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A Curious Man    by Neal Thompson order for
Curious Man
by Neal Thompson
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Born and raised in Santa Rosa, Robert Ripley began his career as an illustrator for dailies in San Francisco just three years after the 1906 earthquake virtually destroyed the city. After a short stint with the Bulletin and then the Chronicle, the cartoonist took the advice of friends who counseled him to head for New York City.

Just twenty-one years of age at the time, the young man took an eastbound train and two weeks later he was knocking on the door of the Globe and Commerical Advertiser in Greenwich Village looking for a job. And, as the cliché goes, the rest is history!

This fascinating biography by Neal Thompson traces the rise of this cartoonist from Northern California who had such a profound and lasting effect on American journalism in the first half of the twentieth century.

Ripley's iconic Believe It or Not! cartoon appeared for the first time in December of 1918. First published under the title Champs and Chumps because of its focus on sports, the title everyone recognizes today wasn't used until the following year.

The sports emphasis soon gave way to a feature that celebrated the world's strangest oddities. Featuring eccentric behavior and the types of individuals who often found a home with P.T. Barnum's midway freak shows, Ripley became famous throughout the world for exposing the general public to an eclectic collection of strange facts and exotic artifacts.

Beside a research staff who were on the lookout for these oddities, Ripley himself traveled throughout the world seeking new material and experiences that he would then share with his readers.

Thanks to the nationwide syndication of his work in newspapers, radio and eventually television broadcasts and a series of museums of the bizarre which he called Odditoriums which showcased his vast collection of oddities, Ripley became a very wealthy man.

A remarkable person whose personal life was as interesting and sometimes as noteworthy as his professional output, Robert Ripley was a product of his time. A hard drinking womanizer who had trouble forming long term relationships with the opposite sex, this man made and spent a vast fortune before his untimely death of a heart attack.

In a sense his story is more interesting and entertaining than the cartoons he religiously created year after year for an adoring audience of readers. A media phenomenon who was a world class traveler, collector and pioneer of live radio broadcasts from faraway locations, Ripley, for better or for worse, also paved the way for the reality TV programs of today.

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