I recently received a request from a viewer in the comment section of one of my YouTube videos to compile a list of key books that you need to read to get a hang of the Whitechapel murders, and, in this article, I am going to suggest 10 books that I feel should be on the shelves of all those who are interested in the case.
12 BOOKS ON JACK THE RIPPER
With hundreds, if not thousands, of books to choose from, whittling the list down to just 10 is no easy task, and some readers might not agree with some of my choices, whilst others, no doubt, won’t agree with any of them!
Inevitably, a list such as this boils down to a very personal one, and the books I am about to suggest are ones that I personally have found invaluable in my research, and which I feel will help people gain an understanding of, not just the murders, but also of the background of the City, era and area where the crimes occurred.
NO ORDER OF MERIT
The order in which the books are presented is in no way a reflection on which books I consider the best, it’s just that there has to be an order, and I simply put the books on the list in the order in which they came to me.
NO SUSPECT BOOKS
I’ve not included any book on a specific suspect, but, instead, I’ve featured one book that features a cross section of suspects, and, in addition, several of the more general books do include analysis of various suspects.
So, without further ado, here is my list of twelve books that, in my opinion, are key to gaining a good understanding of the Whitechapel murders.
THE ULTIMATE JACK THE RIPPER SOURCEBOOK
Written by two Stalwarts of Ripperology, Stewart Evans and Keith Skinner, the sourcebook is invaluable to those who want to view the official files on the Whitechapel murders.
Stewart Evans obtained all the official files, and he and Keith used their extensive knowledge on the case to produce a book that will save people the trip to the National Archives at Kew to read the files for themselves.
THE COMPLETE JACK THE RIPPER
First published in 1975, Donald Rumbelow’s The Complete Jack The Ripper was, for many years, the go to book for those interested in learning about the case, and, for many, it was the publication that started their journey into the world of Ripperology.
It provides a good overview of the case, and begins with a chapter on “Outcast London”, which really does provide a terrific insight into the Victorian East End. There is an extensive section on Jack the Ripper suspects, as well as a look at later ripper-type crimes, such as Jack the Stripper and The Yorkshire Ripper.
THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF JACK THE RIPPER
Philip Sugden’s The Complete History of Jack the Ripper was one of the first books to go into scholarly detail about the wider series of Whitechapel murders, and to present the reader with the facts about the investigation into the crimes.
He makes a determined effort to dispel many of the myths that have crept into ripper lore over the years, and he does point out mistakes and inaccuracies that those who have gone before him have made, from police offices covering the case in their memoirs, to modern day authors (or, at least, authors up to the 1990s) who have perpetuated various fallacies about the case.
One thing that most certainly stands out about the book is the respect he shows to the victims and his delving into their lives, so that we can view them as real people and not just as almost minor characters in their murders.
I have always liked the fact that Philip Sugden throughout tries to refer to the victims of Jack the Ripper by their first names, as opposed constantly referring to them by their surnames.
I also like the fact that he is not at all disparaging about the moral character of the victims, unlike several of the books that came out in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The last four chapters of the book deal with specific suspects, and the reader is presented with a detailed analysis of the evidence against them.
All in all this is a scholarly assessment of the case, and the narrative flows well, and brings the history, the era , the area, and the people connected with them vividly to life.
JACK THE RIPPER THE FACTS
Paul Begg’s Jack The Ripper The Facts provides the reader with as extensive coverage of the case as it is possible to get.
Beginning with an in depth background to the history behind the murders that introduces the reader to Victorian London as a whole and the East End in particular, we get a vivid insight into the social conditions of the district in which the murders occurred as well as into the uncomfortably wide chasm that existed between the wealthiest and the poorest citizens, who lived their lives just a few miles apart.
We also learn of the unrest that was beginning to surface amongst the downtrodden poor and unemployed that culminated in the events of Bloody Sunday in November 1887.
Having taken the reader through several attacks and murders that preceded the onset of the Jack the Ripper murders, Paul Begg then takes us through the events of the autumn of 1888, covering the murders, the suspects, the police officers who investigated the case, and the way in which the newspapers covered it.
Paul goes into detail about the lives of the victims, and treats them with respect, and in such a way as to leave the reader with a genuine understanding of the hardships that they had faced, and which ultimately left them vulnerable to the killer we now know as Jack the Ripper.
There is also extensive coverage of various ripper suspects, and the book concludes with a detailed and thorough list of notes and references, so that the reader can, if desired, go back to the original sources to check facts and information.
My next recommendation is The Five The Untold Lives Of The Women Killed By Jack The Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold.
One of the many tragedies about murder victims is that the victim inevitably becomes overshadowed by their killer, especially in high profile cases such as the Whitechapel murder, when the media coverage often strays into the realm of sensationalism and often into fiction.
I would hazard a guess that there are several cases of serial killers where people can effortlessly name the perpetrator, especially if that name is fictitious such as Jack the Ripper, but not be able to name the victims.
With “The Five” Hallie Rubenhold endeavors to tip the balance of coverage from the killer to the victims and provides the reader with a terrific insight into their lives before and after they came to Whitechapel.
The book provides a lot of information about social history at the time, and provides an insight into the way in which women, and especially poor women, were treated by society in the second half of the 19h century.
THE COMPLETE JACK THE RIPPER A – Z
One of the problems with studying the Whitechapel Murders – or, for that matter, watching videos and documentaries about them, is the number of names you come across.
You can be half way through a chapter, or watching a documentary, when up pops a name of some minor – and occasionally major – player in the case and you find yourself either having to go to the index, or resorting to google to find out who they were and what part they played in the story.
The Complete Jack the Ripper A to Z, by Paul Begg, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner, solves this problem by providing entries for all the names you are likely to encounter in alphabetical order.
Now, wherever an unfamiliar name appears, you can simply turn to the relevant entry, and read a brief biography about the person in question; along with their connection to the case.
In addition the book also features listings for films, books, authors and researchers on the case making it a comprehensive and invaluable resource for all students of the case.
CAPTURING JACK THE RIPPER
In Capturing Jack The Ripper:- In The Boots Of A Bobby In Victorian London, Neil Bell takes the reader through what it was like to be a police officer in Victorian London, and, of course, at the time that the Whitechapel murders were taking place.
Don’t read this book expecting to be bombarded with wild speculation and endless theorizing about why a particular suspect must have been Jack the Ripper.
Mr. Bell doesn’t do wild speculation!
What he does do is give the reader a thorough grounding in how the Metropolitan Police came into being; what sort of crime prevention measures the average Bobby on the beat would have had at his disposal; and, when crime prevention had failed and crime detection was called for, what the investigative techniques that were available to the likes of Inspectors Reid and Abberline as they tried desperately to hunt down jack the Ripper and stop him killing again.
JACK THE RIPPER SUSPECTS
On the whole, I personally have never really been interested in the endless search to name Jack the Ripper, and I tend to steer clear of books that are dedicated to proving that a particular person was the Whitechapel murderer, especially those that claim that it is now case closed, or that they have finally solved the mystery.
However, whenever I do need to check facts about a specific suspect, I tend to turn to, Jack The Ripper Suspects, Persons Cited By Investigators and Theorists, by Stan Russo.
Laid out in alphabetical order, it provides biographical details and presents the case for and against around 70 suspects whose names have, over the years, been put forward for the mantle of having been history’s most infamous serial killer.
JACK THE RIPPER AND THE LONDON PRESS
It could be, and often has been, argued that the Jack the Ripper murders would not have achieved the notoriety they did had it not been for the huge amount of press coverage dedicated to them.
Indeed, some have even argued, with a certain amount of justification, that Jack the Ripper was a fiction created by the Victorian media.
In Jack The Ripper And The London Press, L. Perry Curtis, Jr., L. Perry Curtis Jr. examines how fifteen London newspapers – dailies and weeklies, highbrow and lowbrow – presented the news about the Whitechapel murders and, how, with their coverage, they reveal a great deal about the social and sexual norms of the era in which the crimes took place.
This is very much an academic study, so it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea; but for those who stick with it, it provides a great insight into the role that the press played in creating and propagating the myth of Jack the Ripper.
EAST END 1888
In this book, William J. Fishman provides readers with a thorough understanding of the background against which the Jack the Ripper saga was played out.
To gain such an understanding, it is essential to delve into the everyday lives of the Eastenders in 1888, and this book provides a superb insight into the social conditions in the district where the murders occurred.
Housing, health, sanitation, the sweating system, unemployment and the political aspects of the area are all covered in detail, whilst we are also able to glimpse the leisure time of the residents for whom life was an everyday battle for survival.
Again, this is very much an academic study that some readers might find a little dry and, but for those who want to look beyond the sensationalism of the murders and view how the people lived at the time, the book is an absolute must.
My only real criticism of the book is the lack of an index to aid quick access to information.
THE VICTORIAN CITY
Throughout the 19th century, Victorian London grew into a sprawling and vast metropolis that had, by 1888, become the largest city in the world.
Although The Victorian City:- Everyday Life In Dickens London, by Judith Flanders is largely concerned with the decades when Charles Dickens was alive and writing (he died in 1870), it really does provide an idea of how London grew in the 19th century, and the impact that growth had on the people who lived there.
To quote from the book’s dust jacket:-
“The Victorian City is a revelatory portrait of everyday life on the streets, bringing to life the Victorian capital in all its variety, vibrancy, and squalor. No one who reads it will view London in the same light again.”
The book covers everything from the horrific epidemics that hit rich and poor alike, the varied, and sometimes shocking, night entertainments that both classes enjoyed, the different ways in which they travelled around their city, the foods that they enjoyed, and much more besides.
THE PEOPLE OF THE ABYSS
In the summer of 1902, the American author Jack London, disguised himself in an outfit of old, dirty clothes, and went undercover in the East End of London, where he experienced first hand the grim reality of life for the inhabitants.
His book of his experiences, People Of The Abyss, makes compelling, if uncomfortable, and, at times, stomach-churning reading, confronting us as it does with the sheer horror of what it was like to live in one of the poorest quarters of London as the Victorian age gave way to the Edwardian age.
In one memorable chapter he actually visits the home of Johnny Upright, none other than Sergeant William Thicke who fourteen years earlier had loomed large in the arrest of John Pizer, in the aftermath of the murder of Mary Nichols.
I would suggest that, if you do choose to buy a copy, then you ensure that you buy the illustrated version, as, in addition to the insightful text you also get lots of contemporary photographs of London at the time, including the original of the well-known view of Dorset Street that has appeared in almost every book on Jack the Ripper since!
Although not directly about the Whitechapel murders, the book is a must have for all students of the case, as it really lifts the lid on the yawning gulf between the rich and poor at the time.
London’s style of narration really will make your flesh creep, and there can’t be many books that make you want to take a shower after reading each chapter!
So, that is my list of twelve books that I feel will help people to get a hang of the Whitechapel murders.
All the books can be found on Amazon, and several of them can be bought relatively inexpensively from sites such ABE books and Ebay.