The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary

The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary

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by Ambrose Bierce

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If we could only put aside our civil pose and say what we really thought, the world would be a lot like the one alluded to in The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary. There, a bore is “a person who talks when you wish him to listen,” and happiness is “an agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.” This is…  See more details below


If we could only put aside our civil pose and say what we really thought, the world would be a lot like the one alluded to in The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary. There, a bore is “a person who talks when you wish him to listen,” and happiness is “an agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another.” This is the most comprehensive, authoritative edition ever of Ambrose Bierce’s satiric masterpiece. It renders obsolete all other versions that have appeared in the book’s ninety-year history.

A virtual onslaught of acerbic, confrontational wordplay, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary offers some 1,600 wickedly clever definitions to the vocabulary of everyday life. Little is sacred and few are safe, for Bierce targets just about any pursuit, from matrimony to immortality, that allows our willful failings and excesses to shine forth.

This new edition is based on David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi’s exhaustive investigation into the book’s writing and publishing history. All of Bierce’s known satiric definitions are here, including previously uncollected, unpublished, and alternative entries. Definitions dropped from previous editions have been restored while nearly two hundred wrongly attributed to Bierce have been excised. For dedicated Bierce readers, an introduction and notes are also included.

Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary is a classic that stands alongside the best work of satirists such as Twain, Mencken, and Thurber. This unabridged edition will be celebrated by humor fans and word lovers everywhere.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Bierce was America's first realist writer, but, unlike realism's later practitioners, he knew something about reality—it's really funny."--P.J. O'Rourke

"This carefully edited manuscript will add immeasurably to Bierce studies."--Joseph B. McCullough, University of Nevada-Las Vegas

"This is a work of genuinely impressive scholarship and will undoubtedly become the authoritative text for Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary."--Thomas V. Quirk, University of Missouri-Columbia

"Splendidly produced."--London Times Literary Supplement

"Most readers and biographers have agreed with Schultz and Joshi that The Devil's Dictionary is 'quintessential Bierce.' For the serious student of Bierce's diabolical lexicon, their beautiful new edition . . . will be a delight."--Sewanee Review

“A compilation of all of Bierce's satirical definitions published over a forty-year period, this latest version of the Dictionary ('A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic') merits a wide readership both within and without the Academy ('A modern school where football is taught').”--American Literary Review

Peter Reading
The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary incorporates an informative appendix, a set of notes, a list of the first ovvurences of definitions, a bibliography and a comprehensive index. However, it is to the compiler's own text that the reader's attention should gravitate.
Times Literary Supplement

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University of Georgia Press
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Unabridged Devil's Dictionary 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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By Bill Marsano. The Tiny Giants of American literature were The New Yorker magazine writers E.B. White, James Thurber and Wolcott Gibbs. Tiny for the sin of not writing Great American Novels; Giants for superb prose and wit. There were Tiny Giants in the 19th Century, too--Lafcadio Hearn and Ambrose Bierce come to mind; Bierce especially because of this complete edition, which contains much that abridged editions omit. (One worthy abridgment, published by Bloomsbury, has the cartoonist Ralph Steadman's peerless art of darkness and a good thumbnail introduction by the writer Angus Calder.) After serving with the Union in the Civil War Bierce turned to newspapering in San Francisco, where his columns were the beginnings of his Dictionary. Many people make up humorous definitions occasionally and some are actually funny, but Bierce is I think unique in quantity and quality. Admittedly, some entries are dated and others weak or self-indulgent, but Bierce sometimes beats Oscar Wilde to what Dickens said Americans called 'sky-blue fits.' Bierce once reviewed a book by saying its covers were 'too far apart,' and there are freshness and insightful in such entries as 'Bride, n. A woman with a great future behind her,' and 'Ultimatum, n. In diplomacy, a last demand before resorting to concessions.' And 'Corporation, n. An ingenious device for securing individual profit without individual responsibility.' (Enron, anyone? Tyco?) My favorite: 'Alone, adj. In bad company.' Keep this book on your nightstand; dip into it now and then and soon you'll want more by Bierce. His tales of the supernatural are as perfect as Poe's for lonely, late-night terrors, but the first to buy would be 'Phantoms of a Blood-Stained Period' (University of Massachusetts Press), in which editors Russell Duncan and David J. Klooster collect Bierce's war stories, memoirs, letters and even battlefield maps (and offer a superb introduction, too). The only important American writer to serve in the Civil War, Bierce fought in such slaughterous battles as Shiloh and Chickamauga. He spent almost four years at bayonet level, was repeatedly cited for bravery and was nearly killed at Kennesaw Mountain. Years later, goaded by the national taste for romanticizing and sentimentalizing the war, he began writing what he knew from red experience: that war was unspeakable, a nightmare of stupidity, brutality and murder. His is the first fiction to treat war realistically; his descriptive powers are frightening and horrific. He defied the public mood, which favored the kind of prose anthems to glory that would culminate in the gaudy claptrap of 'Gone With the Wind.' The war scarred him ('Ambrose Bierce the youth,' he once said, 'is dead') and later his life held tragedy and ended in mystery. In 1913 he headed across the border to Revolutionary Mexico (the episode is recounted in the 1989 movie 'The Old Gringo'). He was seeking 'the good, kind darkness'--read combat-induced suicide--and was never heard from again.--Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor.