I have two articles in the current issue of National Review. The first is on my visit with Dan Quayle, based on a trip earlier this month to Quayle headquarters in Arizona. The other, written before Christmas but held until now, is on the 19th-century writer Ambrose Bierce. Technically, it’s a book review of the Library of America’s new edition of Bierce’s greatest hits, but it’s really more of an appreciation of a great author. The opening sentence is an attempt to imitate the kind of opening sentence Bierce might have written for one of his short stories, followed by a few crowd-pleasing quips from his masterpiece of cynicism.
Everything changed for Ambrose Bierce the day he was shot in the head. At least that’s one theory about how a bright young man from Horse Cave Creek in Ohio went on to become his generation’s leading cynic. This was the guy, after all, who gave us The Devil’s Dictionary, which defined “PEACE” as “a period of cheating between two periods of fighting” and “WAR” as “a by-product of the arts of peace.” People still snicker over “MARRIAGE, n.: The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two.”