4 out of 4 stars
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Have you grown weary of corporate doublespeak that feigns concern for your best interest? Do you find yourself talking back to the evening news that lauds yet another shyster politician? Are you still "recovering" from the fallout of the subprime mortgage scheme? Do you agree with the bumper sticker that argues "if you are not outraged, then you are not paying attention"? If so, then you are going to love A New Devil's Dictionary: Lexicon for Contrarians, by British author Nicholas T. Parsons.
It is an astute and witty, albeit cynical look at popular catch phrases and "correct" terminology such as "Aid to Third World Governments", "Cognitive Dissonance" and "Intelligent Life". In Mr. Parsons' own words this work "has been conceived as a disrespectful guide to the manipulative rhetoric of journalists, politicians, plausible PR men, bankers, businessmen and (last but not least) academics." (P.xi)
Inspired by American author Ambrose Bierce's 1906 work originally called The Cynic's Wordbook (the 1911 edition of which was titled The Devil's Dictionary), this collection of irreverent definitions is just over 540 pages long. It is not a text you would want to read from cover to cover in one sitting, but it is a great coffee table book that you could peruse on occasion. You would also do well to keep it on your nightstand for those times when you need a humorous look at the crazy, upside down, inside out and backwards world we live in. It's one of those books you can read about the real world that will help you laugh so you are not always in tears.
Most of the entries include a short, one-sentence definition followed by a longer explanation, with real world examples and histories by way of illustration. Some definitions are quite short, for example "Fun: First three letters of the word 'funeral'". (P.184) Others are much longer, like the entry for "Iconoclasm" which covers nearly six pages with its description. (P.232) There are also discussions of public figures both historical and contemporary. From David Hume to Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett to Kim Jong Il, Dan Quayle to Paul Theroux, Mr. Parsons opens readers' eyes to facts of which they may have been previously unaware. There are also some illustrations included that add interest.
A few of my favorite entries in the dictionary are "Addiction", in which economic exploitation is discussed, "Aid to Third World Governments", described as "a process by which poor people in rich countries give money to rich people in poor countries" (P.4), and "Political Correctness", which Mr. Parsons argues has now become "a blackmailing methodology for suppressing the views of people you happen to disagree with" (P.369).
I rate A New Devil's Dictionary: Lexicon for Contrarians 4 out of 4 stars. It is educational, entertaining and well-thought out. It appears to be professionally edited and includes copious interesting (and entertaining) footnotes that add credibility. The details in the footnotes are further elaborated in dictionary entries. Readers may need a regular English dictionary to decipher some of the language, but this by no means takes away from the enjoyment of the book. Having read the electronic version, I would love a hard copy of this title for my home. You will too. Check it out.
A New Devil's Dictionary
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