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The Devil's Dictionary Paperback – 7 Jan 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, U.S.A. (7 Jan. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195126270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195126273
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 2.3 x 14 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,149,204 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'The corrosive insights of Ambrose Bierce seem as bitter and fresh as ever. He handles words with delicious precision' Daily Telegraph 'If one book should be issued to every child at birth, this is it What is extraordinary about Bierce's waspish definitions is how accurate they seem, more than a century after he wrote them This edition is exuberantly illustrated by Ralph Steadman Everyone should buy this, and learn from it' Time Out 'A superb book. Steadman has always been one of my heroes' Raymond Briggs 'An American classic, some of its charming (and cynical) definitions are uncannily appropriate to our own day and would make it, I fancy, an ideal Christmas stocking present' Antonia Fraser, Books of the Year, Sunday Telegraph --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Roy Morris, Jr., is the editor of America's Civil War and the author of Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company and Sheridan: The Life and Wars of General Phil Sheridan. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.


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4.1 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover
'The Devil's Dictionary' is an interesting, very intellectually cynical collection of proposed definitions to words collected by Ambrose Gwinett Bierce, a journalist, writer, Civil War veteran, and general misanthrope, who disappeared without a trace in Mexico about 1914. In the words of H.L. Mencken, Bierce has produced 'some of the most gorgeous witticism of the English language.' Bierce delights in irreverence and poking fun at all aspects of life.
Bierce's own definition of dictionary gives some insight into his general thought patterns:
'Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.'
This would lead us to conclude (most correctly) that Bierce is a world-class cynic. What is a cynic?
'Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.'
Originally published under the title 'The Cynic's Word Book', most of the definitions in this book originally appeared as part newspaper columns. There have been many imitators, but this is the first and finest collection. Arranged as a dictionary, it provides an interesting writer's tool for finding a unique perspective on words and phrases. There are more than 1000 entries. A few examples include:
'Outdo, v.t., To make an enemy.'
'Universalist, n. One who foregoes the advantage of a Hell for persons of another faith.'
Fair warning -- those who do not like cynicism and scathing wit will find this book irritating, and sometimes offensive.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Last week I was watching an episode of Lewis in which a character described politics as a "strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles". Although he indicated that the thought wasn't original, he didn't have time to mention that he was quoting from this collection of epigrams. Its author has been described as a Yankee Oscar Wilde, although his nickname - "Bitter Bierce" - suggests that the theme of his writing was less varied and more cynical than that of that warm-hearted, legendary wit.

A book like this is made to be read and quoted piecemeal - in fact, reading it all the way through is rather like trying to ingest a crate of lemons - so the best way to give some idea of its contents is to simply quote a few of the (many) definitions that remained in my mind after reading it:

Backbite: To speak of a man as you find him when he can't find you.

Peace: In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

Effect: The second of two phenomena which always occur together in the same order. The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other - which is no more sensible than it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in the pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of a dog.

Congratulation: The civility of envy.

Absurdity: A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.

Wedding: A ceremony at which two persons undertake to become one, one undertakes to become nothing, and nothing undertakes to become supportable.

Exile: One who serves his country by residing abroad, yet is not an ambassador.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ambrose Bierce, who mysteriously disappeared during a reported expedition to link up with Pancho Villa, left the world two great gifts: his beautiful short story "An Incident at Owl Creek Bridge" and "The Devil's Dictionary", this little volume of his definition of words and terms that reveal to the reader the full thrust of Bierce's clear-eyed vision of all that was wrong in the US and all that ought to be made right.

"The Devil's Dictionary" should be, if not at every man's bedside, then at least have pride of place on that little shelf beside his w.c. where inspirational works are left for the greater edification of he who there takes his restful ease.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I wanted a clean, well set out version of this classic for my Kindle, so I trusted the claims of ease of navigation and professional layout by the publisher.
The table of contents has been crudely pasted at the start, as is the content: THERE IS NO TEXT FORMATTING; i.e. indents or line spacing that even my grandchildren can achieve on their 'front page' homework assignments. The result is a block of text that is hard to read and even harder to navigate; clicking chapter breaks didn't work on my reader.
There are cheaper, more user friendly versions here - in fact, all of them are probably better, though I advise downloading a sample because many versions are just pasted in with little care paid to formatting.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was a gift for a friend - I have the exact same edition, and this way I can refer to the exact page if I want to point something up. The Devil's Dictionary is a unique book - not simply 'humour', it is wise and pointed as well as funny. How does anybody live without it?
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