Ambrose Bierce might best be described as the forgotten man these days, but in his time, he wielded an amazing amount of journalistic power. He lambasted one and all in his editorial columns, usually based in San Francisco, in the late 1800’s and his “Devil’s Dictionary” is still quoted often today.
Having served in the Union Army during the Civil War, many of his short stories were based on his experiences and viewpoints of the battles at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Kennesaw Mountain. While they were fiction, aspects of Bierce himself and his macabre view of humanity always shined though. (Many of his short stories are available online here.)
Cantankerous, cynical, morbid and just plain unhappy with how his life turned out, Ambrose Bierce disappeared in 1914 on a supposed trip to see what the deal was with the Mexican Revolution. One day he just stopped writing and no one heard from him again. Several searches were launched and scholars/investigators are still puzzled to where he ended up to this day. There is even speculation that the trip to Mexico was a hoax and he actually committed suicide in the Grand Canyon.
Back to the biography- Just 4 years of Bierce’s life was spent fighting the Civil War, yet Morris devoted over 100 pages of a 270 page book to his experiences in it. While I understand that Bierce’s talent was his short stories based on the war, so the time spent in it was important, slogging through 100 pages of battle history was really unnecessary to get a good idea of the man.
Especially since the author himself added at the end that Bierce was pretty much the same morbid guy that he was at the beginning of the war!
Other than that, the book left me with a better understanding of a man that was pretty much misunderstood in his time. Isn’t that what a biography is for?
Ambrose Bierce, Alone in Bad Company
by Roy Morris, JR.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (March 25, 1999)