The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Life is hard for a woman. Then Jack the Ripper kills you.

Quick synopsis: The life stories of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The number of women killed by Jack the Ripper is not completely known. The five women in this book are called the “Canonical Five” because most experts agree they are definitely Ripper victims. But there may have been more.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Rubenhold explains work houses and various other places to “help the poor” in this time period including the rules and regulations which were and were not followed. Dickens wasn’t playing around when he wrote Oliver Twist.

My Take: Who was Jack the Ripper? Hallie Rubenhold doesn’t care, at least not when it comes to this book.

I began this book very wary about ignoring one of the most fascinating serial killers ever. Rubenhold thinks this is a dumb mindset and seeks to remedy the anonymity of the women he killed. She succeeds.

Rubenhold is obviously very annoyed all five women are branded as prostitutes and don’t deserve the type of scholarship of their unnamed killer. It turns out, Rubenhold is able to pull together a lot of information on the women (well, four out of five anyway) and writes what becomes a series of biographies. There is the biography of each women but also a biography of London during this time period.

Spoiler alert: a lot of London was really gross. Rubenhold’s book would definitely make a germaphobe take an extra shower. And in really setting the stage for the murders, we are able to understand a bit of the desperation of these women. And we feel for them as their sections of the book get closer and closer to the finale.

Rubenhold makes the reader see the Ripper story not as a sensationalist murder spree but the tragic ends of five women who had pretty bad lives leading up to their demises. And stop calling them all prostitutes.

Verdict: Really great book if you like understanding more about the history surrounding major events like the Ripper spree. Non-history nerds may get sucked in but probably not. Their loss, as usual.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Miriam C. Davis, The Axeman of New Orleans
  • Skip Hollandsworth, The Midnight Assassin
  • Gregg Olsen, Starvation Heights
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The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
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