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UMW Great Lives – Robert Ripley – Neal Thompson
February 5, 2015 @ 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
The story of Robert Ripley is not just an underdog story; it’s the story of an underdog — a poor, shy, bucktoothed stutterer — who went on to celebrate underdogs, and weirdos, and misfits. Ripley’s curiosity and obsessive devotion to exploring the oddities of the world made him one of the highest-paid newspaper men of his generation, one of the most popular American figures of the 1930s and 40s, and among the best-traveled men in history, a man whose global dispatches gave readers much-needed entertainment during the depths of the Depression. Sixty-five years after his death, the “Believe it or Not” franchise he created is as strong as ever. His name continues to appear in print daily, and it adorns the many Ripley’s Odditoriums and other venues around the world. In his day, Ripley tapped into something deep in the American consciousness – a taste for the titillating, the exotic, and a fascination with the fastest, biggest, and most weird. That legacy can be seen in such phenomena as reality TV, YouTube, America’s Funniest Home Videos, Jackass, MythBusters, and other pop-culture phenomena. Ripley combined the spirit of Peter Pan with the globe trotting fearlessness of Marco Polo and the marketing savvy of P.T. Barnum.
Neal Thompson is a veteran journalist and author who spent 15 years working as a newspaper reporter before he began writing books. He is the author of four works of biography and nonfiction: A Curious Man: The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert ‘Believe It or Not’ Ripley (2013), which was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award in nonfiction; Hurricane Season: A Coach, His Team, and their Triumph in the Time of Katrina (2007); Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels and the Birth of NASCAR (2006); and Light This Candle: The Life & Times of Alan Shepard, America’s First Spaceman; (2004). Thompson and his books have been featured on NPR, ESPN, the Daily Show, the BBC, the History Channel, Fox, and TNT, and his stories have appeared in Outside, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Men’s Health. He currently works as Senior Books Editor at Amazon.com, where he conducts author interviews and manages a blog, Omnivoracious: The Amazon Book Review.