The Devil's Dictionary Hardcover – 3 Nov 2003
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Ambrose Bierce was an iconoclastic literary genius and this compilation of definitions (written for a satirical magazine during the 1880s) is a true American classic. Some may find Bierce sexist, nationalist and racist, but most readers will enjoy his malevolent scepticism and underlying rage against hypocrisy. Ralph Steadman's incisive illustrations perfectly complement the text. A typical example: Gold n. A yellow metal greatly prized for its convenience in the various kinds of robbery known as trade. The word was formerly spelled 'God' - the 'l' was inserted to distinguish it from the name of another inferior deity. Only two years after the book was published in 1911, Bierce disappeared after setting off for Mexico to join Pancho Villa's rebels against the corrupt dictatorial regime of Porfirio Diaz. His legacy is memorable.
About the Author
A veteran of the American Civil War who fought at Shiloh and Chickamauga in the Union ranks, Bierce became one of America's best-known writers and journalists, admired for his insolent, entertaining and sometimes courageous columns. In 1913 he set off for Mexico, then in the throes of revolution, and was never seen again. Ralph Steadman is the author of many illustrated books including Sigmund Freud, I Leonardo, The Big I Am, The Scar-Strangled Banner, Alice and Animal Farm. His most recent publication is the novel, Doodaaa.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
"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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Dry, witty, sour. Full of the kind of quotes you want for your after-dinner speech. Some less funny than others, but worth it nonetheless.Published 22 months ago by Simon Loveday
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... Read morePublished on 4 Aug. 2013 by CJ Twamley
I am a long time admirer of Ambrose Bierce and this book is a must read for any middle aged (or aspiring) cynic. Well worth reading. Read morePublished on 11 April 2013 by ANDREW WILTSHIRE
This is a fabulous book! I've really enjoyed the cover and also the edition is perfect.
And the lovely devil on the cover simply makes me laugh!