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 28 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.
"A Curious Man is the rollicking, terrific story of one of America’s greatest men…Ripley brought back to an awed nation the richness of an endlessly exotic world, and Neal Thompson tells the story with a perfectly-pitched sense of what makes such a man, and a nation, tick."
--Peter Heller, New York Times bestselling author of The Dog Stars
“The breathtaking life of a quintessential American: a Frankenstein monster stitched together with equal parts genius, bravado, insecurity, and propaganda. A master of oddities, Ripley himself was the purest form of his own collection and Neal Thompson is his wondrous exhibitor.”
--Brad Meltzer, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Inner Circle
"Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that the history of a time can be resolved in the biography of a few stout and earnest people. Robert Ripley was certainly one of those and, in this fascinating account, Neal Thompson rescues for us a colorful slice of history."
–Colum McCann, bestselling author of Let the Great World Spin
"Anyone who wants to understand America needs to read this book…Neal Thompson gives us a vivid portrait of this complex, restless man in all his maniacally conflicted glory."
--Ben Fountain, Winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award and author of the National Book Award Finalist Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
"Intelligent and gripping…Neal Thompson expertly captures the surprisingly complex character of Robert Ripley, and a life nearly too fantastic to be believed."
--Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City and American Rose
“Neal Thompson has written the book many writers dream of — the Great American rags-to-riches story—and done it in an intoxicating way. The story of the man who created ‘Ripley's Believe It Or Not’ is a rip-roaring tale of head-shaking amazement.”
-- Marc J. Seifer, author of Wizard: The Life & Times of Nikola Tesla
“In a way that I’m not sure I was expecting, the book builds real sadness into the considerable momentum of its narrative. Neal Thompson constructs an elegant argument: the world Ripley created is the world in which we now live.”
--David Shields, New York Times bestselling author of The Thing About Life Is that One Day You’ll Be Dead
What listeners say about A Curious Man
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- John Campbell
Fun and easy book
This is a good listen for a long drive or a day spent in the garden. Undemanding and fun - an excellent story with lots of little details that hold your attention. Ripley lived a great life, full of adventure, fun and self-indulgence - much to be admired if perhaps not emulated. Also a reflection on a bygone time, when the world was far from fully connected and full of many different and fascinating cultures.
5 people found this helpful
What did you like best about A Curious Man? What did you like least?
I never knew Ripley lived such an interesting life. Also, that he was so popular.
I did not enjoy the length of the book. Unfortunately the last hour and half or so dragged.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Ripley. Very quirky
What three words best describe Marc Cashman’s performance?
Standard audiobook narrator
If this book were a movie would you go see it?
Perhaps, if I could find out if they omitted some of the story line of the end
2 people found this helpful
- JK Klein
The great reader makes this biography come to life
I have read/listened to many biographies over the years. I was extremely impressed with the amount of intimate details the author was able to uncover in this story. Robert Ripley was an amazing man with an even more amazing story. The author and the reader truly bought his story to life. One of the best biographies I ever read or listened to.