A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley

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Crown/Archetype, May 7, 2013 - Biography & Autobiography - 432 pages

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.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - ASKelmore - LibraryThing

This book raised some questions about what we should expect from biographers. Are they merely relating details of the life of a person, or should they provide more of a commentary on that life as well ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - hardlyhardy - LibraryThing

For cartoonists, as with those in so many other fields, it takes more than talent to be successful. It also takes a big idea. For Charles Schulz, that idea took the form of Charlie Brown and Snoopy ... Read full review

Contents

Section 1
1
Section 2
7
Section 3
17
Section 4
26
Section 5
34
Section 6
44
Section 7
58
Section 8
71
Section 19
188
Section 20
207
Section 21
225
Section 22
243
Section 23
262
Section 24
279
Section 25
298
Section 26
314

Section 9
82
Section 10
86
Section 11
87
Section 12
97
Section 13
106
Section 14
119
Section 15
134
Section 16
137
Section 17
153
Section 18
172
Section 27
322
Section 28
337
Section 29
340
Section 30
355
Section 31
366
Section 32
375
Section 33
379
Section 34
405
Copyright

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About the author (2013)

NEAL THOMPSON is the critically acclaimed author of Light This Candle, Driving with the Devil, and Hurricane Season and has contributed to such publications as Outside, Esquire, and Sports Illustrated. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two sons.  You can find him at www.nealthompson.com.

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