Literature, Reviews.

Cynicism of the highest order

Book Book Review, Title The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary, Author Ambrose Bierce, Rating 4.5, Cynicism of the highest order

The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce

Book Review

Ambrose Bierce is one of America's most celebrated cynics, along with Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken, and others too various to mention. His Devil's Dictionary provides ample dollops of irony, much of it directed seemingly at others while instead pointing directly at one's self.

His sometimes brilliant aphorisms are centered around a mocking self-awareness in the guise of off-angle dictionary definitions. Bierce brings a sharp focus on the unending human capacity for self-regard and self-denial.

His cynicism is deep but not bitter, and is all the more accessible as it feels that he is writing to ‘correct’ himself first and foremost. It is perhaps a less bloody and much more witty version of the young Luther scourging and purging himself.

Here is a sampling: Welcome to Ambrose Bierce’s world.


Ambrose Bierce, by J. H. E. Partington. PD-US.


Absurdity, n. A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion.

Acknowledge, v.t. To confess. Acknowledgement of one another’s faults is the highest duty imposed by our love of truth.

Acquaintance, n. A person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to.

Admiration, n. Our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.

Bore, n. A person who talks when you wish him to listen.

Calamity, n. Calamities are of two kinds: misfortunes to ourselves, and good fortune to others.

Callous, adj. Gifted with the great fortitude to bear the evils afflicting another.

Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

Politeness, n. The most acceptable hypocrisy.

Politics, n. Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.

Positive: To be mistaken at the top of one’s voice.

Quotation, n. The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.

Note: The full dictionary is available online, courtesy of the University of Virginia.

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