neal thompson

Kickflip Boys: A Memoir of Freedom, Rebellion, and the Chaos of Fatherhood

“Thompson captures the ache, fizz, yearning and frustration of being the father of adolescent boys.” 
— Michael Chabon

What makes a good father, and what makes one a failure? Does less-is-more parenting inspire independence and strength, or does it encourage defiance and  trouble? Kickflip Boys is the story of a father’s struggle to understand his willful skateboarder sons, challengers of authority and convention, to accept his role as a vulnerable “skate dad,” and to confront his fears that the boys are destined for an unconventional and potentially fraught future. 
With searing honesty, Neal Thompson traces his sons’ progression through all the stages of skateboarding: splurging on skate shoes and boards, having run-ins with security guards, skipping classes and defying teachers, painting graffiti, drinking and smoking, and more. As the story veers from funny to treacherous and back, from skateparks to the streets, Thompson must confront his complicity and fallibility. He also reflects on his upbringing in rural New Jersey, and his own adventures with skateboards, drugs, danger, and defiance.  
A story of thrill-seeking teens, of hope and love, freedom and failure, Kickflip Boys reveals a sport and a community that have become a refuge for adolescent boys who don’t fit in. Ultimately, it’s the survival story of a loving modern American family, of acceptance, forgiveness, and letting go. 

Neal Thompson is a veteran journalist, blogger, videographer, and author of four previous books: A Curious ManThe Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert 'Believe it or Not!’ Ripley; Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels and the Birth of NASCARLight This Candle: The Life & Times of Alan Shepard, America’s First Spaceman; and Hurricane Season: A Coach, His Team, and their Triumph in the Time of Katrina. Thompson and his books have been featured on NPR, ESPN, the History Channel, C-Span, and TNT, and his stories have appeared in OutsideEsquireSports IllustratedMen’s HealthThe Washington Post Magazine, and The Huffington Post. 

Published by Ecco/HarperCollins in 2018. 

More praise for Kickflip Boys: 

“Excellent. . . . Thompson’s remarkably honest account of fatherhood presents a scary, funny, and reflective read all at once.”
Library Journal, starred review
“Heartfelt. . . . This memoir will provide humor and comfort for parents figuring out their kids.” — Publishers Weekly

“Unexpectedly moving. . . . Kickflip Boys is a relatable, warts-and-all story of a family sticking together and, once in a while, soaring alongside one another. Nobody in this memoir is perfect, which is what makes it so great.” —Glamour
“What a riveting, touching, and painful read!” — Maria Semple
“Fun, moving, raw, and relatable.” — Tony Hawk
Kickflip Boys is an amazing chronicle of parenthood, but what makes it so striking, so beautiful, is how well Neal Thompson not only understands the struggles of parenting, but also the strangeness of adolescence. It’s empathetic, and funny, and Neal Thompson nails it.”— Kevin Wilson
“With the emotional authority of the best novels, Thompson’s prose sings. I laughed out loud and cried all the way through. The voice is brave, funny and fiercely honest. Ultimately this wonderful book is about love. Because those we care about most will always surprise us.” — Peter Heller
“A provocative and inspiring memoir that delves into the hopes and fears of parents as much as it delves into the hopes and fears of the children they are striving to raise. And, yes, it is about skateboarding.  Which is the key— for the resilient Thompson family—to happiness and joy.” — Garth Stein
“Thompson's book is perfectly timed, coinciding with a raft of new research about the teenage brain; the difference is that Thompson tells this story not with data but his own involving, funny, and (above all) relatable memoir, one that's destined to move anyone who's so much as held an infant. Thompson's got a musician's ear ("fakies, feebles, footies"), a novelist's eye (did I read that terrible story about a car hitting his oldest son? or did I witness it myself?), and a journalist's flair for ethnography and analysis. The result is a piece of writing that neatly slaloms between the gnarly culture of the skatepark and the existential terror of being a dad. Or a young American boy, for that matter.” — Jennifer Senior, New York Times bestselling author of All Joy and No Fun


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
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


“The life story of Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley is as intriguing as the many oddities in which he delighted.”
— Entertainment Weekly

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. A Curious Man is his great American story, told for the first time: a thrilling tale of the underdog who taught us to believe in the unbelievable. 
Sympathetic to the “freaks” he would come to champion, he emerged as an enigmatic visionary fueled by personal obsessions and insecurities. 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.  

Published by Crown/Random House in May, 2013.

More praise for A Curious Man:  
“Thompson paints a picture of Ripley as a brilliant but aggressively eccentric man, a globe-trotting curiosity seeker who always believed there was something even more unusual just around the corner. A fine introduction to a man who, for most of us, has been merely the name above a famous title.” — Booklist   
“Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that the history of a time can be resolved in the biography of a few stout and earnest people.  Robert Ripley was certainly one of those and, in this fascinating account, Neal Thompson rescues for us a colorful slice of history.” —Colum McCann, bestselling author of Let the Great World Spin
“Neal Thompson has written the book many writers dream of — the Great American rags-to-riches story—and done it in an intoxicating way. The story of the man who created ‘Ripley's Believe It Or Not’ is a rip-roaring tale of head-shaking amazement.” — Marc J. Seifer, author of Wizard: The Life & Times of Nikola Tesla


Driving with the Devil

“Thompson exhumes the sport's Prohibition-era roots in this colorful, meticulously detailed history.”
Time Magazine

“Moonshiners put more time, energy, thought, and love into their cars than any racer ever will. Lose on the track and you go home. Lose with a load of whiskey and you go to jail.” —Junior Johnson, NASCAR legend and onetime whiskey runner. 

Today’s NASCAR is a family sport with 75 million loyal fans, which is growing bigger and more mainstream by the day. Part Disney, part Vegas, part Barnum & Bailey, NASCAR is also a multibillion-dollar business and a cultural phenomenon that transcends geography, class, and gender. But dark secrets lurk in NASCAR’s past.  
Driving with the Devil uncovers for the first time the true story behind NASCAR’s distant, moonshine-fueled origins and paints a rich portrait of the colorful men who created it. Long before the sport of stock-car racing even existed, young men in the rural, Depression-wracked South had figured out that cars and speed were tickets to a better life. With few options beyond the farm or factory, the best chance of escape was running moonshine. Bootlegging offered speed, adventure, and wads of cash—if the drivers survived. Driving with the Devil is the story of bootleggers whose empires grew during Prohibition and continued to thrive well after Repeal, and of drivers who thundered down dusty back roads with moonshine deliveries, deftly outrunning federal agents. The car of choice was the Ford V-8, the hottest car of the 1930s, and ace mechanics tinkered with them until they could fly across mountain roads at 100 miles an hour.  
After fighting in World War II, moonshiners transferred their skills to the rough, red-dirt racetracks of Dixie, and a national sport was born. In this dynamic era (1930s and ’40s), three men with a passion for Ford V-8s— convicted criminal Ray Parks, foul-mouthed mechanic Red Vogt, and crippled war veteran Red Byron, NASCAR’s first champion—emerged as the first stock car “team.” Theirs is the violent, poignant story of how moonshine and fast cars merged to create a new sport for the South to call its own.  
Driving with the Devil is a fascinating look at the well-hidden historical connection between whiskey running and stock-car racing. NASCAR histories will tell you who led every lap of every race since the first official race in 1948. Driving with the Devil goes deeper to bring you the excitement, passion, crime, and death-defying feats of the wild, early days that NASCAR has carefully hidden from public view. In the tradition of Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, this tale not only reveals a bygone era of a beloved sport, but also the character of the country at a moment in time. 

Published by Crown in 2006.

More praise for Driving With the Devil:

“The author is clearly in love with his subject, and the enthusiasm of this breathless, nostalgic account will be contagious to Southern history buffs and historically minded NASCAR fans.” — Publishers Weekly
“Thompson believes that the modern NASCAR organization downplays its beginnings in white lightning. His fascinating corrective should inveigle the fans of one of the most popular sports in America today.” — Booklist  
“Here’s the real story, not just of NASCAR, but of the new South that emerged from moonshine and speed.” — Richard Ben Cramer, author of Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life, and editor of The Best American Sports Writing 2004
“Neal Thompson has written NASCAR’s Glory of Their Times. He tells the true story of NASCAR’s beginnings, revealing the sport’s strong whiskey roots and letting us get to know its key movers and shakers, including the triumvirate of racer Red Byron, mechanic Red Vogt, and bootlegger car owner Raymond Parks. Like Seabiscuit, Thompson makes a sport and an era come wonderfully alive.” — Peter Golenbock, author of Miracle: Bobby Allison and the Saga of the Alabama Gang and American Zoom: Stock Car Racing—From Dirt Tracks to Daytona  
Driving with the Devil is a full-tilt excursion through the back roads of NASCAR’s past, when moonshiners and scofflaws pioneered the sport. This is a tale that sanitized corporate NASCAR would rather forget about, but with Neal Thompson at the wheel, it makes for wonderful reading.”  
— Sharyn McCrumb, author of St. Dale
Driving with the Devil is a treasure trove of historically relevant information that tracks the history of the American automobile industry, the culture and morality of the broader society, and the motivations and personalities of early stock-car-racing operatives. All of which have inexorably contributed to the foundation and fabric of NASCAR’s brand of stock-car racing as it manifests itself today.”  — Jack Roush, chairman of Roush Racing
Driving with the Devil is a most impressive piece of work. Most Americans have the vague notion that big-time stock-car racing sprang from moonshine-hauling in the southern Appalachians prior to the Second World War, but here is documented proof that it was that and much more. Neal Thompson’s Driving with the Devil nails it once and for all: a riveting report any student of Americana will cherish. It’s no more about racing than The Old Man and the Sea is about fishing.”  — Paul Hemphill, author of Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams and Wheels: A Season on NASCAR’s Winston Cup Circuit
“A fascinating and fast-moving account of NASCAR's fledgling days.” — Atlanta Journal Constitution
“There are more divorces, drunks and wrecks than you can shake a checkered flag at...A thoroughly researched account of a 'simpler time' in a sport that has since become a multi-billion dollar business.” — NBC News anchor Brian Williams, in the Wall Street Journal


Light This Candle

"One of the finest books ever written about the space program. On nearly every page of this fine book, I learned something new. Neal has given Shepard's unique humanity a chance to emerge from not only the legend that NASA built around him but the one he built around himself. Alan Shepard, it turns out we didn't know you, after all. Light this candle, indeed." —Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys

lan Shepard was the brashest, cockiest, and most flamboyant of America’s original Mercury Seven, but he was also regarded as the best. Intense, colorful, and dramatic—the man who hit a golf ball on the moon—he was among the most private of America’s public figures and, until his death in 1998, he guarded the story of his life zealously.  
Light This Candle, based on Neal Thompson’s exclusive access to private papers and interviews with Shepard’s family and closest friends—including John Glenn, Wally Schirra, and Gordon Cooper—offers a riveting, action-packed account of Shepard’s life. Among the first men to fly off aircraft carriers, he was one of the most fearless test pilots. He endured long separations from his devoted wife and three daughters to fly dangerous missions, working his way up the ranks despite clashes with authority over his brazen flying maneuvers and penchant for risky pranks. Hugely competitive, he beat out John Glenn for the first Mercury spaceflight and then overcame a rare illness to return to space again on Apollo 14.  
He took every challenge head-on and seemed to win every time.  
Long overdue, Light This Candle is a candid and inspiring account of a bold American life. 

Published by Crown in 2004. 

More praise for Light This Candle:

“Wonderful and gripping ...The can’t-put-it-down story of a modern swashbuckler determined to conquer the universe whatever the risk. In Thompson’s hands, an amazing life, the ultimate American life, comes alive so exquisitely.” — Buzz Bissinger, New York Times bestselling author of Friday Night Lights
“Just what a biography should be: sharp, evocative, and brisk.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Thompson provides the fullest portrait [of Shepard] yet. Does much to illuminate the life and personality of perhaps the most private and complex member of the Mercury Seven.” — Library Journal


Hurricane Season: A Coach, His Team, and the Triumph in the Time of Katrina

“This book packs an undeniable emotional punch. Like all great sports stories, the saga of the Patriots has a larger spiritual dimension.”  — Publishers Weekly

On Saturday, August 27, 2005, the John Curtis Patriots met for a grueling practice in the late summer New Orleans sun, the air a visible fog of humidity. They had pulled off a 19-0 shutout in their pre-season game the night before, but it was a game full of dumb mistakes. Head coach J.T. Curtis was determined to drill those mistakes out of them before their highly anticipated next game, which sportswriters had dubbed "the Battle of the Bayou" against a big team coming in all the way from Utah. As fate played out, that afternoon was the last time the Patriots would see one another for weeks; some teammates they'd never see again. Hurricane Katrina was about to tear their lives apart.

The Patriots are a most unlikely football dynasty. There is a small, nondescript, family-run school, the buildings constructed by hand by the school's founding patriarch, John Curtis Sr. In this era of high school football as big business with 20,000 seat stadiums, John Curtis has no stadium of its own. The team plays an old-school offense, and Coach Curtis insists on a no-cut policy, giving every kid who wants to play a chance. As of 2005, they'd won nineteen state championships in Curtis's thirty-five years of coaching, making him the second most winning high school coach ever. Curtis has honed to a fine art the skill of teaching players how to transcend their natural talents. No screamer, he strives to teach kids about playing with purpose, the power of respect, dignity, poise, patience, trust in teamwork, and the payoff of perseverance, showing them how to be winners not only on the gridiron, but in life, and making boys into men. Hurricane Katrina would put those lessons to the test of a lifetime.

Hurricane Season is the story of a great coach, his team, his family, and their school -- and a remarkable fight back from shocking tragedy. It is a story of football and faith, and of the transformative power of a team that rises above adversity, and above its own abilities, to come together again and prove what they're made of. It is the gripping story of how, as one player put it, "football became my place of peace."

Published by Free Press in 2007.

More praise for Hurricane Season:

“A rousing page turner.” — The Times-Picayune

“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

“[an] inspiring story, thanks to the meticulously drawn context of the travails faced by average New Orleanians.”— Booklist