A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley
An Amazon Best Book of the Month
A Barnes and Noble Booksellers Pick
Featured on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
"The life story of Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley is as intriguing as the many oddities in which he delighted." —Entertainment Weekly
"Neal Thompson has written the book many writers dream of — the Great American rags-to-riches story—and done it in an intoxicating way."
—Marc J. Seifer, author of Wizard: The Life & Times of Nikola Tesla
Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley was Howard Hughes crossed with P.T. Barnum, a lonely, buck-toothed cartoonist turned eccentric playboy and globe-trotting entrepreneur who achieved international fame by exploring the farthest corners of the earth to celebrate the world's exotic human curiosities—and he did it with such outrageous flair and brio that he became one of the most successful entertainment figures of his time. Ripley's life story is a thrilling tale of the underdog who taught us to believe in the unbelievable.
As Thompson reports, it turns out the most fascinating "Believe it or Not!" was Robert Ripley himself. Cursed by shyness, Ripley turned to illustration in his youth, selling his first cartoon at age 18 to LIFE magazine. Sympathetic to the "freaks" he would come to champion, he emerged as an enigmatic visionary fueled by personal obsessions and insecurities. When he later became the crown jewel of William Randolph Hearst's media empire, Ripley hobnobbed with celebrities, athletes, and royalty, dressing in flamboyant garb and a pith helmet that became his trademark. After amassing an extraordinary fortune, he bought an island off the coast of New York where he displayed the unusual artifacts he'd collected during his world travels and kept a 28-foot boa constrictor as a pet. A notorious ladies' man, he often lived with several girlfriends at once, but had few intimate relationships. And he died as dramatically as he lived, collapsing in the middle of taping the 13th episode of his television series—fittingly, an episode on death and death rituals.
Three years ago Ripley Entertainment turned over their vast archives to Thompson to tell the full Ripley story. Thompson's portrait follows two arcs: one of Ripley's public triumph and the other, a deeply personal tale of a loner and misfit. The result is a cinematic narrative that reaches beyond the confines of biography to echo Erik Larson's bestselling historical non-fiction.
Neal Thompson is a veteran journalist and author of three previous books: Light This Candle: The Life & Times of Alan Shepard, America's First Spaceman (Crown, 2004); Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels and the Birth of NASCAR (Crown, 2006); and Hurricane Season: A Coach, His Team, and their Triumph in the Time of Katrina (Free Press, 2007). Thompson and his books have been featured on NPR, ESPN, the History Channel, C-Span, Fox, and TNT, and his stories have appeared in Outside, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Men's Health, Backpacker, The Washington Post Magazine, and The Huffington Post. Thompson lives in Seattle with his wife and two teenage, skateboarding sons.
Published by Crown/Random House in May, 2013.
Praise for Light This Candle
"Just what a biography should be: sharp, evocative, and brisk."
"One of the finest books ever written about the space program."
—Homer Hickam, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Rocket Boys
Praise for Driving with the Devil
"Thompson’s writing is superb. He is a grand storyteller and does his homework in terms of research and getting the facts of the story straight."
—The Boston Herald
"Thompson has attitude, curiosity and affection."
—The Chicago Sun-Times
"Thompson writes with eloquent grace … The thoroughness of the author's research is impressive."
—The Indianapolis Star
"There are more divorces, drunks and wrecks than you can shake a checkered flag at … A thoroughly researched account of a 'simpler time'."
—NBC News anchor Brian Williams, in The Wall Street Journal
Praise for Hurricane Season
“A rousing page turner.”
“With grace and beauty, Thompson shows us that the human spirit cannot be conquered, even in the ashes of Katrina.”
—Buzz Bissinger, best-selling author of Friday Night Lights
“This book packs an undeniable emotional punch. Like all great sports stories, the saga of the Patriots has a larger spiritual dimension.”