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The Devil's Dictionary (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – Unabridged, May 20, 1993

4.4 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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About the Author

Journalist, short story writer, and satirist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) was equally adept in a variety of genres, from ghost stories to poetry to political commentary. Bierce's fiction is particularly distinguished by its realistic depictions of the author's Civil War experiences.
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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Thrift Editions
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; Reprint edition (May 20, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486275426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486275420
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Matthew Schenker VINE VOICE on June 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
I first acquired this book about five years ago, after reading Bierce's fictional works. I could not put it down. You don't read this book sequentially, but rather it is a book to leaf through, stopping where you find a word that interests you. With the format of a dictionary, Bierce sets up the look and feel of the official word, which is what we expect from a dictionary. Then, reading the definitions, you at first think, "Bierce is being a wise guy." But after a few more definitions, you realize that Bierce is actually delivering a concise treatise on Western Culture by giving you a shot-by-shot commentary, using as his basis the essential element of any society -- its language. Birece may not have realized it when he wrote the book, but The Devil's Dictionary aligns with some 21st-century literary experimentations with concise presentation, irony, and non-linear exploration. Even reading it non-linearly, however, you soon find you've read every entry in the book. Then, of course, you'll want to start again...
My favorites are the definitions pertaining to religion.
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Format: Paperback
'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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was first published in 1911. Most of Bierce's definitions still hold just as true today as they did then.
My two favorites are:
IMPIETY: n. Your irreverence toward my deity.
IMPOSTER: n., A rival aspirant to public honors.
I enjoy perusing this book and then sharing my findings with friends - who also enjoy it.
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Format: Paperback
Disregarding all euphemism and sense of decency, Ambrose Bierce manages to achieve in this thin volume a complete overhaul of the English language. While a few definitions miss the mark here and there, this collection is, on the whole, full of wit, insight, and vintage macabre humor. Some of the best -- "FRIENDLESS: having no favors to bestow, destitute of fortune, addicted to utterance of truth and common sense"; "BIRTH: the first and direst of all disasters"; "FAITH: belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel." Unlike other authors more concerned with propriety and cultivating good taste, Bierce understands the corrupt comedy of human existence and would prefer to laugh as the world burns. It is easy to see why H.L. Mencken loved him so.
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By A Customer on March 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
A classic that should be read by everyone. Many will hate it but it's a part of every American's heritage -- and probably more relevant in some ways today than when it was written a hundred years ago. Bierce was the only noted American writer who actually fought in the Civil War. All the other notables -- like Mark Twain -- dodged the draft. So for many years Bierce was the only major American writer who'd actually experienced the blood and guts of actual combat. He ended up a bitter man -- but the questions he raises are good ones. And he does it with a wit that is seldom seen in writing today.
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Format: Paperback
A major selling point of this book is the poetry that leavens it with sarcasm. It also exemplifies how little politics etc. changes from one century to another. So much remains applicable! Also a handy reference for cutting quotations.
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some samples: advice: the smallest current coin; brute: see husband; cannibal: a gastronome of the old school; court fool: the plaintiff; distance: one thing the rich allow the poor to call theirs and keep; enough: all there is in the world if you like it; guillotine: a device at which the French shrug with good reason; hash: no definition -- no one knows what hash is; hearse: Death's baby-carriage; ocean: an expanse of water covering c 2/3 of a world designed for humans, who have no gills; omen: a sign that something will happen if nothing happens; USA Presidency: the greased pig in the field of USA politics ¶ this is a witty, insightful collection to be read in spare moments, not all at once. ¶ this Dover Thrift Edition is well produced in c 8pt type, small but clear; some negative reviews here must allude to lesser productions. ¶ Bierce's macabre short stories are no laughing matter. I highly recommend those also -- not only `An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' but his oeuvre.
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