The old Ripley's Believe it or Not newspaper comic had a huge and lasting impact on me as a youngster. Neal Thompson has just published his new biography of Ripley, titled "A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It Or Not!” Judging by Megan Abbot's lengthy review in the Los Angeles Review of Books, it sounds like terrific read!
An intrepid, curious traveler, Ripley roamed not just to see renowned wonders and not just to drink and tomcat (though he would do both, vigorously, through his entire life), but to unearth the unusual, the hidden, the specific. His travel dispatches, laden with stereotypes of the day, reflect Ripley’s private obsessions — in particular, “the inexplicable things people did for their gods,” particularly if they appeared, to American eyes, grotesque, such as the man Ripley dubs the “Hanging Hindu,” an adherent dangling from a tree via a hook stuck in his back.
Ripley’s complicated relation to “the Other” is one Thompson explores in depth. He locates in Ripley a genuine desire to burrow into the cultures he explores and share the glories and mysteries of other places. But, in large part, the comic’s success hinged on Ripley’s expert skill not at penetration but at sensationalization.
"A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It Or Not!” (Amazon)
"Megan Abbott on A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It Or Not!” Ripley" (Los Angeles Review of Books)
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