A biography of the victims of Jack the Ripper has won a major literary award.
Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five has been awarded the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, organisers announced on Tuesday.
The British historian takes home £50,000 for winning the award, with chair of judges and editor of The Times Literary Supplement Stig Abell describing The Five as “brilliantly written and “brilliantly researched”.
He added: “It’s a great story and it’s a great moral act, reclaiming the voice of these women.”
Rubenhold’s book examines the lives of the five women – Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly – considered the “canonical” victims of the serial killer.
Rubenhold said she wanted to untangle the “web of assumptions, rumour and unfounded speculation” surrounding the women, who were all murdered by in London in 1888.
She found there was no evidence that three of the women were sex workers, despite the widely held belief the ripper targeted prostitutes.
“These were ordinary people, like you and I, who happened to fall upon hard times,” the winning author said.
“There’s so much in their stories that we can take away that tells us about how we live today: everything from homelessness to addiction to domestic violence. And people become victims because society doesn’t care about them.”
Rubenhold is the seventh woman to win the Baillie Gifford Prize, formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize, since it began in 1999.
The other shortlisted books were Casey Cep’s Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, And The Last Trial Of Harper Lee, Laura Cumming’s On Chapel Sands, William Feaver’s The Lives Of Lucian Freud: Youth, Julia Lovell’s Maoism: A Global History and Azadeh Moaveni’s Guest House For Young Widows.