The 2019 Baillie Gifford Prize (previously the Samuel Johnson Prize), which celebrates the best in nonfiction, was awarded to The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold.
Selected from a shortlist of six titles, The Five tells the story of Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane, five women who were murdered, in separate instances, in 1888. Their murderer, the man who would be known as Jack the Ripper, became famous; the women themselves faded into obscurity. Rubenhold uses archival material to refocus the story, centering both the women who lost their lives and the larger context of poverty, misogyny, and homelessness in which they lived.
The judges noted The Five’s combination of passion and historical accuracy, as well as its inventive and timely exploration of a well-documented subject. Said judge Frances Wilson, “It’s so urgent and it’s so eloquent and it’s so angry and beautifully put together.” Fellow judge Dr Xand van Tulleken described the book as “absolutely captivating and gripping,” and urged readers to see “how relevant it is to life in the U.K. at the moment.”