a new one. It's certainly not a book I've read, though I know some engineers who might have. As opening sentences go, these are pretty memorable. Who says textbooks have to be boring? If every author thought as much about the potential consequences of his writings as this CalTech physics professor, the world just might be a better place.

Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906 by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on his work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study statistical mechanics. Perhaps it will be wise to approach the subject cautiously. (States of Matter, David L. Goodstein)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 27, 2022 at 8:02 am | Edit
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