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The Devil's Dictionary [with Biographical Introduction] Kindle Edition

79 customer reviews

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Kindle, March 30, 2004
Unknown Binding
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Length: 417 pages

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Editorial Reviews


Satiric lexicon by Ambrose Bierce, first compiled as The Cynic's Word Book in 1906 and reissued under the author's preferred title five years later. The barbed definitions that Bierce began publishing in the Wasp, a weekly journal he edited in San Francisco from 1881 to 1886, brought this 19th-century stock form to a new level of artistry. Employing a terse, aphoristic style, Bierce lampooned social, professional, and religious convention, as in his definitions for bore--"A person who talks when you wish him to listen"; architect--"One who drafts a plan of your house, and plans a draft of your money"; and saint--"A dead sinner revised and edited." Many of the entries include "authenticating" citations from spurious scholarly sources. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature


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.

Product Details

  • File Size: 456 KB
  • Print Length: 417 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1847027911
  • Publisher: (March 30, 2004)
  • Publication Date: March 30, 2004
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC1CO6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,187,782 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

114 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Roger Zeus on December 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Since Amazon doesn't give a complete listing of the contents, I thought I would. Hopefully somebody might find this of use:


A Horseman in the Sky
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
A Son of the Gods
One of the Missing
Killed at Resaca
The Affair at Coulter's Notch
The Coup de Grâce
Parker Adderson, Philosopher
An Affair of Outposts
The Story of a Conscience
One Kind of Officer
One Officer, One Man
George Thurston
The Mocking-Bird

The Man Out of the Nose
An Adventure at Brownville
The Famous Gilson Bequest
The Applicant
A Watcher by the Dead
The Man and the Snake
A Holy Terror
The Suitable Surroundings
The Boarded Window
A Lady from Red Horse
The Eyes of the Panther


Can Such Things Be?
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72 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on August 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
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.Read more ›
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By robert johnston on October 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a can't miss treat for the literary or the civil war buff. Give it as a gift if you want to be remembered.

Bierce is a strange, haunting writer. He comes directly to us in this printing as unedited and sans commentary. Bierce's heavy burden from a rather severe Civil War post-traumatic stress disorder is central to his writings. His `Devil's Dictionary' is frequently quoted but it may do Bierce an injustice as a sort of typecasting to be considered without exploring the full dimensions of the prolific writer in his time and place.

Bierce can be accessed online. The power of Bierce's work for me is captured in his short essay "A Son of the Gods". If you've not sampled Bierce before, give this one a try. It's among those in this collection. It's a rare author that can pull a tear and possess the readers mind's eye. Ambrose Bierce is an author who seizes on simple moments to create a stunning story.

Bierce is a 19th century socio-rhetorical everyman, however, at core, he's like no other witness of the times. His post war stories on the quirks of his San Francisco newspaper beat are thoroughly entertaining. Bierce writes on many topics with an acerbic and cynical tone and elsewhere he writes as a man forged by discipline and fire. He can be genteel. He can be over the top. He can be moving and empathetic. He can be rough as a cob. There is an essential human reflection to be considered in every tale. In the 21st century, his word choices and usage are `quaint' but quite readable although you cannot escape a feeling that already, some meaning is overcome by the intervening 150 years. I'd wager that in another hundred years his material will need a `modern translation' as language moves on.
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