10 local non-fiction books of 2014 that will interest every well-informed S’porean

Unless you prefer "How to be a millionaire" type of non-fiction books.

Martino Tan| January 02, 05:04 PM

Two words come to mind when we mention local non-fiction books.

"Adam Khoo"?

No, we are not featuring Adam Khoo or any of his secrets of self-made millionaires series.

Below are 10 non-fiction books in 2014 that shows that Singaporeans do not just write about books that know the cost of everything and the value of nothing:


1. Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus - Donald Low and Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh


Source: NUS Press

This book is the political manifesto to defeat the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), unless the PAP reads and learns from it. Thought-provoking and well-researched, the collection of essays call for a [r]evolution of Singapore's policies and institutions, rethinking the consensus that had contributed to Singapore's success in the first place.

Not to be confused with former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton's book of the same title.


The folks from Kinokuniya and their sense of humour

Sample: An essay on housing written by one of the co-author, Donald Low.

Buy it here.


2. Let The People Have Him - Loke Hoe Yeong

Source: Epigram Books

This is the only book on Chiam See Tong, S'pore's longest-serving opposition MP (1984 to 2011). Nuff said. The book traces Chiam’s birth to his winning of the Potong Pasir seat in 1984, in the unfriendly climate of PAP's political monopoly.

Sample: 10 revelations from Chiam See Tong’s biography that will interest every well-informed S’porean Buy it here.

Interview with the author: Mothership Q & A: Loke Hoe Yeong

Buy it here

3. The Quah Kim Song Story - Jacintha Stephens

QKS cover

While the focus is on 1970s football legend Quah Kim Song, the story is also about Singapore football in the 1970s and 1980s. It features legendary coach "Uncle Choo", whose passion, dedication, and fierce patriotism shines through the pages of the book. A must-read for all who are interested in Singapore football, especially Lions coach Bernd Stange.

Sample: A quotable quote by Quah: "Before he started any training session, Uncle Choo would make us line up in a row. Somebody would be appoined to hoist the national flag and we would all have to sign the national anthem. Once, he made us sing it 10 times because he said we were singing “perfunctorily, without any feeling”

A Facebook post by Professor Tommy Koh on the book:

Tommy Koh


Buy it here.


4. The Leader, The Teacher and You - Lim Siong Guan and Joanne Lim

The Leader, The Teacher and You


The co-winner of the Singapore Literature Prize 2014 (English Non-Fiction Category). A local best-seller that has been translated to Mandarin. But this book somewhat feels like one of the most overrated books this year. And we can start by halving the size of the book since the left-sided pages are summaries/key learning points of the right-sided pages.

It's not meant to be a critique on the life of former Head of the Civil Service Lim Siong Guan, who is one of the most admired men in Singapore. But the book feels more like a must-read for all young Singapore civil servants - these best practices on leadership should be published in the public service magazine or journals.

Buy it here.


5. Myth Or Magic - The Singapore Healthcare System - Jeremy Lim

Myth or Magic - The Singapore Healthcare System Source

There are two healthcare policy experts in Singapore worth listening to - Jeremy Lim and Phua Kai Hong. The first just published a comprehensive tome on the political philosophy that has shaped Singapore's healthcare system over the last five decades. Buy it, read it, and aim to be the third authority on healthcare in Singapore.

Buy it here


6. The Big Ideas Of Lee Kuan Yew - Shashi Jayakumar and Rahul Sagar

The Big Ideas Of Lee Kuan Yew


If you are one of the privileged few who attended “The Big Ideas of Mr Lee Kuan Yew” Conference on 16 September 2013 to commemorate Mr Lee's 90th birthday, don't buy this book.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat's speech about Lee's dedication to Singapore was well-publicized, but there are some gems from this collection of essays. This is the first time senior government men and women who worked closely with Lee have come together to discuss his ideas and the essays from former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, senior civil servants Peter Ho and Yong Ying-I stood out.

Sample: Everything you need to know about Minister Heng Swee Keat & his speech on LKY in 60 seconds

Buy it here.


7. The Invisible Force: Singapore Gurkhas - Chong Zi Liang with Zakaria Zainal


The best and brightest from Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information had come up with the most complete story on the Singapore Gurkhas. Discover these untold stories through the eyes of different generations of Gurkas. As one of the authors said, articles written about the Gurkhas from the mainstream press amount to less than 10 since 1949.

Sample: Mothership Q&A: A glimpse of Gurkhas book authors Chong Zi Liang and Zakaria Zainal

Buy it here.


8. Kampong Boy - M Ravi

Kampong Boy cover


The authorities must have heaved a sigh of relief when the book was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize 2014 (English Non-Fiction Category) but did not win.

The memoir of human rights lawyer M Ravi helps you to understand the real Ravi behind his suit. The book takes us back to his roots in one of Singapore’s few multi-racial kampongs and the lessons he learnt in his rise to prominence as one of Singapore's notable human rights lawyer.

Buy it here.


9. The Little Red Dot: Reflections of Foreign Ambassadors on Singapore, Volume III - co-edited by Tommy Koh, Chang Li Lin Chang and Joanna Koh



This new addition to the Little Red Dot series - there are two published so far - offers perspectives of Singapore and its bilateral relations, through the eyes of past foreign diplomats in Singapore. A book edited by an Ambassador-at-Large and the Press Secretary to the Prime Minister!

It is interesting to see how the international community view Singapore, especially the ambassadors from big powers (United States, China) and our neighbours (Malaysia and Indonesia). Ex US Ambassador Frank Lavin's essay stood out for its candour as he highlighted areas of improvement with Singapore diplomacy. Unfortunately, some of the essays here are too fawning of Singapore or too diplomatic.


10. The Battle for Merger - Lee Kuan Yew

BattlerMerger Cover


Technically, this is not a new book - the original edition was published in 1962. The commemorative book includes a new message from Lee, an essay by a historian and a CD recording of the twelve radio talks. The publisher must be targeting the baby-boomers and Gen X, because who uses a CD nowadays?

Still reads like a political thriller though. The challenges to be overcome by the PAP looked grim - a majority of grassroots leaders and unions supported the Opposition in 1961. The rest, they say, is history.

Sample: 12 quotes on why Lee Kuan Yew had successfully auditioned as a DJ if his radio talks lost PAP’s battle for merger

Buy it here.


Read our review of the top five local fiction books here:

5 local books to read for some alternative S’porean feels


Top photo from here.

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