11 books about Singapore history to read so you won’t be stumped the next time you’re asked a question about your country

There’s never not a good time to read up and stay informed about Singapore’s origins and the transformation it has been through over the past centuries, even if you are a citizen(or not).

With Singapore’s 55th birthday approaching soon, we’ve chosen 10 books that shine a light on its multilayered history coming from various viewpoints. Memoirs, novels, illustrations—you name it, we have it!

1. From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000


Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was no doubt one of the most influential leaders in Asia and played an important role in the nation-building of Singapore.

This book carries his insightful account of Singapore’s survival. Lee uses a variety of materials, including previously unpublished official government reports and papers how he and his team led a tiny country into a prosperous city.

Besides his candid sharing of his unorthodox views on human rights, democracy, and inherited intelligence, Lee also wrote warmly about his family life, offering readers a glimpse not just into his brilliant mind but also into his heart.

Author: Lee Kuan Yew
Where to buy: Book Depository
Price: S$48.50, free delivery worldwide

2. Son of Singapore

Son of Singapore is an autobiography of the Singaporean author, Tan Kok Seng. He relays an authentic account of his youth as a Teochew farm boy who took up odd jobs since the age of fifteen, and the way people lived in Singapore during its early years, pre-independence.

His work became a publishing sensation in the 1970s and has since been reprinted several times. It was originally written in Chinese, and without straying away from its original tone or narrative, it was later translated in English to cater to a range of readers. It is also notable for its transliteration of Teochew adages.

Author: Tan Kok Seng
Where to buy: localbooks.sg
Price: S$17.90

3. Singapore: A Biography

Singapore: A Biography is a byproduct of the National Museum of Singapore curator, Mark Frost, and writer, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow. This is a comprehensive study of Singapore’s history written clearly and vividly that one can’t help but be transported back in history while reading.

It uncovers Singapore’s rich and diverse history from the early 1300s to 1965, which has indefinitely shaped Singapore into the modern city that it is today. This is effortlessly presented through a collection of eyewitness accounts, correspondences, and descriptions from workers, adventurers, rulers, and revolutionaries across the centuries.

Authors: Mark Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow
Where to buy: Book Depository
Price: S$41.57, free delivery worldwide

4. S. Rajaratnam on Singapore

The late S. Rajaratnam (1915 – 2006) was a former journalist and one of the pioneer political leaders who helped shaped Singapore into what it is today. Interesting fact: Did you know that he drafted the final version of the national pledge following Singapore’s separation from Malaysia?

This publication is written to honour him and his significant contributions towards the making of existing modern Singapore.

The informative volume is divided into four thematic sections: foreign policy, ASEAN regionalism, multiculturalism, and Singapore’s history. As the first foreign affairs minister, he established good relations with the nations of the world while conceptualising and implementing foreign policies. He also represented Singapore in the 1967 Bangkok declaration, where ASEAN had its beginning.

To get a deeper insight into the man himself, materials such as his key speeches, articles, and original research essays that are written by senior staff of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, are included too.

Author: Kwa Chong Guan
Where to buy: Book Depository
Price: S$77.27, free delivery worldwide

5. Singapore Is Not an Island

The author of this book is Bilahari Kausikan, a veteran diplomat in Singapore who retired in 2013 and was an ambassador-at-large in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He is renowned nationally and internationally for his refreshing analyses of foreign policy trends and has a following in international foreign policy circles.

Singapore Is Not an Island is a distillation of Bilahari’s views on the realities of international relations, challenges that Singapore has faced, and analyses of Singapore’s foreign policy over the course of 25 years — all of which were determining factors that help protect and promote a country’s interests in a rapidly evolving world.

Author: Bilahari Kausikan
Where to buy: Book Depository
Price: S$20.77, free delivery worldwide

6. A History of Modern Singapore, 1819 – 2005

Author Mary Turnbull is one of the most famous historians who specialised in Singapore’s history.

In A History of Modern Singapore 1819 – 2005, she provides a solid foundation and framework for the research on Singapore’s development across the centuries, giving credit to its origins, early development, and highlighting social and cultural issues in respective periods of Singapore’s history.

This is a revised edition that was rewritten up to 2005. Additional chapters are on Goh Chok Tong’s premiership from 1990 to 2004, and Singapore’s transition to a government headed by a younger generation of leaders.

Author: C.M. Turnbull
Where to buy: Book Depository
Price: S$72.05, free delivery worldwide

7. Floating on A Malayan Breeze: Travels In Malaysia And Singapore

Floating on A Malayan Breeze is a light-read travelogue that analyses the sociological-political-economical aspects of Singapore and Malaysia as both sets on respective paths, post-separation in 1965.

The author, Sudhir, and his companion went on a cycling trip across Malaysia and Singapore in 2004 in search of answers. This is tactfully done through interviews with locals from all walks of life, taking away honest views of each other while uncovering hard truths and false conceptions about both countries.

Author: Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh
Where to buy: Books Depository
Price: S$45.48, free delivery worldwide

8. Kampung Tempe

Kampung Tempe is co-authored by Dr. Yahaya Sanusi and Hidayah Amin, and is a recollection of the former’s memories in the Malay village, Kampung Tempe. The book gives an insight into the village’s rich history from the early settlement days.

Author: Hidayah Amin, Yahaya Sanusi
Where to buylocalbooks.sg
Price: S$32

9. Pulau Ubin: The Last Frontier

Located off the northeast coast of Singapore, Pulau Ubin is home to Singapore’s remaining village and Chek Jawa Wetlands.

A virtual tour in the form of a book, Pulau Ubin: The Last Frontier is packed with more than 50 original and detailed illustrations drawn on location by artist Francis Theo. These illustrations give justice to the island as she effortlessly captured the inhabitants’ unique way of life and the island’s charms.

Author: Francis Theo
Where to buylocalbooks.sg
Price: S$28

10. Singapore: A Modern History

Author Michael D. Barr is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Flinders University and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

In his book, Michael D. Barr goes into detail about Singapore’s development from the pre-colonial period through modern-day by going over Singapore’s ideas, politics, and geography across five centuries. It is backed by in-depth archival works and oral histories.

He also gives greater context on Singapore’s history — marking its origin beyond the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, which is often regarded as the starting point of Singapore’s existence.

Author: Michael D. Barr
Where to buy: Book Depository
Price: S$48.50, free delivery worldwide

11. Eat Her Curries and Kway: A Cultural History of Food in Singapore


Singaporeans will go to great lengths for good food – we already know it.

In her book, Nicole Tarulevicz argues that as a society that has gone through significant change since British settlement in 1819, food serves us as a poignant connection to the past.

The author analyses cookbooks, architectural and city plans to offer a thematic history of Singapore, telling the story of the city-state through the production and consumption of food. Connecting Singapore’s food culture to its history, the book discusses several aspects of the Singaporean society from a refreshing point of view.

Author: Nicole Tarulevicz
Where to buy: Book Depository
Price: S$72.05, free delivery worldwide