Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review: "A Curious Man: the Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe it or Not" Ripley

Leroy Ripley (he later went by his middle name, Robert, and used Leroy for his middle name) grew up in Santa Rosa California. Gangly, awkward, shy among girls, desperately poor and almost comically bucktoothed, his childhood was not easy.One of the few things that staved of the taunts of his peers was his cartoons, mostly caricatures of mutually disliked teachers! Through hard work, dedication and some chance he got one of his cartoons published in a SF newspaper. But he knew if he wanted real success (like that of popular cartoonist at the time Rube Goldberg-you know the weird machine guy) he would have to go to New York City, which he did.
(Ripley also survived the great San Francisco earthquake.Even though SF is the focus of that terrible event, Santa Rosa actually sustained more damage (proportionally) then any other city, and a higher per capita death toll. This kind of scarred him and he would not talk about these events to very men people for the rest of his life).

It was a slow slow start but Ripley began to gain notoriety, especially for his sports cartoons. Eventually his newspaper sent him on a trip to Europe and Africa where he drew thousands of cartoons illustrating his travels and the strange things he saw there......There is a lot more to the story but that is our heroes beginnings!

(Ripley's first book came out in January of 1929. It was 188 pages and sold for $2.50. It was a bang up success. Many people tried to duplicate it's success but none came close.)

He continued to travel all around the world. He loved China, was horrified by a lot of the things that he saw in India, and thought that the people of Hawaii were about the darn nicest he'd ever met. He kept himself out of both world wars, but he always did work for veterans. He hated Hitler, but he hated what the Communists were doing to his beloved China even more. Spoilery- people even think that the fallof China to Communism was one of the reasons for Ripley's relatively young death of a heart attack at 59.)

Here's a quote that I think basically sums up the whole book: "The shy awkward misfit loner had become the champion of the freakishness of others. By celebrating the weirdness he made it mainstream, becoming one of the most widely read and influential syndicated cartoonists of his day-and among the best traveled men in history". All it takes is a few good turns of fate, hard work and a little bit of talent and you can move mountains, no matter where you started!

I would have never ever guessed that the Ripley's Believe it or Not that we know today started out as newspaper cartoons. If I had to have hazarded a guess, I would have said that maybe it was a radio program, you know when someone talks in that old timey voice about you know, a man who hopped on one foot for 15 miles or something.

My only qualm was that the book was pretty long and fairly stuffed with details.Neither of these things are bad per se, but I felt the book went on for longer than it should have because of all the details that they tried to shoehorn in.

I really wonder what he would of thought of his empire today. Would he have been pleased that it was still around? Would he have worried that some people think it's just a little cheesy? Would the internet worried him because so many oddities are just at fingertips 24/7? Deep thoughts! :) I give it 3 out of 5 stars, good content but maybe a little too much of it!


I recieved this book for free in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books


  1. Loved Ripley's books when I was a kid. My dad had a collection of them in his book shelf. Spent a lot of time flipping through them in the pre-internet days.

    1. I remember doing that too. I don't ever remember seeing them in the newspaper though.

  2. For me, Ripley's Believe It Or Not will always be Jack Palance on the 80s TV show. This book in on my TBR list. With so much detail, I'll make sure I have a nice chunk of time set aside for reading.

    1. For all the details it clips along at a nice pace, so that is helpful!


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