A sardonically cynical dictionary inspired by the work of Ambrose Bierce.
Bierce’s early-20th-century lexicon The Devil’s Dictionary wasn’t the first attempt to marry definitions and satire, but it was among the most influential. Newman’s debut effort is inspired by that work, particularly its entry for “LOOKING-GLASS”: “A vitreous plane upon which to display a fleeting show for man’s disillusion given.” The author certainly seems to share Bierce’s ubiquitous misanthropy and also emulates his sarcastic delivery. His book is clearly not intended to be an exhaustive resource but a whimsical collection of witticisms. He amplifies many definitions with historical or literary quotations and doesn’t display any obviously political perspective; in fact, Newman equally distributes his mockery among all partisan persuasions: “Left (noun) Politically, distinguished from the Right. Each wants to wreck the country in their own way and will fight each other to do so.” The entries can be deliciously clever, and even some of the pithier ones warrant a chuckle, such as “DNA (noun) A barcode used by God.” The overarching theme, as the author explains in a brief preface, is the resuscitation of philosophical doubt—an intellectual comportment that he believes has fallen out of favor in the modern era. Although his dictionary delivers more than its fair share of droll moments, Newman has a tendency to prioritize snide irascibility over cleverness: “Wrestle (verb) A way of fighting, as Fatso wrestling with his cheeseburger and fries. A battle to the death!” In some cases, the entries simply seem mean, with no apparent attempt at comedy: “Celebrity (noun) Someone famous. A blister on the skin of Humanity.” Also, there are errors; for example, the definition for “Alliteration” apparently confuses the term with “onomatopoeia.” Furthermore, it would have been helpful if Newman had shared his concerns about the diminishment of doubt at greater length. Without a well-articulated theme to tie the entries together, the book reads like a mere catalog of quips, united only by a general causticity.
A funny but thematically scattered and sometimes overly scornful work.