Day: September 11, 2012

Jack the Ripper Books: You Can’t Read Just One

With neither the highest body count nor the longest series of murders to his credit, Jack the Ripper has nevertheless captured the world’s imagination in a singular way. The production of books about the 1888 murders is a minor industry  to itself, especially volumes advocating yet another name to the ever-growing list of suspects in the murder series. Here this is my contribution to cutting down the book pile by listing the four books Amazon reviewers and my own self find to be must reads about the case.

The two physical books I own at the moment:

Jack the Ripper: the Facts by Paul Begg is generally thought the best, most recent (2004) overview book that lays out the history of the case and discusses various theories and suspects. It is available used, alas.

The Complete Jack the Ripper A to Z by Begg, Fido, and Skinner is a five hundred fifty pageish encyclopedia of people, places, and books. It is considered the one stop reference to the case, and it is particularly excellent due to the authors attempt to find photos for every involved person they can, adding a general historical interest to the book.

The book that most people give the “if you read just one book” commendation to is Philip Sugden’s Complete History of Jack the Ripper. This is the first Ripper book I read recently, and it spoils one for almost all the others. Sugden sticks as close to historical fact as he can and brings a determined dose of grounded sense to suspects and theories.   It’s an older work, but defining, and it is available for Kindle at a very nice price (which is how I came to buy and read it).

Finally, for the determined historically minded Jack the Ripper enthusiast? is the Ultimate Jack the Ripper Companion, which is actually a sourcebook of archival material concerning the case slected by the authors. “Selected” does not indicate brief, because the book is over seven hundred pages of police reports, inquest transcripts, newspaper articles and letters in an attempt to gather a huge chunk of the relevant historical paperwork in one place. Not for the idly curious, it is excels by allowing one to flesh out the quotes and summaries in other Ripper books.

So there are the recommended four. You can compile your own list, I am sure, because there are something like two hundred easily listed Ripper books out there, and more published every year. Theories come and go, the suspect list only lengthens, but Saucy Jack remains, historical but also legendary, long dead but still alive in our collective imagination.

(It occurs to me I should mention that some of these these books, like many true crime books, contain some photos of a very graphic nature, and one would be well advised to be wary in the photo sections or the victim entries or chapters if he or she is at all easily offended. I saw the Mary Kelly death bed photo at about twelve years of age, and it remains to this day my definition of “gruesome”. Forewarned.)