Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Best of the Best, 2017

Jan 3, 2018

It is a horrible time of year for book readers. First of all the countless lists of "best books "of the year gone by, published in all the respectable periodicals. All those great books you'll never read. It drives you crazy. Perhaps just a few, you say to yourself, as you scribble down your own, abbreviated listicle of titles. But no sooner do you have a manageable selection than the same periodicals start publishing their rosters of "most promising" books expected out in the coming year, none of which you'll have time to read because you'll be too busy failing to read the best of last year.

So let me add to the confusion with my own favourites from 2017. I'll keep it short.

East West Street by Philippe Sands is the best book of non-fiction I've read in a long time. It is subtitled "On the Origins of 'Genocide' and 'Crimes Against Humanity'" and it is about the development of these concepts in international law. If that sounds a little dry, it isn't. Sands, a British lawyer and legal scholar himself, grounds the story in his own family history and unwraps it in short, vivid chapters that are propulsively readable. The book is a masterclass in historical research and narrative technique.

For fiction, 2017 was the year I discovered Mick Herron's Slough House series, a group of thrillers that turn the spy genre into workplace comedy. The series begins with Slow Horses (2010) and so far includes five instalments, each as funny as the last.

I hope that helped. Happy New Year.