Uncovering Jack the Ripper's London by Richard Jones
Photography by Sean East
Finished: Jul. 19 2009
First Published: 2007
Genre: true crime, non-fiction, social history
In the autumn of 1888 a series of brutal murders in the East End of London sent shockwaves reverberating around the civilized world and caused a scandal that struck right at the heart of the British establishment.
Reason for Reading: If you've read my reviews long enough you will know I have a particular interest in Victorian crime and I'll read anything new to me and interesting about Jack the Ripper.
Comments: Written by a leading expert on Jack the Ripper, I found this book unique in that it focuses on the social history surrounding the case rather than the solving of it. We are introduced to East End London, the people, the racial unrest, the poverty, and the lifestyle of those living there. In Whitechapel and surrounding area (where the murders occurred) we are shown, in several chapters, how deeply sunk into poverty the people were while a short walk away was the opulence of the rich, the social day to day lifestyle of these poor and in particular a chapter is devoted to the life of the "Unfortunates" (prostitutes), how and where they lived.
As the book further progresses it tells in detail, relying heavily on direct source material such as police reports, inquest testimony, memoirs, and newspapers (telling us whether witnesses are reliable or not, and why) the case of Jack the Ripper. Rather than dwell on the police investigation, picking it apart and re-interpreting it, we are shown exactly the case as it was known through the eyes of the contemporaries involved plus the reaction of the immediate surrounding society and the British society at large. This is an excellent book for anyone wanting to really learn and experience the life of the poor in Victorian England and to know why Jack the Ripper struck such a nerve with the British media and people at the time. It really was not just because of the killings; it made people recognise a part of their world they had been turning a blind eye to and which they no longer could.
Along with the text are profusely rich illustrations. Many photographs have been taken of the exact places today and shown side by side with a photo from the 1800s. This is very impressive. Also several photos of places in the area which still retain their Victorian ambiance are shown as well. But the real meat is to be found in the contemporary illustrations, many real photographs, copies of newspaper articles or headlines, mortuary photographs of each victim and a scene of the crime photograph of Jack's last victim, contemporary illustrations some from newspapers and others of political satire such as from Punch magazine, also included are photos of the first two famous "Ripper" letters. A real feast for the eyes for any ripperologist!
I recommend this book to those who know a thing or two already about the case as this focuses on the social history of the case and is a very interesting read from that point of view. I also think it would be a great introduction for a first time reader of the case as you will be presented with the full facts of the case but not be influenced by an author's bias trying to convince you on who Jack the Ripper really was. You can move onto those books afterwards and be "armed" with the facts. This is a keeper!
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