Monday, June 10, 2013

A Curious Man by Neal Thompson

Robert Ripley was an insatiably curious man who traveled the world seeking out the oddities of nature, culture, and practically anything unusual. Starting out as a cartoonist, he became the first paparazzi reporter of the weird. Glamour did not interest him, as it does the paparazzi of today, and so he didn't support the illusion of fame by chronicling the lives the privileged few. His focus was on the startlingly strange, and his medium was not television but radio and newspapers. His "Believe it or not" stories played off shock and surprise with the savvy of a circus showman, and the formula ironically made him both rich and famous. The new biography by Neal Thompson is A CURIOUS MAN: THE STRANGE & BRILLIANT LIFE OF ROBERT "BELIEVE IT OR NOT" RIPLEY. Read by Marc Cashman, it reveals a man who paid his dues through research and study (he spoke eleven languages.) Some surprises are in store, as well, including that Lindbergh was not the first man to fly across the Atlantic, but the sixty-seventh. Or that the "Star Spangled Banner" was not the national anthem. Is the crocodile really an insect? It is, historically speaking. Ripley's own house was like the odd museums which later dotted the tourist maps in places like Orlando, full of shrunken heads and torture devices. Not the kind of place a woman would have endured without redecorating. But Ripley, despite his love of the ladies---and they of him---was a bachelor who believed marriage was an institution for those who love to fight. 

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