In two earlierposts I discussed two books about Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow's The Jack the Ripper and Paul Begg's Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History. In this post I want to say something about Philip Sugden's The Complete History of Jack the Ripper. I suggest, though, that you read the earlier posts before reading this one.
I got the 2002 revised edition of Sugden's book through my local library, so, once again, my copy is a little beaten up. But these photos of the cover and the table of contents will give you an idea of what to expect.
First of all, hallelujah, Sugden's book contains maps! This addresses one of the main complaints that I have about Rumbelow's and Begg's books. At the very beginning of the book you'll find a general map of the Whitechapel Murders. Here's a photo of it.
As you work through Sugden's account, you'll find smaller maps relating to each individual murder.
Sugden's book is crammed with noticeably more detail than either Rumbelow's and Begg's books. So the maps are a great aid to understanding his reconstructions of the events. For this reason alone, I prefer his book to Rumbelow's and Begg's.
Sugden's book contains extensive notes to document his claims. He clearly did an enormous amount of digging. Unfortunately, however, there is no bibliography, although there is a long list of archival sources. It's not that I can't live without a bibliography, but it would be useful to have one.
One thing that differentiates Sugden's book from Rumbelow's or Begg's is that Sugden writes very little about the social history of the East End. Instead, he concentrates on the murders, and since his book runs to 500 pages, he provides a mountain of factual research and documentation. Sometimes it's a challenge to work through all of it, but ultimately it proves to be worthwhile. I admit, though, that some readers might find the level of detail overwhelming. In that case, Rumbelow's book might be a better choice, since even Begg's book is fairly heavy reading at times.
As to the identity of Jack the Ripper, Sugden regards Montague John Druitt, Aaron Kosminksi, Michael Ostrog, and George Chapman as the most likely suspects. He exonerates, as far as he is concerned, Druitt, Kosminksi, and Ostrog. He considers Chapman the best candidate, that is to say, the least unlikely suspect, and judiciously concludes that the case against him has not been proven (which, Sugden is careful to point out, is not the same as saying that Chapman should be considered innocent).
Of the three books, I like Sugden's the best, although it is certainly the most demanding because of its length and attention to detail. Readers should keep that in mind when trying to decide which of the three to read.
Thomas Frank looks at the swindle being perpetrated by higher education.
Because I worked as an adjunct for a decade before I left academia in 2003, I can fully appreciate Frank's remarks about part-time faculty. But I also felt the poignancy of his remarks about wildly overpriced textbooks, rampaging administrators, and ballooning student debt.
In an earlier post I wrote up a few of my thoughts on Donald Rumbelow's The Complete Jack the Ripper. In this post I'd like to say something about Paul Begg's Jack the Ripper: The Definitive History.
My photos of the 2004 revised paperback edition are of a somewhat battered copy from my local library. Thus they aren't of the best quality, but they'll give you some idea of the book's cover and table of contents.
First, a few words about the apparatus. Each chapter of Begg's book contains numerous endnotes that cite many different sources. In my post on Rumbelow's book I complained about the lack of notes. So in this single respect Begg's book is superior to Rumbelow's. Unfortunately, Begg's book, unlike Rumbelow's, doesn't have a bibliography, so you'll have to work through the notes if you want to find suggestions for further reading. This is annoying, since putting together a bibliography is not all that difficult to do. Begg's book, like Rumbelow's, does not contain a single map. Once again, as I mentioned in my earlier post, I don't have a map of the East End in my head. I assume that many readers are in the same situation. Consequently, a map would have been helpful. Overall, therefore, simply because of the endnotes, I prefer Begg's book from the scholarly point of view.
Begg's book contains much more social history than Rumbelow's. If you prefer to read
a Ripper book that mostly concentrates on the murders, then Rumbelow is probably your
man. Of course, the social history is interesting. The extent of poverty and violence in the East End matters for understanding the Ripper's crimes, but knowing about it doesn't really help in trying to determine his identity. So you can take your pick based on the degree of your interest in historical context of the murders.
As for the identity of Jack the Ripper, Begg looks at the traditional suspects at some length and, fortunately, doesn't pay much attention to the wilder candidates. Begg ultimately plumps for Kosminski. Here's what he says on page 351:
So who was Jack the Ripper? The sad fact is that nobody knows and nobody is likely to know. Having said that, somewhere there may be a document - perhaps misfiled at the Public Record Office, in the archives of a library or maybe sitting in a dusty box in someone's loft - that will reveal all. As things stand, I think Aaron Kosminski is the leading contender, not because I think he was Jack the Ripper, but because of all the policemen who expressed an opinion, Anderson is the only one to have expressed certainty. We need to find out why.
Begg is referring to Robert Anderson, who was appointed to the CID during the Ripper investigation. He fingered Kosminksi in his memoirs, but not by name. Only Donald Swanson, in his marginalia to his copy of Anderson's book, identified the killer as Kosminski. Subsequent research by Ripperologists has found only one Kosminski who fits the bill, namely, Aaron Kosminski. Begg's case against Kosminski isn't conclusive, but it's certainly food for thought.
In conclusion, I should say that I greatly enjoyed Begg's book. I recommend it to anyone interested in Jack the Ripper.
It always brightens my day to receive a new episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre in the mail. This time we defy death with Harry Houdini. I mean, how great is that? As you can see, I'm an admirer of the series.