Book Review: “The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper” – Hallie Rubenhold

81ZQ2NrGldLThe Blurb

“Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.

Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight and gives these women back their stories.”

What I thought:

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book! Finally a voice for the women who became the victims of Jack The Ripper. While Jack has become the hero of this story over the century and a half since the Whitechapel murders, Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary Jane can now tell their own stories, and they are ones that will make you weep with pity and frustration.

Mothers, wives, daughters, friends, all these women had, at some point, a family that loved them, some were educated, all suffered at the hands of an unjust and cruel society that failed them over and over again. What Hallie Rubenhold has done with this book, is not only tell a fascinating tale of women’s lives in Victorian times, but she has bestowed some dignity upon them, finally.

Verdict:

Read this! I implore you! Never sentimental, always empathetic, this is a non-fiction book that is as gripping and page-turning as any fiction novel. It’s important and timely but also just a damn good read. Cannot recommend highly enough! I suffered from a huge book hangover after reading The Five and I am still thinking about them now.

 

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Her Majesty Saffy approved heartily!

 

 

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Review – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Image result for sapiensWhat I Thought:

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a book with over 500 pages about humankind over the last several million years may be dry and inaccessible. Not so with this book. It is a feast for the brain! Harari has made a very complicated subject easy to understand because of his way of writing, which is engaging and clear.

Sapiens really challenges you and makes you think. For example, Harari provides some intriguing arguments about how we were all duped by the Agricultural Revolution which turned us into farmers when we evolved essentially to be hunter-foragers. We tend to assume that the agricultural revolution was a great leap forward – when actually, according to this book, it was more akin to a great disaster.

Likewise, he analyses the Cognitive Revolution which allowed mankind to develop a consciousness about life and to believe in “phenomena” such as religion and culture. The role of empires and capitalism are thoroughly discussed, and Harari gives some interesting ideas on why it was that a then-comparatively backward Europe came to dominate the globe. This I found fascinating, as we learn that while Europeans were out exploring and conquering, China and India and other great nations sat complacently back, only to find themselves at the bottom of the new pecking order.

Sapiens themselves won out over other varieties of early human (Neanderthals, Denisovans etc)  and evolved into a supreme species by first wreaking havoc on other large species as they spread across the globe and then outthinking others, engaging in shared fictions (religions, limited liability companies etc). This may make us feel powerful or triumphant but, believe me, it makes you ashamed too.

I could not put this book down. It was a refreshing respite from the majority fiction that I usually read and gave my brain a damn good work out too. Trust me when I say you will view yourself and those around you very differently once you’ve finished.

Verdict:

A fascinating, gripping, sometimes jaw-dropping read. It’s accessible without being patronising. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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Day 5 – A favourite non-fiction book

Chinese Whispers…..

Every now and then I become obsessed with a particular country or culture and devour as many books about that place as I can. Some years ago it was China (I still love reading books set there) and in 2004 I was even lucky enough to go there on holiday which was amazing.

I have chosen Wild Swans by Jung Chang as my favourite non-fiction book. This is the most incredible story I have ever read : it starts in 1909 and follows 3 generations of women in the same family, starting with Chang’s grandmother who was concubine to a warlord, then her mother who was a fervent party member and then on to herself and her own time during the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s China. If this had been a work of fiction I would have rolled my eyes on so many occasions about Chang’s over-active imagination, but you know what they say about fact being stranger than fiction – that is certainly true here; you seriously couldn’t make this stuff up. This book is shocking, astonishing, brutal, beautiful, gripping and moving and I urge you to read it.

  What non-fiction books do you recommend?