Hallie Rubenhold's The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper (Doubleday) has won the £50,000 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction.
The book sees social historian Rubenhold reconstruct the murdered women's lives, sometimes from as little as a single hair, giving voice to these women on the margins and confronting head on the established Ripper mythology, while painting a picture of the precariousness of working class lives in Victorian London.
Accepting the award at a ceremony at London's Science Museum on Tuesday evening (19th November), Rubenhold said she was honoured to be only the seventh woman in 20 years to be awarded the prize, for what she described as "a history of silenced women... the poor and the marginalised whose voices and experiences have been almost erased from history, even the definition of what history is - the great deeds of great men. It is time for history to be more than this."
She thanked editor Jane Lawson and the Doubleday team, her "superhero" agent Sarah Ballard of United Agents, and also dedicated the award to her former publicist Sophie Christopher, who died in June aged 28, whom she said had believed "so passionately" in the book. "You were a shining star and if it were not for you I do not think this book would have reached the heights it has," she said.
TLS editor Stig Abell, chair of the judges, said: “This book seemed to synthesise all that we were looking for in a winner, indeed in any great book: at a simple level, it was beautifully written and impressively researched; and more broadly it spoke with an urgency and passion to our own times. Brilliance meeting relevance. It is a book we would all give to a friend for Christmas, knowing that they will have finished it with pleasure by New Year's Day.”
Rubenhold triumphed on a women-dominated shortlist also comprising Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (William Heinemann), On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming (Chatto & Windus), The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth by William Feaver (Bloomsbury) , Maoism: A Global History by Julia Lovell (The Bodley Head) and Guest House for Young Widows by Azadeh Moaveni (Scribe).
Baillie Gifford partner Mark Urquhart described the quality and variety of the shortlist as "remarkable - challenging our political, social and historical perspectives and expanding our understanding of the world."
Abell noted that he thought there was emerging a "new zeitgeist of expertise, quality, breadth and depth, a counterbalance to the flip, facile nonsense we have to endure elsewhere", referencing political discourse and social media.
On the judging panel were Dr Myriam Francois, TV producer and writer; Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, professor of English Literature; Frances Wilson, critic and biographer; Petina Gappah, writer and lawyer, and Dr Alexander Van Tulleken, doctor and TV presenter. Abell priased them as "very passionate and principled" judges, observing - in a reference to the recent Booker Prize controversy - that they had successfully completed their key task in choosing a single winner.