Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Review-The Devil's Dictionary (Originally Published 1911) by Ambrose Bierce, Illustrated by Ralph Steadman

Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Bierce was a very interesting guy. Born in Ohio in 1842, Mr. Bierce fought in the Civil War, was a writer, a journalist and a social critic.

On a recent visit to New Orleans with my wife Tammy, my Brother Tim and my Sister-in-Law Cindy I discovered a great little bookstore called Faulkner House Books in Pirates Alley in the French Quarter.

A book immediately caught my eye as I entered the bookstore. Probably because I immediately recognized the cover illustration as the work of Ralph Steadman (probably best known for his illustrations in Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"). The Devil's Dictionary (this version being published in 2003) is a compilation of Ambrose Bierce's own definitions of particular English words, meant to lampoon the social and political norms of his day. He had published these definitions in various newspaper columns he had written, and they proved to be very popular at the time

The original edition of the book was published in 1911, two years before Ambrose Bierce decided, at the age of 71, to go to Mexico to observe the revolutionary war going on there. He was never seen again. I am going to have to find a biography of Mr. Bierce, as his life is the stuff of legend. In addition, the stories of his involvement with the powerful newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst would also be an interesting read.

The Devil's Dictionary is a short and very funny book. Many of the definitions in the book are as effective in lampooning society today as they were over 100 years ago. Ralph Steadman's illustrations enhance the book even further, putting an creative exclamation point on many of the entries in the book.

Some of my favorite entries:

Influence, n. In politics, a visionary quo given in exchange for a substantial quid.

Piano, n. A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.

Faulkner House Books' Sign, French Quarter, New Orleans
Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. 

The Devil's Dictionary is one of those wonderful "finds" that makes exploring bookstores so very worthwhile.

The Devil's DictionaryThe Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I reviewed this on my blog Jiresell Thoughts on April 5th, 2011 http://jiresell.blogspot.com/2011/04/boo...

View all my reviews

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