Cover Image: The Five

The Five

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Member Reviews

murder, historical-figures, historical-places-events, historical-research, women, England 

It's about time that the stories of the victims and all of the marginalized women is told! I only recently learned about the book (and the opera) from a BBC Radio podcast, hopped over to NetGalley and begged for a review copy. As a history geek and a female retired nurse who worked inner city hospital as well as jails, you can believe that this is not an unbiased review. 
All of the folklore tells of the women being sex workers and alcoholics but not how they came to that end, or how women were viewed and treated at that time. Nor are most people aware of how limited the progress for poor women in ANY country. In telling the stories of each of these women and the author has given them proper eulogies as well as highlighting the inadequate legal process of their time. By the way, how many readers were aware that four of these women were over forty? 
I requested and received a free ebook copy from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing via NetGalley. Thank you!
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Jack the Ripper is such an interesting historical villain. Not only did he mutilate his victims, he has remained faceless for 100+ years. Many have proclaimed to know his identity, but we never will. He is a mythical legend that we can’t seem to get enough of. There are movies, books, TV shows and podcasts that discuss facts and theories about this serial killer. While he is undeniably interesting, he wasn’t the only human being involved in the murdering spree. He had victims. And as it turns out, the women he savagely murdered were human beings with lives and a history. Rubenhold does an excellent job ensuring that curious readers learn the fact about the victims and the times. 

Admittedly, I’ve known Jack the Ripper to be the killer of prostitutes. But from reading The Five I’ve learned that homeless women were assumed to be prostitutes due to their destitute living arrangements. That fake news and false sources often implied they were prostitutes, but there is no hard evidence to support these claims. In fact, 4 of the 5 women at the time of their death were not in the sex trade. Although, 2 of the 5 women at one time or another were noted in history as being females who performed sexual acts for money. But in the late 1800’s, lowly women had very few options to earn wages. Sometimes prostitution was the only trade available. But it doesn’t matter because prostitute or not, they were human beings. And no matter your trade, no one deserves to die in such a horrific way. 

Rubenhold paints a very vivid picture of the 1800’s. The laws, views and beliefs were vastly different from what I know now. While reading it seemed like another world. Sometimes it was difficult to accept how barbaric life could be back then. Like how mental hospitals had the word “lunatic” in the official name. Or how a woman could walk around with black eyes and others assumed she did something to deserve it. It was an in-depth history lesson on the odds and ends on social tolerance and acceptance that they don’t discuss in history class. I thoroughly enjoyed this insight. It really added to the overall story and reader’s understanding. 

While The Five is full of information, it is an incredibly interesting read. For me, oftentimes, I find the serial killer themselves to be the point of interest. The mind frame of a psychopath is something so fascinating that I forgot there was an entire other side. Rubenhold show cased a new perspective that is just as tantalizing as the lunatic. As a non-non-fiction reader, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. This was the untold story that I didn’t know I need, but I really did need it. I’d encourage other murder junkies to check this out. 

Thank you NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the read!
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Let me start by saying I'm not a fan of True Crime, and I find the Jack-the-Ripper murders too gruesome to read about.  But "The Five" is one of the best nonfiction books I've read in a very long time.  I've been raving about this book to friends, family, students, and colleagues. 

This  book does not provide an account of the infamous murders of 19th century Whitechapel;  those looking for details on the killings will be disappointed.  As the book argues, "In order to keep him [Jack the Ripper] alive, we have had to forget his victims."  Instead, Rubenhold attempts to redress the wrongs done to the five women who were murdered by preserving their individual stories as orphans, immigrants, shopkeepers, and artists.  The author's research is compelling as it builds the stories of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane -- women who  struggled with poverty, alcoholism, abuse, and loneliness.  

Both the Victorian press and London police were prepared to stereotype any woman who "slept rough" as a prostitute: "The Five" is a challenging examination of the ways in which women were exceptionally vulnerable members of Victorian society, many of them living precarious lives just one bit of bad luck away from disaster. As Rubenhold writes, "By permitting them to speak, by attempting to understand their experiences and see their humanity, we can restore to them the respect and compassion to which they are entitled.  The victims of Jack the Ripper were never 'just prostitutes'; they were daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, and lovers.  They were women.  They were human beings, and surely that in itself is enough."  

Highly recommended for book clubs, this would also make a fabulous beach read.
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I'm not quite sure what I expected going in to The Five, but this book managed to exceed my already high expectations.  As a avid reader of all things on the Jack the Ripper case, I can't believe that I've never noticed the lack of information that is given on his victims.  It's even more heartbreaking when you find out how far the women slid until the were virtually homeless and just how much the press and cops at the time twisted around the facts to fit the 'he's murdering prostitutes' narrative they constructed.

While this is a non-fiction book, it read like a work of fiction (in a good way).  It was an easy to read look into the lives of these women.  It never felt like the author was just throwing information at us to prove she knew what she was talking about.  It was easy to read and easy to understand.

This really was the book I never knew that I needed, but I am so glad it came out.

(Further review will appear in May 2019 at
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Considering that what connects these five women is Victorian London's most famous sociopath he (or she!) is barely mentioned. Instead in this meticulously researched book Hallie Rubenhold relates the lives of his victims from their early promising lives to hours before their murder. As evening approached in Victorian London 70,000 had no idea just where they would sleep. If you couldn't find 4d for a place in one of the 233 vermin-infested doss houses the street was your only choice. It has taken over 140 years to give these women a voice, despite the huge Jack the Ripper industry which shows no sign of ending.
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The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed By Jack The Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold is a book I have been waiting for. This book documents the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper: Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane. This book is not about Jack the Ripper. This is about his victims, so their names will not be forgotten. Polly was a mother of 6, ended up in workhouses and dealing with alcoholism. Annie grew up around soldiers, watched 4 siblings die, also suffered from alcoholism and then watched her own 7 children die. Elizabeth was an unmarried mother and dealt with domestic abuse. Kate was born into a large family and into extreme poverty. Mary Jane lived within the sex trade. These women were more than the legend of their killer and their names have been drowned out by the legend of their killer. This book is to make their names known.

“In order to keep him alive, we have had to forget his victims.” -The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

This book is everything. I think with everything going on within our society and politics right now, this is a book we need to read. This book shows how women are viewed and treated by their social status. Alcoholism was very common since water in the Victorian Age was usually contaminated. Mental health and addiction meant nothing. Women of poverty, without a man to protect them, were viewed as worthless. The fact that history describes the victims just as “prostitutes.” If these women were of higher social standing and married to respectable men, would they have been judged throughout history in the same way?

One of the best parts of this book is the depth of the research. The author leaves no stone unturned. Not only that but the book documents these women and their final days without putting Jack the Ripper in the forefront. These women were brutally murdered and did not deserve their fate and they do not deserve to have their names forgotten.

If I could rate this book 10 out of 5 stars, I would. Alas, I could only rate this 5 out of 5 stars. A Must-Read!

Thank you to NetGalley, Hallie Rubenhold, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for a copy of the book.
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I was intrigued when I saw the description for this book.  The Jack the Ripper murders are probably the most famous and most studied crime of all time, and yet I hadn't ever given much thought to who his victims really were.

Hallie Rubenhold has obviously done the homework, presenting a realistic and informed portait of these five women and how they had the misfortune to come to such a gruesome end.  There's a wealth of detail about everyday life in Victorian England and how close many were to finding themselves in dire circumstances.  I hadn't realized just how widespread the poverty really was with a vast swathe of the population only one misfortune away from sleeping rough on the streets of London or worse, being sent to the poorhouse where they became trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and shame.

The book is careful to correct the record about The Five's personal histories and makes an good argument for the most basic fact most people could recall about them (that they were all prostitutes) may actually be grounded in prejudice about class.  She is sure to only include verifiable facts, and it was interesting to see how many things she could substantiate through official records.

I would recommend this book to fans of Victorian history more than true crime fans, as the focus is obviously much more on the victims lives rather than the Ripper's crimes, but I'm sure any Ripperology completest would be happy to add it to their collection.
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The premise of this book is one I’ve often thought about — that it is unfair and disgusting that Jack the Ripper is a household name while his victims are virtually unknown.  Rubenhold does a great job redressing this injustice.  I do feel that she beat the drum a bit too hard on the question of whether or not the women were ‘just prostitutes.’  Two out of the five canonical victims were or had been prostitutes, and I’m not sure it really matters anyway — the Ripper certainly preyed on desperately poor street women who lived on the outmost fringes of society.  And I found Rubenhold’s conclusion that the victims were all killed while asleep to be rather speculative, although interesting.  Its not at all accurate to say that this was an enjoyable book (that’s far too cheerful a word), but it was fascinating.
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I was given an advance ebook copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The reason for writing this book alone sets a very high standard and the author does not disappoint.  For all the Jack the Ripper books out there, we finally have a book that focuses on the five women who were his victims.  They have been shrouded in mythology and given merely the term “prostitutes” and this continues in the popular mindset today.

Hallie gives them back their humanity.  Not only do we learn that this conclusion of their professions is almost completely incorrect, but you genuinely feel for these women and the lives they led.

It is, of course, hard to find perfect records of anyone belonging to the poor and working classes, but Hallie does an incredible job of bringing together what is known with the wider world that they would have inhabited.  So while we may not know exactly what they did or exactly where one of them were at a particular moment, if, for example, the author knows they were living on a certain street, the author devotes time to giving you a vivid account of that street, that area of their lives.  While we may not be able to see them, we can see their surroundings through their eyes.  Rather than focus on how they looked when they were found, the author gives us as detailed an account as possible on their entire lives up to the moment they lay down where they are.

Almost all the information in this book is relevant; only a few times does the content veer perhaps too deeply into the life of a man in their lives, which I would argue did not need to be covered quite so much, but overall, this does not detract from the quality of the book.

Each woman is given her own section and Mary Jane Kelly, the last victim, of which the least is known, the author still manages to render an excellent account whilst making it very clear that there’s only so much we can know.

Excellent work.  I’m so happy this book has finally been written.  Well done!
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TONS of information. But writing style is as if a college prof just published her lecture notes in book form. Very dense and slow reading.
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Wonderful. Hallie Rubenhold gives back a sense of agency to five of the world’s most well known victims whose names can’t even be listed by most people. The care and the research the author took into creating this book is tenderly seen on every page, and I only hope that more true crime/true crime-esque books will look to The Five as an example of how to humanize victims of sensationalized crimes. As someone who’s big into true crime and does historic research for a living, I was shocked by the number of inaccuracies I’d heard about the Ripper murders over the years, especially since I believed them. Rubenhold debunks the incorrect pieces of information that have been touted for years as fact, yet she does it in such a way that the reader doesn’t feel like a total jackass for believing the inaccuracies in the first place, which is a sign of Rubenhold’s skill as a tactful, empathetic writer. Most importantly, Rubenhold brings everything back to the direct source material. From census records to workhouse records, she places everything she writes about these women in the most basic, inarguable form of sourced research.

Sometimes The Five leans a little more toward the speculation side of what someone’s emotions were or what they thought, etc., and as a personal quirk, that’s not something I love in the nonfiction I read. It’s certainly not enough to make me dock any stars or anything like that because I don’t even think Rubenhold is making wild assertions in speculating what Annie Chapman or any of the other women might have felt about this or that, but it’s just a personal pet peeve of mine that I’m not completely in love with.

Lastly, I follow Hallie Rubenhold on Twitter, and watching her react to the number of self-proclaimed male Ripperologists who are pissed off by this book for whatever stupid reason gives me life! We need more Hallie Rubenholds, and we need more true crime books that give dignity and humanity back to the victims.
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This is a book that I have wanted to see written for a long time. Ripperologists and their fascination with an undiscovered murderer make me feel uneasy and there has been a lack of empathy and awareness for those who died.

The book starts by painting a picture of London at the time and although I knew about the slums in Whitechapel and the East End, I was completely unaware of the extent of rough sleepers in Trafalgar Square. The book then uses historical records and newspaper accounts to relate the story of each woman. This approach was effective and engaging and threw up some surprises for me as a reader. I had the impression that all the victims were young and in reality they were mostly in their forties - this is the age I am now, so I found their stories to be highly relatable. 

This was a timely book and deserves to be widely read - in the UK it seems that many would want a return to Victorian values and this shows what happens when society refuses to help the people who need it the most.
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**I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.**
I have always wondered if the women murdered by Jack the Ripper were all, in fact, prostitutes.  This book definitely gives more accurate information about each of these women and how they found themselves in dire circumstances.  There is some information that seems a bit far fetched,  Some assumptions just seemed a bit unlikely.  
The book is very heavy on information and it often felt like I were walking through mud.  I had to stop several times and read something else because I was stuck.  
If you are interested in Jack the Ripper, this book is certainly full of information that I had never read before.  IF you just like true crime, this one may be a little too dense.
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I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in the Ripper murders. Rather than trying to figure out the Ripper's identity, Rubenhold has researched the lives of his five female victims and produced an account which damns the Victorian press, police and every historian who believed the claims that all five women were 'fallen' prostitutes. I learned a great deal about the laws in the UK and Sweden which left these women destitute before their deaths, as well as social attitudes towards alcoholism, divorce and separation, custody of children, mental illness, sexual health and sex work. This book should become the definitive text on the Ripper murders- it does not elevate a brutal killer, but rather seeks to humanise and memorialise the women whose lives he stole.
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**I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

Rubenhold writes a beautifully moving narrative nonfiction about Jack the Ripper’s five victims. As she states in her introduction, these women were mothers and daughters and deserve the truth to be told. While history has labeled all the victims as prostitutes, Rubenhold shows otherwise. Extensive research helps to share each woman’s story, from their humble beginnings to the situations that led these women to Whitechapel in 1888. Rubenhold humanizes the victims, something that needed to be done. Her conclusion is so perfect, one of the best summaries I’ve ever read.

This is my favorite book so far this year, for its writing style and for the subject matter. Rubenhold has a talent and easily captured my interest from page one. She also uses this book to tell the social history of London and of England in the mid-1800s. Circumstances regarding social customs and economic/political upheavals played a big part in the eventual murders of these women. 

It’s so good to see the women’s stories being told. Her research proves that some statements made and assumptions about the women passed down over the years are erroneous. I wish I could give this book to everyone I know and have them read it. It’s a great example of narrative nonfiction, of women’s history, of true crime, and of nineteenth-century British history. A must read!
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Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC of this book.
I like the writing of this book.  I'm not gonna call this book a story because Jack the Ripper was real.  Those victims were real.  It was a memorable read for me.  It's different from other Ripper stories that I've read.
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I've read a few books about Jack the Ripper, been to the exhibition and done the walking tour of Whitechapel, but this book is an absolute revelation.

The book is extensively researched and examines the stories of the victims who for so long have been overshadowed by their murderer. Challenging the convention that the victims were all prostitutes, Rubenhold looks at their individual stories which are tragically similar. Stories of abject poverty, childbearing, abusive relationships, homelessness and alcoholism.

This book is absolutely fascinating and adds a completely different perspective to the established narratives and the reveals the misogyny and hypocrisy of Victorian society that is often ignored in the quest to uncover the Ripper's identity. 

Thank you Netgalley for the advanced copy in return for a review.
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I have read probably more books, more theories, and watched more TV programs, about Jack the Ripper's identity than anyone should. Despite having a reasonably good knowledge of the lives of women and the poor in18th and 19th century England, I never gave much thought to his victims. The Five is about 130 years overdue in bringing  Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Kate, and Mary Jane to life. It is all too easy to gloss over them and accept the prejudices of society and the press. The first disturbing fact, at least to me, is that four out of the five women were in all probability, not prostitutes. Only Mary Jane Kelly had a provable history of prostitution. It does not matter whether they were or not. They had merely fallen on hard times, were without dependable male support and lived in a society which set up impossible expectations for women and the poor. The laws and attitudes of the time placed more obstacles in their path than help and actively conspired to make women's lives difficult, if not impossible. The fact that women were reduced to sleeping on the streets did not automatically make them prostitutes or criminals. Alcohol use was also a contributing factor to the downward trajectory of the women's circumstances. Gin was the universal escape for both the men and women of the working classes, and violence invariably followed.

The Five is an exhaustively researched narrative that kept me ricocheting between tears and rage. It is incredible that so much material is available on three of Jack's victims. The other two are less well-documented, especially Mary Jane, who never seemed to tell anyone the truth of her life. Rubenhold does make assumptions about them, but to me, the premises are well based on fact. I recommend The Five without reservation to anyone interested in crime or social/women's history. Thanks to Houghton and NetGalley for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.

RATING- 5 Stars
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This is an incredibly well researched book that challenges the myth that Jack the Ripper's victims were all prostitutes.  While they were all certainly 'unfortunate' women in one way or another, the evidence suggests that not all the women were working as prostitutes at the time of their deaths.

An extremely interesting and educational commentary on the social state of 19th Century London and a refreshing change to hear about the real lives of the real women involved, rather than the 'legendary' monster who perpetrated the crimes and is so often the subject of books and movies and numerous conspiracy theories.

A heartbreaking account of the tragic circumstances that brought five women to their fate in Whitechapel, Victorian London in 1888.
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There are many books that tell the story of Jack the Ripper's crime.  This is the first book that I came across to tell the story from a different side.  This one goes out for people who are fascinated by one of the most horrifying serial killers in the history.
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