A Curious Man by Neal Thompson

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A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not" Ripley
432 pages; Crown Archetype
The Ripley of Ripley's Believe It or Not was—believe it or not—an actual person, one whose childhood stutter, broken teeth and poverty (the poor guy had to wear paper shoes) condemned him to being bullied and mocked. What saved him? His ability to draw. In this engaging biography, Thompson follows LeRoy Ripley's struggles to escape his small town and make his career as a cartoonist for various San Francisco and New York papers. By 1930, he stumbles on his "Believe It or Not" formula, through which he reveals such oddities as the man who walked backwards across the United States. Soon, due to his books and Odditoriums at various World's Fairs, Ripley becomes fantastically, wildly rich—and seems to lose himself as he travels around the globe looking for the next "most unusual thing," knocking back 21 Iranian beers in a sitting, floating between women. There is sadness in this portrait of a man who did so well but still had to hide his flawed, disfigured smile by putting his hand over his mouth or keeping his lips shut in a grimace. But there's also plenty of inspiration. Ripley managed to do what so many of us are working towards—discovering that strange and unexpected thing that's exactly what we're meant to do. In his case, he created what his staff called "fairy tales for grownups." Readers may just walk away from this book wondering what theirs is...
— Amy Shearn