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on 26 January 2012
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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on 29 December 2005
'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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on 24 November 2011
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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on 11 April 2013
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. Bierce gives a rollicking account of what people really mean when they say things, that is every bit as valid in modern society as it was when written!
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on 17 September 2012
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!
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on 7 January 2011
This is a very poorly formatted edition. Variable fonts, page breaks everywhere, words appearing from nowhere and footnote references with no hyperlink. amazon should not be charging for this sort of rubbish. the book itself is of course fantastic, but buy the print edition unless a better Kindle version can be found.
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on 23 April 2009
A book of lucid, cynical, quotable and amusing definitions, this was quite a discovery, with a useful introduction. Ambrose Bierce was an extraordinarily prolific 19th Century journalist and satirist. He was nown as "Bitter Bierce". He had to survive the death of his first son by suicide and the second from alcohol-related pneumonia, plus divorce from his wife. He disappeared in Mexico during the revolution of 1913, a death which he had predicted, saying it would be better than falling down the cellar stairs...
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