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VINE VOICEon August 26, 2001
Beginning in 1881 and continuing to 1906, Ambrose Bierce created a series of sardonic word definitions of his own. Many of these were collected and published as The Cynic's Word Book, which he later protested was "a name which the author had not the power to reject or happiness to approve." So in 1911, he pulled together a collection that was more to his own liking and called it The Devil's Dictionary. The entries are a tad uneven in quality, but most are amusing and some are great. Each reader will have his own favorites, some of mine are as follows : ACQUAINTANCE, n. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to. A degree of friendship called slight when its object is poor or obscure, and intimate when he is rich or famous. ALLIANCE, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other's pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third. BIGOT, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain. BORE, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen. CONSULT, v.i. To seek another's disapproval of a course already decided on. 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. 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. DISCRIMINATE, v.i. To note the particulars in which one person or thing is, if possible, more objectionable than another. EDUCATION, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding. FUTURE, n. That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured. HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.... A member of a large and powerful tribe whose influence in human affairs has always been dominant and controlling... He has the last word in everything; his decision is unappealable. He sets the fashions and opinion of taste, dictates the limitations of speech and circumscribes conduct with a dead-line. POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. And, my choice for the very best among them : CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others. By all means, read it and pick out your own; you're sure to find a few that tickle your fancy. GRADE : A
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on January 11, 2004
The Bloomsbury edition illustrated by Ralph Steadman is ABRIDGED. Do not purchase unless you are buying it for the drawings.
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on March 13, 2005
I'd skip this and purchase the UNABRIDGED version. Some of the definitions left out in this version are among Bierce's best. Also, the complete work is not so long: no reason to abridge something that in full length is only 100 or so pages long.
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on October 15, 1999
Bierce's misanthropy and glorious cynicism remain a breath of fresh air, never having lost their ring of truth for the better part of a century. His aversion for hypocrisy, formal education (He was of humble origins and self-educated), and religious self-righteousness are appropriately barbed. His disillusionment with concepts such as patriotism ("The first refuge of a scoundrel"), are particularly interesting, considering his rural midwestern upbringing and heroic service in the Civil War. The most consistent and I think interesting theme throughout this volume is his disdain for the institution of marriage. Long before marriage was seen by many as a burden and divorce became unstigmatized and commonplace, Bierce's definition seems prophetic for his time: "An institution consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all two."
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on December 23, 1999
Ambrose Bierce was a man of many distinctions - writer, journalist, humorist, and Civil War veteran. We all remember reading his classic story "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge" in eighth grade English class. Bierce is best known for his ghoulish horror tales, which were on a par with Edgar Allan Poe, but his greatest work was The Devil's Dictionary. A scathing parody of Webster's dictionary, Bierce's volume was a showcase for his brilliant, caustic wit. This is Bierce at his best, mixing comedy with social commentary, unleashing his anarchistic convictions to the hilt! Bierce blasts away at God and country and all that is respected and proper. He defines patriot as "the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors", a Conservative as "a statesman who is enamored of existing evils" and a clergyman as "a man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones" and so on. Nothing is sacred and no one is safe in this classic work of 19th century American literature which continues to attract just as much controversy and outrage today as it did when it was first published. A must read for all students of literature, dissenters, and fans of caustic humor!
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on May 9, 1998
For those who enjoy dark, cynical humor - I'm talking about painfully, exquisitely brutal wit, the kind where innocent bystanders can get hit by the shrapnel, this is probably the best book you've never heard of. His use of English as both an artistic medium and a weapon is almost unrivaled, though British greats John Cleese and Douglas Adams often evoke some of his elegance and economy of wording. His writing style often may seem dated to modern readers, and sometimes the references completely pass us by, but the majority of the book is both timeless and of the choicest quality.
"Magpie - a bird whose thievish disposition suggested to someone that it might be taught to talk."
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on June 14, 2010
This edition lacks in quality, IN SPADES. It's as though someone found a digital copy of Bierce's dictionary, selected all, pasted that into a Word document, drove to Kinkos, and printed out a few copies. There is no pagination, no entry breaks. The "introduction" runs into the first definition.

Don't be fooled--like I was--by the cover "art": it's merely a very low-res image of faux leather. I regret that I assumed the art work to be an attempt at a modern, clean look. It's not, it's just helvetica and a low res JPG. What a bummer. And for the price of a hardcover too. Jeez.
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on December 18, 2010
One may read all the content online. A preference for unindexed browsing in print may motivate the purchase of a hard copy, but the quality of this offering is so poor, I recommend against it. Its formatting is so awful and distracting, no used bookstore would accept it. It is unreadable. I recycled it in frustration.
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on June 28, 2013
Warning: This dictionary isn't for the faint of heart or for those easily offended.

If you can get past that, you're in for a real treat. Ambrose "Bitter" Bierce has constructed a dictionary from a particularly nefarious point-of-view, and it is hilarious! His word choices for his dictionary are clever and idiosyncratic, as are his uses of archaic words (even in his own time), his actual neologisms, and his accompanying poetry for words, all written by different, mysterious pseudonyms. He completely dismisses the letter "X" and refuses to put down any word beginning with that letter. Why? You'll see. But it is his definitions for his words that make this little volume a classic.

A typical definition of one of the words in this dictionary usually begins with a staggeringly trenchant one-liner that, in just a few words, is as funny and cutting as any political cartoon you could see in any paper or any routine delivered by a comedian. These one-liners are the real gems of the book; they will stick in your head and make you laugh, often laughing at yourself or some cherished notion of yours. That is truly great satire, and folks, that is hard to find anywhere. These lines are so pithy and clever that they are much more effective than an op-ed in any publication that drones on about some group or idea the journalist hates. Sometimes, you may have to read Bierce's definitions a few times to get the joke, but when you get it, it's always worth it.

Some of these definitions are only pithy one-liners because to add anything more to them would be to try to improve on perfection. But if you want more, sometimes Bierce gives it to you in a wry, brief description of the word's origins (he has fun with etymologies, for sure) and history. And many times he will then slide into some wise and funny poetry using the word.
This style of writing suits all types of readers; if you are of the "I only read the first line and then check my cell phone" generation, you'll be plenty happy with the first part of the definition. If you are not of that generation and enjoy further reading, it's often there as an added bonus.

Another facet of the book that makes it stupendous to read even in our day is that Bierce shied away from talking about topical issues limited to his day in most cases and instead wrote definitions for humankind in general, and that makes this dictionary timeless. Humanity takes it in the shorts in this book, often in a sardonic yet funny way. And as with all truly great satire, the ones who take the punishment the most and hardest are the most powerful people in society (or the ones who think they are the most powerful in society). As a result, Bierce attacks with special bile politicians, financiers, bankers, titans of industry, and theologians. If you happen to be in one of these groups, chances are you may not like this book. But the rest of the 99% will.

In terms of hilarious and cutting satire from great American writers, I can think only of Twain who was as mean, funny, and wise all at the same time. Bierce is an underappreciated writer. If you can get past that initial warning I gave you, please give this one a try.
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on June 11, 2012
This version is Abridged--so beware unless that is what you were originally looking for. I don't know why somebody would abridge this wonderful classic.
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