Monday, October 22, 2007


The Book: Ambrose Bierce, THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY. Castle Books facsimile reprint, 1967. Book is missing dust jacket, otherwise in very good condition; pages are slightly brown with age. Resale price of $2.75 marked in pencil on front flyleaf.
First read: 1982 (approximately)
Owned since: 1987 (best guess)

It's funny how you can create a memory. I think I remember reading this in the guest room of the house I lived in the year after I got out of college, but it's entirely possible that I made that memory up. I know I bought it used, and I might have bought it in San Francisco -- but if that's true, it didn't happen until 1990.

Anyway, it's another one of those books that should be on every voting American's shelf. Ambrose Bierce (1842-c.1914) was a Civil War veteran and columnist for William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. His columns often included a satirical definition of some term he had used, and these definitions were collected into The Cynic's Word Book in 1906.

Subsequent editions of the book were renamed The Devil's Dictionary, and it might not be overstating things to say that The Devil's Dictionary is the direct ancestor of all of our modern political humorists, from Stephen Colbert to Bill Maher.

It's a book to keep around and dip into at intervals, not to read at one sitting. Bierce, like many comics, was an angry man, and some of the entries in The Devil's Dictionary are bitter, even mean.

But a lot of it is just as accurate today as it was 100 years ago.
LIFE, n. A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay. We live in daily apprehension of its loss; yet when lost it is not missed. The question, "Is life worth living?" has been much discussed; particularly by those who think it is not, many of whom have written at great length in support of their view and by careful observance of the laws of health enjoyed for long terms of years the honors of successful controversy.

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