A Curious Man

“Anyone who wants to understand America needs to read this book … Neal Thompson gives us a vivid portrait of this complex, restless man in all his maniacally conflicted glory.” –Ben Fountain, Winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award and author of the National Book Award Finalist Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

In 2007, I read a New York Times story headlined “O, Believers, Prepare to Be Amazed!” about a Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium that had opened on Times Square. Reporter Edward Rothstein described the “voyeuristic sense of gaining entry to a forbidden, exotic and at times unsettling realm.” Rothstein seemed unexpectedly awed by the museum’s celebration of the freakish: “The freakish is the ultimate avant-garde, a finger in the eye of the buttoned-up bourgeois vision of ordered life, like a tattoo parlor in the midst of a holistic spa.”

A Curious Man

Midway into the story, Rothstein introduced the proprietor of the metaphorical tattoo parlor — “a cross between the Coney Island barker and the cultural anthropologist” — and cited the 1936 newspaper poll that had ranked Robert Ripley as the most popular man in America. As a former newspaper reporter and a lifelong newspaper reader, I had known about Ripley’s cartoons since childhood. But I’d never stopped to consider the man behind it all. I grabbed a pen and started underlining the Times reporter’s words — “Ripley’s enthusiastic refusal to homogenize humanity’s extremes … his gaze roamed across his own culture’s peculiarities too, treating them with the same amazement.”

My curiosity aroused, I visited Amazon.com, and quickly learned that there existed no definitive biography of Ripley. Within weeks I had set aside the book project I’d been working on and began walking the five-year path that lead to this book.


A Curious Man“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

“An intelligent and gripping  tale that follows an  unlikely cultural icon’s thrilling adventures  both at home and abroad.   Neal Thompson expertly captures the surprisingly complex character of Robert Ripley, and a life nearly too fantastic to be believed.”  –Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City and American Rose

“The breathtaking life of a quintessential American: a Frankenstein monster stitched together with equal parts genius, bravado, insecurity, and propaganda. A master of oddities, Ripley himself was the purest form of his own collection and Neal Thompson is his wondrous exhibitor.” Brad Meltzer, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Learn more about A Curious Man HERE. Read more advance praise HERE. See a timeline of Ripley’s life and travels HERE. See photos of Ripley HERE.


Neal’s other books (click on a jacket to learn more):

Thompson has attitude, curiosity and affection —The Chicago Sun-Times

Neal Thompson has a nose for  the strange and wonderful … a rich, compelling read for fans of the exotic and uncanny.’ - - Stewart O’Nan, author of The Odds

Thompson … displays all the skill of a seasoned journalist in his pacing and savvy storytelling. —Kirkus

Thompson writes with eloquent grace … The thoroughness of the author’s research is impressive. —The Indianapolis Star His prose crackles … —The Kansas City Star

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

It’s not often a non-fiction sports book will put a lump in your throat. —The Montreal Gazette

Thompson brings an infectious energy … —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

He has the journalist’s eye for detail and brevity. —The Buffalo News

Thompson knows how to capture character in action. —The Times-Picayune

… in the best tradition of David Halberstam. —Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights

  • http://www.facebook.com/tammy.james.3110 Tammy James

    Did you know that Ripley bought many of his curios from Seattle’s Ye Olde Curiosity Shop.

  • Joe Bradway

    Loved “A Curious Man” I grew up with his cartoon in the Philadelphia Bulletin, Question: How can I get a copy of/information on one of his entries? My Uncle Joseph Bradway was in his strip, for graduating high school in 4 (or maybe 5) months in Atlantic City NJ. in late 20’s or early 30’s. have Googled to no avail. Is the Believe it or Not strip archived somewhere searchable?


    Joe Bradway

  • http://www.skippress.com/ Skip Press

    Well… I just finished reading the paperback of this astonishing book. I hope someone makes a miniseries of it, but the scope of Ripley’s life seems so frankly overwhelming, it would take Peter Jackson and crew to pull it off. I’m supposed to write a review of A Curious Man – if I can figure out where to start! Amazing accomplishment, Neal Thompson.