The late historian Barbara Tuchman, whose works include The Proud Tower and The Guns of August, was an admirer of what she called “great paragraphs.” Standing alone and apart from their original context, "great paragraphs" nevertheless could interest and inform readers because of how skillfully they combined facts and narrative flow within the small compass of a single paragraph.
I want to offer you three paragraphs I think meet Tuchman’s “great paragraphs” standards. I came upon them while reading about the Duke Hoax.
Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, published a letter from G. Holman King, “a proud lacrosse grandparent,” which contained this paragraph:
Brodhead has defended those actions on the flawed premise that he was "forced to act upon radically imperfect information" or that "action has been required in the face of deep uncertainty." In fact, once he had justifiably suspended part of the lacrosse season, there was no immediate compelling need for further action. He could have, and should have, deliberately preserved his options until there was more certainty. A safe haven was readily available to him-the presumption-of-innocence principle.Momtothree at Liestoppers recently posted, "How the Duke Rape Hoax Became the Duke Racial Epithets Crime-of-the-Century Hoax (and Remains So Today)," which contains this paragraph:
Let it be said up front that racial epithets are deeply reprehensible, and concede that probably one or more of the party attendees did utter something racial. That the AG has concluded this occurred as a response to racial taunting from Kim Roberts gives context, but not justification for these words. Yet what has been made of them, and the way these utterances have been used to condemn an entire team and smear the reputations of the three indicted players (whom no one has ever seriously claimed uttered any epithet) is far more disgraceful and blameworthy.And in Professor William (Bill) Anderson’s just published open letter to Duke lacrosse parents we find:
It was so bad that many of your boys, after Duke cancelled the lacrosse team’s season, could not go onto campus in fear of their own safety, and some of them even lived in their cars. Duke University broke contract with you – but still demanded your tuition and fees in return. Your sons were falsely accused; they knew they were falsely accused, but few at Duke, save the heroic women’s lacrosse coach Kerstin Kimmel and her players, would support you. It was that sense of being all alone, or to paraphrase the former lacrosse coach Mike Pressler, there were 50 people who knew the truth, and 50 million who thought they knew it – or really did not want to know the truth if it got in the way of a good story.I hope you agree you’ve just read three great paragraphs. And I hope that tempts you to read Holman’s and Anderson’s letters and Momtothree’s post.