I added that parenthetical "continuing" since Mr. Edsall has been writing about this sort of thing since at least the early 1990s, when he co-authored a book entitled Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics. I read that book when it first appeared in hardback. Even though it's over twenty years old, it's still as relevant today as it was back then.
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.
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.
During the past couple of years I've gotten interested in the work of Colin Wilson. In the future I'll explain why that is so. I'm most interested in his fiction, and recently I've been going through his crime novels. Wilson often wrote about serial killers, both in his fiction as well as his non-fiction; therefore, I've been brushing up on my knowledge of serial killers. So, of course, that requires reading about Jack the Ripper at some point.
One of the best known books about the Ripper murders is Donald Rumbelow's The Complete Jack the Ripper. It has seen several editions since its initial publication in 1975, and I've photographed the cover of the 2013 edition. Rumbelow's book is an enjoyable work of popular history, although I have to admit that I would have preferred it to be more scholarly. I'm not a big fan of history books without citations. There are no notes of any sort, not even for the quotations, and the bibliography is less than a page. I'm not sure why publishers find this acceptable. I guess, perhaps, that scholarly apparatus puts off some readers, but the lack of proper citations undermines to some degree the intellectual seriousness of any historical book. Sadly, though, we just have to live with this sort of thing in true crime writing.
Some books on the Ripper murders contain a fair amount of social history. Rumbelow includes a bit of this, but it's mostly confined to the first chapter. He then constructs vivid accounts of the murder victims and the police investigation. Along the way he argues, somewhat plausibly, that Elizabeth Stride, who is traditionally considered one of the five canonical Ripper victims, was not killed by Jack the Ripper. Instead, Rumbelow claims, on the basis of the eyewitness testimony, that she was murdered by someone who was "clearly passionate" about her, and thus not someone who had merely picked her up on the street.
The heart of the book, containing almost half of its pages, is Rumbelow's discussion of Ripper suspects. One thing that I've noticed about Ripper books is the way in which the
detailed accounts of the murders provide no real clue as to the identity of the killer. When it comes to naming names, readers inevitably encounter discussions of Melville Macnaghten's papers, Robert Anderson's autobiography The Lighter Side of My Official Life (and Donald Swanson's marginalia in his copy of Anderson's book), asylum records, arrest records, and the like. That is, really nothing in the earlier chapters of a typical Ripper book gives us much help in determining the identity of the Ripper. Rumbelow's book is no different in this regard. He looks at many suspects, even the farfetched ones put forth over the years, but doesn't settle on one as the most likely. The book ends with chapters on the Ripper in popular culture and other Ripper-like killers.
Overall, I liked Rumbelow's book and am happy to recommend it. As I indicated above, I would have preferred more scholarly apparatus. Another defect, as far as I'm concerned, is the lack of maps. Maybe other readers have a map of the East End in their heads, but I don't. Even a simple street map would have been a great help. Many publishers pay little attention to this sort of thing. (Military history books routinely have atrociously inadequate maps. Why authors tolerate this sort of thing is beyond me.) But Rumbelow's book is soberly written and free of wild speculation. If you're interested in Jack the Ripper, Rumbelow's The Complete Jack the Ripper is well worth your time.
Years ago I read Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, his retelling of the short life of Chris McCandless. I missed this post when Krakauer first put it online, but it seems that he now has some new ideas about what caused McCandless's death.
You can hear Krakauer discuss his new theory in this interview with NPR.