Friday, July 4, 2014

Book review: A CURIOUS MAN: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert 'Believe It Or Not' Ripley

From a poor, inept, buck-toothed boy who loved to draw, to one of the highest paid cartoonists in history—and in 1936, one of the highest paid men in America—Leroy Ripley traveled a long way, in both miles and fortune, from his birth in the small town of Santa Rosa, CA.

Born in 1890 and called Roy by family and his few friends—he didn't add the Robert until later—Ripley never fit in as a child and dropped out of high school. At one of the many lucky turns that peppered his life, he got hired to draw 'a cartoon a day' for the San Francisco Press Democrat at eighteen, in the days when photos were too expensive. But it wasn't until he moved to New York and his cartoon 'Champs and Chumps' morphed into the soon-to-be world famous 'Believe It Or Not' that his fame skyrocketed.

Ripley traveled extensively, racking up visits to an impressive 200+ countries, and spent all his time looking for oddities, both human and otherwise. He drew and wrote about them, collected artifacts relating to them, and never got over his gee-whiz, small-town-boy fascination for them.

Author Neal Thompson's biography is a clear-eyed investigation of one of the most interesting men of the early 20th century. Ripley the man was as unusual as some of his finds. His fascination with the uncommon, the strange and the bizarre resonated in his own life. He lived for over fifteen years in a single-room apartment in the New York Racket Club—he once beat a nationally-ranked champion at the sport—even while his empire grew. Then, when he decided he really should unpack the crates of artifacts he'd been collecting on his travels, he bought his own island, complete with mansion, to showcase them. The Odditoriums followed next, plus radio shows and even television, and his catchphrase, 'Believe It…or Not' entered the language.

Well written and meticulously researched, THE CURIOUS MAN is a fascinating description of this odd and child-like man who had such an enormous influence on travel, reporting, comics and more. I highly recommend it.
A CURIOUS MAN: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert 'Believe It Or Not' Ripley
by Neal Thompson   Three Rivers Press. ISBN: 978-0-7704-3622-3

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


1 comment:

  1. He sounds like a fascinating person. Indiana Jones with business acumen. I'll check it out.