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A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripleyby Neal Thompson
Synopses & Reviews
A Curious Man is the marvelously compelling biography of Robert “Believe It or Not” Ripley, the enigmatic cartoonist turned globetrotting millionaire who won international fame by celebrating the world's strangest oddities, and whose outrageous showmanship taught us to believe in the unbelievable.
As portrayed by acclaimed biographer Neal Thompson, Ripley’s life is the stuff of a classic American fairy tale. Buck-toothed and cursed by shyness, Ripley turned his sense of being an outsider into an appreciation for the strangeness of the world. After selling his first cartoon to Time magazine at age eighteen, more cartooning triumphs followed, but it was his “Believe It or Not” conceit and the wildly popular radio shows it birthed that would make him one of the most successful entertainment figures of his time and spur him to search the globe’s farthest corners for bizarre facts, exotic human curiosities, and shocking phenomena.
Ripley delighted in making outrageous declarations that somehow always turned out to be true—such as that Charles Lindbergh was only the sixty-seventh man to fly across the Atlantic or that “The Star Spangled Banner” was not the national anthem. Assisted by an exotic harem of female admirers and by ex-banker Norbert Pearlroth, a devoted researcher who spoke eleven languages, Ripley simultaneously embodied the spirit of Peter Pan, the fearlessness of Marco Polo and the marketing savvy of P. T. Barnum.
In a very real sense, Ripley sought to remake the world’s aesthetic. He demanded respect for those who were labeled “eccentrics” or “freaks”—whether it be E. L. Blystone, who wrote 1,615 alphabet letters on a grain of rice, or the man who could swallow his own nose.
By the 1930s Ripley possessed a vast fortune, a private yacht, and a twenty-eight room mansion stocked with such “oddities” as shrunken heads and medieval torture devices, and his pioneering firsts in print, radio, and television were tapping into something deep in the American consciousness—a taste for the titillating and exotic, and a fascination with the fastest, biggest, dumbest and most weird. Today, that legacy continues and can be seen in reality TV, YouTube, America’s Funniest Home Videos, Jackass, MythBusters and a host of other pop-culture phenomena.
In the end Robert L. Ripley changed everything. The supreme irony of his life, which was dedicated to exalting the strange and unusual, is that he may have been the most amazing oddity of all.
"Robert Ripley was as unique and fascinating as the 'Believe It or Not' newspaper feature that made him one of the most popular and widely read syndicated cartoonists in the country during the 1930s, and Thompson (Hurricane Season) delivers an equally fascinating biography that captures the influence of Ripley's work life then and now, well into the age of television and the Internet. A slight, bucktoothed, and 'socially timid' youth growing up in Santa Rosa, Calif., Ripley's main interests were baseball and drawing caricatures of his classmates and teachers. He moved after high school to San Francisco to draw for the city's main newspapers, first the Bulletin and then the Chronicle. Thompson presents a vivid portrait of the city's hotbed of cartoonists who were 'taking the concept of illustrated newspaper entertainment to new levels.' Later, he explores in detail how Ripley moved east to draw for the New York Globe, whose overseas assignments to cover odd sporting events eventually led to Ripley developing the 'Believe It or Not' concept, turning it into a widely popular comic, a bestselling book, a radio show, and a traveling show — becoming 'an unlikely playboy-millionaire' in the process. Thompson superbly shows how Ripley' work is the basis for today's more extreme reality shows by teaching readers 'to gape with respect at the weirdness of man and nature.'" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The biography of "Believe it or Not!" creator Robert Ripley, an enigmatic cartoonist turned globe-trotting playboy millionaire, who achieved global celebrity through larger than life showmanship and by documenting and celebrating the world's strangest oddities.
Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley was Howard Hughes crossed with P.T. Barnum, a lonely, buck-toothed cartoonist turned eccentric millionaire and renowned world-traveler who in the 1930's and 1940's earned incredible wealth and international fame by journeying to the farthest corners of the earth in search of the world's most exotic curiosities. But for all his success in uncovering oddities, no piece of Ripley's collection was as remarkable as the man himself--from his youth as an awkward young artist with an innate empathy for "freaks," to his golden years spent on a private island stocked with rare artifacts and strange pets, Ripley lived life on the kind of grand scale normally confined to fiction. A Curious Man is his great American story, told for the first time: a thrilling tale of an underdog who taught the nation to believe in the unbelievable.
About the Author
NEAL THOMPSON is a veteran journalist, blogger, videographer, and author of three previous books: Light This Candle, Driving with the Devil, and Hurricane Season. Thompson has been featured on NPR, ESPN, the History Channel, C-Span, Fox, and TNT, and his stories have appeared in Outside, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Men's Health, Backpacker, The Washington Post Magazine, and The Huffington Post. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two sons.
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