Times Literary Supplement
The Unabridged Devil's Dictionaryby Ambrose Bierce
Known as a hero for his actions in the American Civil War, Bierce distinguished himself later in life as a barbed commentator who would turn his ire to all sorts of topics. Today, most of his journalism and opinion pieces are/b>
Ambrose Bierce's classic collection of witty and satirical asides, arranged alphabetically as a dictionary, is presented here in full.
Known as a hero for his actions in the American Civil War, Bierce distinguished himself later in life as a barbed commentator who would turn his ire to all sorts of topics. Today, most of his journalism and opinion pieces are consigned to obscurity. Lasting fame however was gained from the Devil's Dictionary; wherein Bierce redefines popular terms in a deeply sardonic, even bitter, manner.
Bierce had a painful experience fighting, where he lay wounded for hours upon a hellish battlefield. He watched men slaughter one another like animals, and this horrific experience changed his outlook forever: Bierce viewed mankind and life through a cynical lens, and it was this outlook that lost him many friends. He achieved final notoriety when, in 1913, he disappeared without trace and was never found.
The Devil's Dictionary is, as the title suggests, full of dark and devilish humor. For instance, it describes the Adam's Apple as a "protuberance on the throat of a man, thoughtfully provided by Nature to keep the rope in place." and marriage as a "state of temporary insanity only cured by the passage of time."
Such brief, cutting asides are perfect for occasional reference, when one is in the mood for dark wit. Underpinned by brevity and a keen sense of the ironic, this book is a satiric masterwork and a perfect introduction to the author. Few of the definitions feel dated or rooted in their time: Bierce composed his satirical dictionary over decades in the late-19th and early 20th century. Later writers such as H. L. Mencken admired and took inspiration from Bierce's many barbs, and he remains admired to this day.
Times Literary Supplement
Bierce was America's first realist writer, but, unlike realism's later practitioners, he knew something about realityit's really funny.
This carefully edited manuscript will add immeasurably to Bierce studies.
This is a work of genuinely impressive scholarship and will undoubtedly become the authoritative text for Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary.
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').
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.
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Meet the Author
Ambrose Bierce (1842 -1914) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist and satirist. Today, he is best known for his short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and his satirical dictionary, The Devil's Dictionary. The sardonic view of human nature that informed his work - along with his vehemence as a critic - earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce". Despite his reputation as a searing critic, however, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including poet George Sterling and fiction writer W. C. Morrow. Bierce employed a distinctive style of writing, especially in his stories. This style often includes a cold open, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, the theme of war, and impossible events. In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain a firsthand perspective on that country's ongoing revolution. While traveling with rebel troops, the elderly writer disappeared without a trace.
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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.