Ambrose Bierce is one of the most underappreciated writers in history. Although a peer of Mark Twain’s, his works have not received the same level of scrutiny and appreciation as Mr. Clemens, which is a shame. Obviously, being a pseudo-dictionary, there really is not a plot or story to summarize within The Devil’s Dictionary. What is there is insight, cultural commentary and a wit so biting it could cleave armor. The edition that I have also includes illustrations by the brilliant Ralph Steadman who takes the descriptions of various words such as “fool” or “hag” and provides a visual interpretation to the irreverence of Bierce’s words.
Allow me to provide a quote from the work so you have a sense of what it is like “Circus – a place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool”. And that is simply a taste. Bierce forces us to confront the absurdities in our society, in our everyday lives and to ask ourselves, can we do better? The best writers do not just tell us what we want to hear but force us to confront those aspects of our lives that may need to change but which we never even looked at critically before and Bierce succeeds in this. Plus, the guy is also really funny. Highly recommended