I remember picking up paperback books when I was a kid that were filled with Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoons. I loved them! Those little snippets of information peaked my interest about the world around me and instilled in me a fascination for the odd and unusual. This summer, one of the stops on my family’s Great Smokey Mountains vacation was to visit the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. I had hoped that it might spark curiosity in them as well.
So when I saw, A Curious Man by Neal Thompson, my curiosity kicked in. Why hadn’t someone written about Robert Ripley before? I purchased the book and enjoyed it immensely.
It is the story of Robert Ripley’s journey from struggling newspaper cartoonist to cultural icon. He came from a poor family and was teased for his buckteeth and stutter. It is a true rags to riches story because Ripley also had talent, determination, and a strong work ethic.
A Curious Man also paints a picture of a talented man whose passion for travel and oddities gave way to a life of excess and then obsession.
Ripley conquered newspapers, books, radio, television, the speaking circuit and museum circuit. Even with the help of the staff that he eventually had, I am still amazed that he could do as much as he did and still travel for months at a time.
Along the way, readers get a good picture of life during an interesting time of American history—the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, and WWII. They watch the rise and beginning decline of the newspaper industry.
I found the book easy to read and enjoy. I also liked the Ripley-style callouts of interesting factoids throughout the book that Thompson called “Believe It.”
If I have one complaint about the book, it’s that it continued too long for me after Ripley’s death. The battling over the Ripley empire after his death held little interest for me.
A Curious Man made me start looking around for those old paperbacks again so that I could read more about the wonder of the world.