“Ambrose Bierce,” says the Publisher’s Note to Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary (Peter pauper Press, 1958), “was an angry young man who got angrier as he grew older,” and I think that any author who can be described with a line like that deserves a chance to be read. Not all angry old authors are worth reading, of course, but so many of the old authors worth reading are indeed angry that your chances are probably better with angry than with otherwise.
Bierce’s dictionary is exactly what it purports to be: a dictionary, only its definitions are characterized primarily by irony, cynicism, ridicule, contempt, bitterness, anger, and a good deal of wit. It is nothing more than this, but if your sense of humour leans in this direction, which mine absolutely does, The Devil’s Dictionary should give you an hour or two of entertainment.
Let me offer a few examples:
Abstainer, n. A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure.
Cynic, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be.
Discussion, n. A method of confirming others in their errors.
Impunity, n. Wealth.
Presidency, n. The greased pig in the field of American politics.
Wheat, n. A cereal from which a tolerably good whiskey can with some difficulty be made, and which is used also for bread.
I like that last one particularly.