ACMI just finished the wonderful biography of Robert Ripley, A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley by Neal Thompson.

I have mentioned before that I love reading biographies of 20th century icons and this one fit the bill to a tee. I had of course heard of Ripley’s Believe it or Not, but had never really thought about where that brand started or who this Ripley was. Now, in this well-researched book, Mr. Thompson brings the life of Robert Ripley alive and like the legacy he built, keeps him alive for new generations.

About A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert Believe It or Not! Ripley by Neal Thompson: “Howard Hughes crossed with P.T. Barnum, Robert ‘Believe It or Not’ Ripley was a lonely, buck-toothed cartoonist turned eccentric millionaire and renowned world-traveler who in the 1930’s and 1940’s earned international fame by journeying to the farthest corners of the earth in search of the world’s most exotic curiosities. But for all his success in uncovering oddities, no piece of Ripley’s collection was as remarkable as the man himself. From his youth as an awkward young artist with an innate empathy for ‘freaks,’ to his golden years spent on a private island stocked with rare artifacts and strange pets, Ripley lived life on the kind of grand scale normally confined to fiction. Now with A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert ‘Believe It or Not!’ Ripley acclaimed biographer Neal Thompson has delivered a marvelously compelling account of this great American story, told for the first time ever—a thrilling tale of the underdog who taught us to believe in the unbelievable.”

Reading about Ripley one is struck by how the concept of media celebrity is as old as media itself. Ripley was as popular a media force – through his cartoons and related projects – as any figure in our media-saturated culture today – arguably more so. His niche of presenting the bizarre and interesting is still drawing crowds to museums and related attractions around the work that bear his name – and the newspaper feature he started is still syndicated around the world – more than 60 years after his death.

In the end, the story of Robert Ripley is a story of a 20th century American life, the tale of a man who made his way from humble beginnings to the top of his field. Ripley’s life is in many way more fascinating than the facts and stories he illustrated. Believe it.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley by Neal Thompson is available from Amazon and other fine retailers.