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I'm reading now a book which opens with the words Of all in the beginning without anything which precede the possessive of.

Of all the scientists to observe this remarkable healing, only Zasloff was curious enough to ask the right question.

I have two questions about this sentence:

  1. I understand that the meaning of Of all is "from all the scientists only Zasloff was curious". Is this using correct? I'm asking about it because I didn't see this style of using so far.

  2. I see the preposition to in this sentence (Of all the scientists to observe this remarkable healing) and for me as a non-native English speaker it looks like weird. Is the meaning to say as if from all scientist who observed this remarkable healing or alternatively From all scientist who were there to observe there etc.?

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Your paraphrases are substantially correct.

Of all the contestants to appear on The North Pole Has Talent, only Rudolph the Reindeer had a glowing nose.

The noun-phrase is

all the contestants to appear on The North Pole Has Talent

The preposition of preceding that set could be paraphrased as "from among all those contestants". It is a kind of "culling". Among those contestants, only Rudolph The Reindeer had a glowing nose.

The marked infinitive, to appear, is roughly equivalent there to to have appeared.

of all the contestants to have appeared

Compare:

I told her that she reminded me of Winston Churchill, and she replied "Of all the things to say!"

That means, roughly, "Of all the things for you to have said, that particular thing is surprising or shocking". However, being an infinitive, which is tenseless, the reference is not so much to the statement as something which has been said but as one that could be said. It is being judged against all statements. Of all the things one could possibly say, to say that particular thing is surprising or disconcerting, and it would be rather surprising or disconcerting whenever it might be said. Mutatis mutandis, Zasloff's qualities of mind would be unique at any time.

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The author is telling us that many scientists knew about this but only one was curious enough to ask the question "why?" It is a common usage. I cannot explain the grammatical aspects.

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Are you sure about the repetition of "all"? That repetition doesn't make sense - it would make more sense if it was "Of all of the scientists..." I'm assuming that interpretation from here.

The structure "all of the scientists to observe this remarkable healing" defines a set - a group of scientists who all made an observation. From this set, we are selecting a subgroup - those curious enough to ask the right question. This group, we are told, contains only Zasloff.

So the structure is: Out of 'Members of a group', only 'individual' was 'part of subgroup'.

  • It's likely a typo, since Assiduous doesn't repeat the "all" in the question description. – Andrew Sep 30 '16 at 21:36

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