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*An Amazon Best Book of the Month
*A Barnes & Noble Booksellers' Pick
*An NPR pick for 2013
*A Vanity Fair Hot Type pick
*A Publishers Lunch Buzz Book 2013
*An iTunes/iBookstore Best Book of the Month
*A Parade magazine 2013 Summer Read
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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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2013: Like some old uncle you run into at family gatherings, LeRoy Robert Ripley was both charming and odd. He was obsessed with the weird, the gross, and the silly pun (a favorite town in Iceland was pronounced "Hell," ergo lots of "Go to Hell" jokes). Born sometime in the 1890s (the record is unclear), he grew into a wildly talented cartoonist and radio personality who became rich in the Depression, eventually turning his fascinations into the Believe It or Not brand that survives to this day. With wit and passion, Neal Thompson, an Amazon senior editor, has chronicled this interesting weirdo's life--just his amorous adventures could fill a book--and in the process come up with a portrait of early 20th-century America different from any you’ve read before. Trust us, which is 21st-century speak for: believe it or not! --Sara Nelson
Jon Meacham interviews Neal ThompsonJon Meacham is the author, most recently, of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, a #1 New York Times bestseller that was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, the Seattle Times, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Meacham received the Pulitzer Prize for American Lion, his bestselling 2008 biography of Andrew Jackson.
Images from A Curious ManYoung Ripley
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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