The best books about Singapore

4 authors have picked their favorite books about Singapore and why they recommend each book.

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Tanamera

By Noel Barber,

Book cover of Tanamera

This story is not only a history of Singapore and Malaya before, during, and after the war, it is also a beautiful love story and gripping family Saga. It’s a chunky book in which Noel Barber paints an indelible picture of pre-war colonial life in Singapore for both the colonials and the Malaysians.

Noel Barber brings to life the British defence build-up and the military and colonial administration’s mistakes, which led to the Japanese invasion. It was as though they could not believe the Japanese could or would invade their territory. The story is romantic and heart-breaking, as Noel Barber delves into family ties and the characters’ fight for survival.

I recommend this book for two reasons: I read a lot, yet this book has stuck with me for over twenty years, so it must have impacted me. Second, this author is no longer with us, so I think everyone…

Tanamera

By Noel Barber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tanamera as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Opulence. Invasion. Terror. And forbidden passion in 1930s Singapore.

'They were the golden days, when Singapore was as rich as its climate was steamy, its future as assured as it was busy. And those days were made even better when, as was inevitable, I fell in love with the Chinese beauty of Julie Soong and, against all unwritten canons of Singapore life, we became lovers.'


Who am I?

I am a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction. Writing Historical novels is not a job but a passion for me. I have studied, read, and written about historical periods from William the Conqueror in the 11th century to the end of WW2, and many other periods in between. I continually research, looking for my next historical story, but it would take more than one lifetime for me to study all the great historical fiction and non-fiction books out there. As a genre, historical fiction is making a comeback, and I’m happy to be part of the Genre’s resurgence.


I wrote...

The German Half-Bloods: The Half-Bloods Trilogy, Book I

By Jana Petken,

Book cover of The German Half-Bloods: The Half-Bloods Trilogy, Book I

What is my book about?

Three Anglo-German brothers from Berlin must choose to fight for the Third Reich or Britain. What happens when loyalties split, and trust is broken? Love and betrayal leap off the pages in this story of the Vogels, a family torn apart by war and betrayal. Germany, September 1939... at the outbreak of War, Dieter Vogel and his family face catastrophic events and separation as each member embarks on their deadly paths towards survival, love, and freedom.

Crows

By Jiu Dan, Allan Chong (translator),

Book cover of Crows

I can’t honestly say that this is a very good book. Jiu Dan is no Eileen Chang; she is not even Wei Hui. Yet her 2001 semi-autobiographical tale of a young Chinese woman traveling to Singapore as a “student,” but instead spending her nights selling herself to wealthy local men, is so shameless that it ought to be read at least once. In Crows, the authoress does not try to portray herself as naive nor on a soul-searching road to personal redemption, nor anything but cold-blooded. For that reason alone, Jiu Dan sets herself far apart from the others on this list.

Crows

By Jiu Dan, Allan Chong (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Crows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Jiu Dan

Who am I?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for what would become a two-year backpacking sojourn across all 33 Chinese provinces, the first foreigner on record to do so. It was during this journey that I discovered the following five female writers, whose catty, carnal memoirs accompanied me like jealous mistresses vying for attention.


I wrote...

China: Portrait of a People

By Tom Carter,

Book cover of China: Portrait of a People

What is my book about?

From the jungles of Yunnan to the frozen wastes of Heilongjiang, across the deserts of Xinjiang, and beneath Hong Kong's neon blur. Tramping through China by train, bus, boat, motorcycle, or hitching on the back of anything that moved. On a budget so scant that he drew sympathetic stares from peasants. Backpacker Tom Carter somehow succeeded in circumnavigating 35,000 miles across all 33 Chinese provinces during a 2-year period, the first foreigner on record ever to do so. What Carter’s photographs reveal is that China is not just one place, one people, but 33 distinct regions populated by 56 different ethnicities, each with their own languages, customs, and lifestyles.

China: Portrait of a People, was published as a means to visually introduce China to the world by providing a glimpse into the daily lives of the ordinary people who don’t make headlines yet who are the heart and soul of this country.

Book cover of The Defence and Fall of Singapore

I have known Brian Farrell both as a colleague and friend for more than two decades but that isn’t the reason why his book on the fall of Malaya and Singapore appears on my book list. It does so because I believe it’s the best book on the subject that has been written thus far. I have read many and, in my opinion, none of them matches the quality and range of research, analysis, and insight that he brings to the subject. Moreover, he isn’t afraid to say it how it was. He doesn’t skulk about in the shadows but draws out where the problems were and who caused them. Anyone who knows Professor Farrell wouldn’t be surprised about that! He remains impressively scholarly and independent. 

The Defence and Fall of Singapore

By Brian Farrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Defence and Fall of Singapore as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortly after midnight on 8 December 1941, two divisions of crack troops of the Imperial Japanese Army began a seaborne invasion of southern Thailand and northern Malaya. Their assault developed into a full-blown advance towards Singapore, the main defensive position of the British Empire in the Far East. The defending British, Indian, Australian and Malayan forces were outmanoeuvred on the ground, overwhelmed in the air and scattered on the sea. By the end of January 1942, British Empire forces were driven back onto the island of Singapore itself, cut off from further outside help. When the Japanese stormed the island…

Who am I?

I lived and taught in Asia for over 30 years and love the place to bits. Leaving Oxford for Singapore may have seemed like a daring adventure in 1980, but it complemented my doctoral research and introduced me to a wonderful set of students who have enriched my life ever since. Asia has a fascination for me that I can’t resist. I have written and edited 15 books on naval and defence themes, much of which have been set in the Asian continent. An associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for the past 25 years, I am also the editor for the series Cold War in Asia. 


I wrote...

Naval Warfare 1919-45: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea

By Malcolm H. Murfett,

Book cover of Naval Warfare 1919-45: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea

What is my book about?

Naval Warfare 1919-1945 is an analytical and interpretive study that examines why things happened at sea when they did. Vividly written, it ranges far and wide: sweeping across all naval theatres and those powers performing major, as well as minor, roles within them in these years of peace and war. 

Professor Murfett re-examines the naval past in a stimulating way and takes issue with those aspects of it that deserve closer attention. He demonstrates that superior equipment and the best intelligence, ominous power and systematic planning, vast finance and suitable training are often simply not enough to guarantee success at sea. Sometimes the narrow difference between victory and defeat hinges on those infinite variables: the individual’s performance under acute pressure and sheer luck.

The Sacrifice of Singapore

By Michael Arnold,

Book cover of The Sacrifice of Singapore: Churchill's Biggest Blunder

The fate of Singapore was sealed long before the Japanese attack on Malaya in December 1941. The blame lay with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who refused to listen to warnings from military advisers to reinforce defences in Singapore and Malaya. Her was convinced the Japanese would never dare to attack a white power. Obsessed with beating Rommel, Churchill poured into the Middle East massive resources that should have gone to the Far East. However, when inevitably Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, Churchill attempted to deflect criticism by accusing the defenders of spineless capitulation.

The Sacrifice of Singapore

By Michael Arnold,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sacrifice of Singapore as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The fate of Singapore was sealed long before the Japanese attack in December 1941. The blame lay with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who refused to listen to warnings from military advisors to reinforce defences in Singapore/Malaya, convinced the Japanese would never dare to attack a white power . Obsessed with beating German General Erwin Rommel, he poured into the Middle East massive resources that should have gone to the Far East. However when, inevitably, Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, Churchill attempted to deflect criticism by accusing the defenders there of spineless capitulation. Recently released information from…

Who am I?

My father was taken prisoner by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore on the 15th of February 1942. He spent three and a half years slaving on the Thai Burma railway. During my early years growing up, my father rarely talked about his experiences, and it wasn't until after he died in 1990 that I became interested in what he went through as a prisoner of war. Since then, I've spent my time researching the Japanese prisoner of war experiences and have read countless books on the subject. I myself have published four books and I consider myself one of the leading experts on the Japanese prisoner of war experience.


I wrote...

Frank Pantridge MC: Japanese Prisoner of War and Inventor of the Portable Defibrillator

By Cecil Lowry,

Book cover of Frank Pantridge MC: Japanese Prisoner of War and Inventor of the Portable Defibrillator

What is my book about?

This book tells the life story of Doctor Frank Pantridge, the inventor of the portable defibrillator. When Pantridge returned from the war he began to specialise in diseases of the heart and particularly heart fibrillation. He reasoned that if a person had a heart attack, ventricular defibrillation should be applied where it occurred as many people were dying before reaching the hospital.

He produced the world's first portable defibrillator in Belfast in 1965, initially operating from a specially equipped ambulance. American President Lyndon B Johnston's life was saved by a Pantridge defibrillator in 1972 when he had a heart attack. This biography tells the story of a man whose invention has saved countless lives over the last half-century.

America

By Tommy Koh (editor), Saljit Singh (editor),

Book cover of America: A Singapore Perspective

A confession I have to make from the get-go: I met Tommy Koch in person in 2013, on a professional visit to Singapore. Koch struck me as the kind of Asian intellectual seldom seen in the West nowadays. He is competently versed in his civilization’s (Chinese) supremacy discourses and at the same time, is a global citizen of the first class. He knows where myth ends and reality strikes. We rarely see Western intellectuals of this sort any longer. The nearest we’ve ever had was Kissinger—and he’s too controversial to be a functional counterpart to Koch. In this book, Koch and his editorial partner compile a vision of America as seen by Singaporean decision-makers. This book is not only important to know how Asian nations have viewed us over recent years, but is a fundamental read for any international-relations buff interested in gauging the future ahead.

America

By Tommy Koh (editor), Saljit Singh (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The United States of America is the largest investor in Singapore. And in 2019, it channelled more resources into the city state than what it put into both China and Japan. That year, the value of US direct investments in Singapore was US$288 billion, or about 4.8 per cent of US direct investments abroad. This sum exceeded the combined value of those in China (US$116.2 billion) and Japan (US$131.8 billion), based on data from the Office of the United States Trade Representative and the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

This illustrates the economic significance of the US to Singapore. Beyond…

Who am I?

Hawkes (MD, BScN, MGA) is a novelist, YouTuber, and former analyst for the NATO Association of Canada. His writings have appeared in Heater, The Raven Chronicles, ArabLit, and many other magazines and publications. His recent espionage novel, The Haze, is set in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.


I wrote...

The Haze

By Burnaby Hawkes,

Book cover of The Haze

What is my book about?

Set against the backdrop of a CIA operation in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, The Haze follows CIA agent Hector Kane as he finds his career and marriage at stake when he receives a phone call from a Saudi prince who claims that Hector’s wife is a Chinese spy.

The Singapore Grip

By J.G. Farrell,

Book cover of The Singapore Grip

I love how this novel veers between the comic (the preening self-importance of a British family that runs a trading company) and the tragic (death and mayhem as Japanese troops set Singapore on fire in 1942). Father cynically manipulates markets; daughter carries on with unsuitable men; approved suitor arrives from Europe to reveal himself as an idealist who spouts praise for the League of Nations. You’ll learn a thing or two about how colonial companies of the time built enormous wealth by squeezing it from impoverished plantation workers, and how the war turned everything upside down.

The Singapore Grip

By J.G. Farrell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Singapore Grip as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW A MAJOR ITV DRAMA, THE SINGAPORE GRIP IS A MODERN CLASSIC FROM THE BOOKER-PRIZE WINNING J.G. FARRELL

'Brilliant, richly absurd, melancholy' Observer

'Enjoyable on many different levels' Sunday Times

'One of the most outstanding novelists of his generation' Spectator

Singapore, 1939: Walter Blackett, ruthless rubber merchant, is head of British Singapore's oldest and most powerful firm. And his family's prosperous world of tennis parties, cocktails and deferential servants seems unchanging. No one suspects it - but this world is poised on the edge of the abyss. This is the eve of the Fall of Singapore.

A love story and…


Who am I?

I first saw Angkor, capital of the Khmer Empire, in 1969 as a teenager and was bowled over by the place. I kept coming back as a journalist and author. They say you should write about things that truly crank your engine, and I found mine—imperial conquest, Hindu and Buddhist spirituality, astounding architecture, and the lives of the millions of people who inhabited and built the place. I’ve now written three non-fiction books and two historical novels set in the civilization’s twelfth-century peak. The novels are an effort to recreate life in the old days. They draw heavily on my years in Southeast Asia, experiencing what life is like in the present day.


I wrote...

A Woman of Angkor

By John Burgess,

Book cover of A Woman of Angkor

What is my book about?

The time is the twelfth century, the place Cambodia, birthplace of the lost Angkor civilization. In a village behind a towering stone temple lives a young woman named Sray, whom neighbors liken to the heroine of a Hindu epic. Hiding a dangerous secret, she is content with quiet obscurity, but one rainy season afternoon is called to a life of prominence in the royal court. There her faith and loyalties are tested by attention from the king. Struggling to keep her devotion is her husband Nol, palace confidante and master of the silk parasols that were symbols of the monarch's rank. The novel evokes the rites and rhythms of the ancient culture that built the temples of Angkor, then abandoned them to nature.

Horizon Fever II

By A.E. Filby,

Book cover of Horizon Fever II: Explorer A E Filby's own account of his extraordinary Australasian Adventures, 1921-1931

Even before Archibald Edmund Filby embarked on his famous African expeditions, he took advantage of a government-sponsored scheme to migrate to Australia. It was 1921 and his daredevil nature soon had him performing reckless feats as a buckjumper in a popular circus rodeo. Whilst trekking through this vast continent, he embraced the opportunity to become a jockey, photographer, actor, pilot, car salesman, and pearl diver.

Not only was A E Filby a famous British explorer, but he was also my Uncle Archie. What a shame he never saw his memoirs published before his death in 1942.

Horizon Fever II

By A.E. Filby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Horizon Fever II as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Even before Archibald Edmund Filby (Victoria Twead's roguish uncle) embarked on his famous African expeditions, he took advantage of a government-sponsored scheme to migrate to Australia. It was 1921 and his daredevil nature soon had him performing reckless feats as a buckjumper in a popular circus rodeo.

Whilst trekking through this vast continent, he embraced the opportunity to become a jockey, photographer, actor, pilot, car-salesman and pearl diver. But Australia was just a stepping stone for Archie to explore many other colourful far-eastern countries including India, Singapore, Borneo, Java and China.

Horizon Fever II covers explorer A E Filby's early…


Who am I?

I’m Victoria Twead, the New York Times bestselling author of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools and the Old Fools series. However, after living in a remote mountain village in Spain for eleven years, and owning probably the most dangerous cockerel in Europe, we migrated to Australia to watch our new granddaughters thrive amongst kangaroos and koalas. We love Australia, it is our home now. Another joyous life-chapter has begun.


I wrote...

Dear Fran, Love Dulcie: Life and Death in the Hills and Hollows of Bygone Australia

By Victoria Twead,

Book cover of Dear Fran, Love Dulcie: Life and Death in the Hills and Hollows of Bygone Australia

What is my book about?

Imagine a true story that unfolds in the harshness of Australia’s outback, beginning in 1957 and spanning decades. Imagine Dulcie’s battle to keep her family and animals alive in spite of bushfires, floods, cyclones, droughts, dingo attacks and terrible accidents.

The story of Dulcie Clarke, a simple pineapple farmer’s wife, has so many twists and turns that it will leave you gasping.

Japanese Children's Favorite Stories

By Florence Sakade, Yoshisuke Kurosaki (illustrator),

Book cover of Japanese Children's Favorite Stories

As a little kid, I read the Japanese version of these stories and I was delighted when I found the English version to read to my then tiny daughter. “Momo-Taro,” or Peach Boy, is one of my favorite tales from childhood and there are so many others included in the book that I had forgotten about. These classic stories are a wonderful addition to any library!

Japanese Children's Favorite Stories

By Florence Sakade, Yoshisuke Kurosaki (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japanese Children's Favorite Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This colorfully illustrated multicultural children's book presents Japanese fairy tales and other folk stories--providing insight into a vibrant literary culture.

For 60 years, generations of English-speaking children around the world have been enchanted by Japanese Children's Favorite Stories--and for good reason. With such titles as "The Toothpick Warriors" and "The Rabbit Who Crossed the Sea," these 20 stories offer age-old lessons in kindness and goodness that are still riveting to children and parents alike. This 60th Anniversary Tuttle edition is proof that good stories never wear out.

In this treasure trove of much-beloved Japanese children's stories, you'll meet charming characters…

Who am I?

My parents were both born and raised in Japan but met in New York and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where I grew up. My first language was Japanese and as a nisei (second generation), I am deeply steeped in my Asian heritage. I am continually inspired by the art and storytelling that originates from Japanese culture and love to incorporate them into my own work.


I wrote...

Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl

By Sanae Ishida,

Book cover of Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl

What is my book about?

Meet Little Kunoichi, a young ninja in training! On a "super-secret island" in a "super super secret village," Little Kunoichi, is struggling at school. Inspired by tiny Chibi Samurai’s practice and skills, she works harder than ever and makes a friend. Together, they show the power of perseverance, hard work, and cooperation, and they wow the crowd at the Island Festival. Through beautiful watercolor illustrations and a funny and endearing story, Little Kunoichi will capture the imagination of young ninjas-in-training.

The endnotes contain additional information about sumo wrestling, ninja training, and other aspects of Japanese language and culture. More adventures can be found in the Little Kunoichi series with Chibi Samuari Wants a Pet and Ba-chan The Ninja Grandma. And don’t miss the companion baby board books about Little Sumos!

Book cover of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

This graphic novel is framed as an interview biography with Charlie, a 72-year-old Singaporean comics creator, as he reflects on his life. We see sketches from his old journals, and more interestingly, comics from his long and robust career. His comics start off as whimsical heroic tales about a boy and a giant robot. But as Charlie matures, he takes in the politics of Singapore—the protests, wars, and changing government. As he digests this world around him, his comics change, from action comics to comic strips to satire to autobiographical to, well, all over the board. We see his thoughts on a turbulent, evolving Singapore laced within these comics—sometimes subtlely, often overtly—as well as glimpses into his relationships and his financial struggles. This masterfully told story falls amongst my favorite comics.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

By Sonny Liew,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A 2017 Eisner Award Winner for Best Writer/Artist, Best US Edition of International Material—Asia, and Best Publication Design
Winner of the Singapore Literature Prize 2016
A New York Times bestseller
An Economist Book of the Year 2016
An NPR Graphic Novel Pick for 2016
A Washington Post Best Graphic Novel of 2016
A New York Post Best Books of 2016
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016
A South China Morning Post Top 10 Asian books of 2016
An A.V. Club Best Comics of 2016
A Comic Books Resources Top 100 Comics of 2016
A Mental Floss Most Interesting Graphic…

Who am I?

I'm the writer and artist of the Johnny Hiro graphic novels. In those books, I use pop culture reference humor, but never simply as a joke. A reference can act as a hint to a world beyond the story the writer tells. I often dig slightly into an emotional resonance behind that reference—perhaps the (fictional) story of why it exists, or perhaps it even becomes an integral plot point. Popular media and culture often have a direct influence on our creative arts projects. And just sometimes, that art becomes an integral part of the popular culture itself.


I wrote...

Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

By Fred Chao,

Book cover of Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero

What is my book about?

Johnny Hiro is about a young sushi chef-in-training and his Japanese girlfriend Mayumi trying to live a happy-enough life in NYC. But such a big, chaotic city is hard, especially when filled with giant lizards, chef rivalries, ancient gods, ronin businessmen, and NY Times food reviewers. But with all the chaos, it’s essentially about trying to live happily enough as a young couple.

I felt like there was so much drama in romance stories, and I wanted to tell a story about a healthy-enough relationship with the responsibilities of rest of the world often causing the stresses that hurt us. Because, well, sometimes simply making rent is hard enough.

Book cover of From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000

No one can deny that the story of Singapore is a modern-day miracle. From a third-world port city in the mid-20th century to the first-rate nation we know today, Singapore has adopted progress as a creed. Lee Kuan Yew, the very founder of modern Singapore, reflects on his achievements and the many challenges he’s faced along the way in this enticing book.

From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Third World to First as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The story of Singapore's amazing transformation told by it's charismatic and controversial founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. Lee Kuan Yew is one of the most influential leaders in Asia. In this illuminating account, Lee writes frankly about his disapproving approach to political opponents and his often unorthodox views on human rights, democracy, and inherited intelligence, aiming always "to be correct, not politically correct." Since it's independence in 1965, tiny Singapore -- once a poor and decrepit colony -- has risen to become a rich and thriving Asian metropolis. From Third World to First is a fascinating and insightful account of…

Who am I?

Hawkes (MD, BScN, MGA) is a novelist, YouTuber, and former analyst for the NATO Association of Canada. His writings have appeared in Heater, The Raven Chronicles, ArabLit, and many other magazines and publications. His recent espionage novel, The Haze, is set in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.


I wrote...

The Haze

By Burnaby Hawkes,

Book cover of The Haze

What is my book about?

Set against the backdrop of a CIA operation in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, The Haze follows CIA agent Hector Kane as he finds his career and marriage at stake when he receives a phone call from a Saudi prince who claims that Hector’s wife is a Chinese spy.

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