The First Sentence of Your Book

Many academics write books.  A slightly greater number talk about writing books.  I’m in the latter category.  The idea of sitting down and developing an idea over 300 pages is daunting.  But it’s the first sentence that really terrifies me.  In an article, the first sentence carries some weight: it has to pull a reader along for the next 25,000 words.  But that’s a minor commitment compared to the work that same sentence does in a scholarly book.  Think of it: you are about to sit down to read several hundred thousand words about law.  The first few better be damn good.

Or not.  To get over my book-block, I’m mulling over the idea of writing a first sentence that is so dreadful that readers will have no choice but to continue reading, if only to dull the immediate pain.  Inspired by the Bulwer-Lytton Awards, I’ve come up with a few ideas.  For a book about dockets:

To write about law empirically is to venture forth into a dark and murky sea, filled with tossing icebergs above – opinions – and terribly misled krakens below – deterministic political scientists – and the only light to see by is shed by the streetlamp at the prow of your boat, imperfectly illuminating the gold key of data, and echolocation produced by the sounds of students misled by socratic education and Arthur Miller’s high pitched “hmm??!”: that’s why you should study dockets, law’s last and best hope for direction and order.

And for a book about cultural cognition?

It was said first about Marxism that a theory that proves everything proves too much, and led to three generations of suffering and misguided economic policies enforced by two dictators and a succession of forgotten mediocrities, but that problem is not cultural cognition’s, notwithstanding the project’s ability to swallow up whole legal fields like a gaping anglerfish and then spit them back unrecognized (unless you are related to Yochai Benkler): the mere fact that cultural cognition is soon to be a first-year subject of its very own should comfort those that seek complicated answers to complicated problems, and you must read this book if you wish to learn how win over the hierarchs in your life with sweet whispered nothings disguised as scientific vouching.

You get the picture.  Let this be an open thread for those who haven’t written that book yet to contribute their first sentence.  The worst gets the prize.

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15 Responses

  1. Logan Roise says:

    Legal theory is deep like the ocean.

  2. Tim Zinnecker says:

    Their eyes met just outside the crowded elevator bank that would ascend to the interview suite on the 7th floor at the Marriott Wardman Park Tower Hotel, and for what seemed like an eternity their heartbeats raced intertwined at a feverish pitch as they both eagerly relished the singular opportunity to discuss the law school’s yearning desire to fill a long-overdue slot to teach Secured Transactions.

  3. Toby Dorsey says:

    I. Summary of Argument

  4. Doug B. says:

    Please read the next sentence.

  5. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Great lawyers are all alike; every bad lawyer is bad in his or her own way.

  6. Orin Kerr says:

    This book basically agrees with the common wisdom about a very boring area of law.

  7. Ken Rhodes says:

    If you have picked up this book by chance, rather than by design, and if you are now reading this first page in order to find out what is in the rest of the book, then you might as well resign yourself to a sad fact of serious books, whether in the law or in particle physics or in cooking, or in any other subject where serious authors write for serious students, said fact being that the only way you will know what is in the book is to read the book.

  8. Marc DeGirolami says:


    I can’t resist Orin’s call to arms:

    This book says something something surprising and novel and deeply relevant to things that people care about and which can change lots of peoples’ lives…for the better, if only they listened.

  9. dave hoffman says:

    Lots of good entries so far. In my view, Tim Z’s is a nose ahead in the race to the bottom. Orin: too much irony, not enough pulp.

  10. Bob Mabry says:

    If you expect this book to explain the carrying-a-weapon statute, you will be disappointed. Judge Who-Si-Goo said it is inexplicable, so this book is, pace Goedel, about WHY this statute cannot be explained.

  11. Dissent says:

    In contrast to a blogosphere that is vibrant with discussions of privacy law, privacy law itself has moved forward at a soporific pace, much like when my narcoleptic friend ran out of her Ritalin prescription.

  12. Joseph Slater says:

    If, as Kermit Hall once opined, law is but a mirror of society, then this study of [insert field here] will reveal not just the warts of society, but also its zits, vericose veins, and bleeding gums, and indeed will take the analysis up the very nostrils of civil and legal discourse.

  13. A.J. Sutter says:

    Just as Darwin is said to have invented his influential, albeit contested, theory of evolution from the comparison of beaks of finches (of course, it’s still just a theory), and the Mughal Sultan Akbar (1556-1605) was said to have listened (since he himself was illiterate, according to some sources) to his assistants discourse on the comparative merits of the various religions within his empire, as well as devotees of the various religions themselves, I hope that this comparative study of name-change amendment practice under the corporations statutes of the American states 1850-1914, beginning with this Vol. 1, relating to the New England States, will (thanks to kind support from the Limburger State University Corporate Law InCITE Project) impart to the reader no less fascination and insight, albeit possibly in a more modest and statistically rigorous way.

  14. nice book, all things of this book is superb.

  15. dave hoffman says:

    It’s tough to choose between the early front-runner (Tim) the late, brilliant, entrant A.J., and the perfectly executed turing-spam comment by credit score calculator. What do you folks think?