Jack the Ripper: A Starting Point?
September 22, 2009 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Can anybody recommend a good nonfiction book to read about Jack the Ripper? I am not sure what book is considered to have better scholarship of so many books out there and am not remotely a "Ripperologist" (yet). Like the Zodiac killer, many folks have their own pet theories and the Ripper books are plentiful on Amazon. Any info on where to start to read about ol' Saucy Jack would be appreciated. (Feel free to name more than one title if you want.)_
posted by snap_dragon to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow.

(If you make it out to Whit chapel he also does by far the best tour of the area)

Not nonfiction but heavily recommended, especially for the footnotes: From Hell
posted by Artw at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2009

The Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore graphic novel (more like graphic telephone book) From Hell is quite amazing, pursuing one theory about the Ripper deep, deep down into its inevitable conclusions. Very highly recommended, and well-footnoted to boot.
posted by rokusan at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2009

Jesus, Artw. Get out of my room.
posted by rokusan at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2009

From Hell.

From Hell, From Hell, From Hell.

Yes, it's a "graphic novel," but it's also one of the most meticulously researched, enthralling, and profound works about Jack the Ripper out there. Alan Moore not only does his factual homework, but also ties the Ripper murders into a cornucopia of theories about masonry, culture, and the idea that the Ripper was the defining symbol of the turning century and the age to come. The last book (or chapter, depending), "Dance of the Gull-Catchers," is a beyond-the-story look at Ripperologists and the rabbit hole of the topic itself, and were you to read it apart from the rest of the work, would still be the ideal answer to the question you just asked.

*do not watch the movie.
posted by Shepherd at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2009

Arrgh to both Artw and rokusan!

Still, if this isn't pointing the questioner in a clear and undeniable direction, I'll eat my leather apron.
posted by Shepherd at 11:27 AM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by Artw at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2009

I came in here to recommend From Hell too, but I can add a little value by suggesting that you get From Hell: Dance of the Gull Catchers if you can. It has content that wasn't included in the compilation volume that is about Moore's experiences researching Jack the Ripper.
posted by ursus_comiter at 11:39 AM on September 22, 2009

It's been really heavily criticized, but Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer is kind of a fun read.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:48 AM on September 22, 2009

Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer is, if nothing else, very well written.
posted by box at 11:52 AM on September 22, 2009

Four minutes! I shouldn't've read all those negative reviews.
posted by box at 11:53 AM on September 22, 2009

(heh... I was just coming in to say that Patricia Cornwell's book is an infuriating read and should be avoided at all costs.)
posted by scody at 11:56 AM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

There's a rebuttal to Cornwell's case against Walter Sickert here.

From Hell fans might find this bit interesting: I will address the use of the name "Nemo" separately. Nemo, roughly translated from Latin, means "No-one." To sign a letter or an editorial "Mr. Nemo" was, in effect, to sign it "Mr. No-one." This was simply a variation on signing "Anonymous" that just happened to be in vogue in the late 1800s. That it was used in several Ripper letters, as well as by Sickert, is indicative not of a link between the two, but rather of the popularity of the trend itself.

Also it looks like the Casebook site might be an excellent place to look for Ripper information and links to more books.
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on September 22, 2009

I particularly liked Jack the Ripper: The 21st Century Investigation, but I have to confess, it's the only Ripper book I've read.

Sidenote: I live in Whitechapel, and whenever Marriott would identify a street I'd look it up in my a to zed and if it was still in existence I'd walk it the next weekend.
posted by Mutant at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2009

Another vote against Cornwall. I thought her logic was very circular, and her writing was a mess. I finished that book not just unconvinced about Sickert, but pretty sure she was a bit of nutcase.
posted by tula at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Adding to the chorus for From Hell. Not only is it meticulously researched, but it's a literary-historical tour de force. It's just a great artistic work in an unconventional medium. The story is excellent, and the art--my god, the art. I never thought black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings could be so sophisticated.

I cannot recommend it enough.
posted by mixer at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2009

The Fox and the Flies is a nonfiction book by Charles van Onselen about the life of career criminal Joseph Silver. van Onselen suggests very strongly, but does not quite claim, that Silver was Jack the Ripper. It is an exhaustively researched and very professional work of history, and the case he makes, or at least suggests, is as convincing as any other I have heard.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 12:52 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's important to keep in mind with From Hell that Moore both uses the Gull theory as a narrative frame while being critical of it. This makes it a very different beast from Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer which is built around convicting Strickert of the murders. (Of course the most probable theory that the Ripper was a middle-class nobody like the dozens of serial killers documented since his time doesn't do much to sell books.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:15 PM on September 22, 2009

I have no idea about the quality of the scholarship, but I really enjoyed Cornwell's book as a book on tape.
posted by Jahaza at 3:09 PM on September 22, 2009

I went on the walking tour with Donald Rumbelow and he was fascinating and well-informed - I've heard he's the leading expert and he seemed to have thorough knowledge of all the competing theories (including the ridiculous ones, and why they're ridiculous.) So I'd second his book, though I haven't personally read it. I know it has several historical photographs in it, too, which might be interesting to see if you do choose to read the graphic novel.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:11 PM on September 22, 2009

Not that anyone has asked but I would avoid all walking tours that are not Donald Rumbelow's one - they tend to be jobbing actors and a bit ill informed.
posted by Artw at 4:33 PM on September 22, 2009

Best answer: Donald Rumbelow is in fact the leading expert in Jack the Ripper...he started out as a beat cop walking a beat in the whitechapel area and got interested in the criminal history of the area....he finished his career as the curator of Scotland Yard's black museum.

His walking tour was the first, and is still the best but that's London Walks for you.

So, yeah, Rumbelow's book The Complete Jack the Ripper.

And then if you are looking for fiction, Robert Asprin did a time travel series that spent two books on Jack the Ripper and they were a lot of fun and covered a lot of the suspects.
posted by legotech at 4:52 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: oh, and this one from McFarland Pubs is an amazing survey of every suspect mentioned...ever.

The Jack the Ripper Suspects: Persons Cited by Investigators and Theorists
posted by legotech at 4:56 PM on September 22, 2009

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