"Dictionary: A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and elastic."
Before he disappeared into Mexico in 1913, never to be heard of again, the acerbic Ambrose Bierce had left behind a great body of journalism, satire and fiction, but 'The Devil's Dictionary' is what he'll be remembered for.
It's a bleak satirical work, taking apart received ideas and redefining ordinary words to give an acid, ironic view of human affairs. Whether Bierce is throwing off a quick quip "Brute: see Husband" or looking at something from a wholly original angle (the definition of the cross for example), what emerges is a deeply cynical, darkly humourous view of the world.
Whether you dip in and out for some sardonic entertainment, or read it cover to cover (perhaps keeping something like P.G. Wodehouse to hand for when Bierce's bile becomes too overwhelming, this is a book to be treasured, a sheer slice of black philosophy.
Surrounded by humbug and spin, it's a relief to read someone who couldn't be naive if he tried.