Sunday, August 10, 2014

Review: A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley by Neal Thompson

A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley
By: Neal Thompson
Pub. Date: May 7, 2013
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Pages: 374
Source: Blogging for Books

"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.
Since I was a child I have been fascinated with Ripley's Believe it or Not. I remember going to his museums and loving every minute of it. I was so excited when I had the chance to read this book for review because I always wanted to know more about him and the interesting life he lead. While I learned a lot, and did enjoy the story as a whole, I found myself being bored too. It's definitely written in biographical format, and that has never appealed to me.

I had no idea how messed up Robery Ripley really was. He was so sheltered and socially awkward that it amazes me what he was able to accomplish in his life. I loved learning about his adventures, and the pictures were great!

As I said, I loved learning about his life but at the same time, once he started traveling there were just way too many things happening. It was hard to keep up, which made me not want to continue. But my need to want to learn more is what kept me reading. I think I would have been so much happier with the book if it was a 100 pages shorter.

Either way, Ripley lived such an interesting life and his story should be told. I would recommend this book to those who do want to learn more about him.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. 

3.5 stars rounded up to 4. 

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