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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive collection
'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...
Published on 29 Dec 2005 by Kurt Messick

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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chuckle
The wit flows freely from this volume, and is sharp and astute. It's good for a laugh and, best of all, so cheap. Just the sort of thing you need when you're less than a pound away from qualifying for free shipping.
Published on 10 Feb 2004 by Daniel Barrett


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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive collection, 29 Dec 2005
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Dictionary (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. Bierce is a product of his generation; political correctness wasn't in vogue then, and, even if it had been, Bierce would have been one of the sharpest critics.
As a Christian priest, I take great delight in the insights from Bierce's criticism of religion in general, and Christianity in particular.
'Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.'
Why does this ring so true? Of course, there is the old adage that if you scratch a cynic, you'll find an idealist. Bierce would undoubtedly have described himself as a realist, but buried beneath many layers of cynicism, one can sense the idealism.
Why did Bierce go to Mexico? Perhaps his underlying idealism led him to a country that was awash in revolutionary ideas; perhaps those ideas are what cost him his life. Perhaps he went underground? It is possible we will never know.
The publisher of this volume, one of but many reprints of the text over time, says: 'The caustic aphorisms collected in "The Devil's Dictionary" helped earn Ambrose Bierce the epithets Bitter Bierce, the Devil's Lexicographer, and the Wickedest Man in San Francisco. The words he shaped into verbal pitchforks a century ago--with or without the devil's help--can still draw blood today.'
This book is very useful for generating ideas for writing and reflection. It is a good counterpoint to 'guides to positive thinking' kinds of material, and can serve as a tempering agent on such collections.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly entertaining, 13 Dec 2003
By 
A. Peters (London) - See all my reviews
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I have found that this dictionary can serve a number of purposes. It can sit on your bookcase and look interesting, you can read it (in which case you'll probably burst out laughing on occasion) and you can learn parts of it to use as wit in conversation.
The last is the most entertaining and this book is packed full of wit (or maybe just honesty).
So buy it, and buy it now.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars definitely an entertaining and provocative reading, 4 Dec 1998
By A Customer
This book is actually as devilish as it looks. I have burst into laughter many times while reading it. The definitions are really creative and shows that the author was very good at observing everything going around him. It tells the truth about the meaning of words, but always with a sense of humour, which they deserve. This dictionary is very entertaining, provocative and, yes, realistic. Mr.Bierce is not afraid to say what the others would not and that is always something I like in an author. It is physically thin but mentally thick, that is, it will provoke you to reconsider the definitions you have in your mind. It is both fun and an eye-opener. Probably the most entertaining dictionary in the world.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cynic: A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be, 3 Jun 2013
By 
Jeremy Walton (Sidmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Devil?s Dictionary (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.

Christian: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.

And finally:

Quotation: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. The words erroneously repeated.

People who like this sort of thing will find (in the words of Abraham Lincoln) this is the sort of thing they like. I do, although, as noted above, a little goes a very long way. Reading too much of it at one sitting will cause you to muse upon the disappointments and frustrations in the author's life, which are helpfully discussed in a little introduction to this edition. It also contains the searing, savage pen-and-ink illustrations of Ralph Steadman, which gives rise to perhaps the most ironic (though - given Bierce's sardonic view of the world - entirely characteristic) thing about the book - to wit, a comment on its back cover by Raymond Briggs which reads, in its entirety:

"A superb book. Steadman has always been one of my heroes."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delving deeper., 24 Nov 2011
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This review is from: The Devil's Dictionary (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Curmudgeon, 3 Jan 2014
By 
Timothy J. Haigh "Tim Haigh" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Devil's Dictionary (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Diabolically witty, 29 Feb 2012
This famous book, though not to everyone's tastes and certainly not PC, is a gem. Written over 100 years ago, it is a compilation of definitions which originally appeared in an American newspaper. Some are long-winded or now obscure, others will offend, but many are wonderfully funny. A cabbage, for example, is defined as' a familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and as wise as a man's head'. This is a must buy for the broad-minded and at a ridiculously low price.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Chuckle, 10 Feb 2004
The wit flows freely from this volume, and is sharp and astute. It's good for a laugh and, best of all, so cheap. Just the sort of thing you need when you're less than a pound away from qualifying for free shipping.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 13 July 2014
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Excellent
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4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent humorous dictionatry, 4 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Devil's Dictionary (Paperback)
I'd always wanted to read Ambrose Bierce's work having heard excerpts from it in the past. It doesn't disappoint although some of his definitions are now somewhat dated and refer to events which we do not now recognise.
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