The Devil’s Dictionary

Naxos. Jul. 2023. 8:49 hrs. ISBN 9781781984666. $27. LIT
Journalist Bierce’s (1842–c. 1914) one-of-a-kind satirical dictionary features over 1,000 barbed entries challenging listeners to reexamine words and their social implications. The work was first published as installments in magazines and newspapers (including The Wasp, which Bierce edited from 1881 to 1886); this audio version combines the 1911 edition with additions from Bierce’s 1875 “Demon’s Dictionary” column. Mixing poignancy and insight with bracing commentary, Bierce’s satire takes a humorous, disapproving view of politics, religion, social systems, race, gender, and history. The author delights in pointing out his foibles and those of editors, lexicographers, and others in the publishing world. References are steeped in the history, mores, and values of the 19th and early 20th centuries, some of which may seem mean-spirited and even offensive to modern listeners. Unfortunately, while the original columns held wit and weight, the combined entries become redundant and even tiresome when heard as a whole. Narrator Robert G. Slade offers a skillful presentation with the aplomb and timing of a comedian and hints toward the tongue-in-cheek nature of the definitions and quotes.
VERDICT Despite the audiobook’s excellent quality and undeniable jocularity, this is a supplemental purchase; best where interest in historical satire, debate, and cutting humor is high.
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