Books: Nothing Matters

AMBROSE BIERCE (349 pp.) —Paul Fatout—University of Oklahoma ($4).

In the late 1860s, two things were sure to make San Franciscans sit up and take notice. One was easy gold, the other an acid writing man named Ambrose Bierce. The easy gold was usually illusory, but Bierce went on tapping a virgin lode of venom that lasted 40-odd years.

In that time, he became one of America's most brilliant journalists, sharpest wits and sourest cynics. His quarry was "conglomerate man . . . a tangled wad of rattlesnakes thawing and reeking in the Spring sunlight." Purdue University's Paul Fatout has uncoiled the...

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