Book Review – Singapore: A Very Short History

Singapore: A Very Short History: From Temasek to Tomorrow by Alvin Tan

I don’t know about you, but my history courses never covered much of Asian history. So as I find myself on the other side of the planet it makes sense to learn a bit more about these places, and it’s in general fascinating reading. As a good part of my work involves Singapore I picked up this book at the Changi Airport bookstore in Singapore last week. As the title suggests, it’s very short (just over 150 pages) and quite readable.

The book covers roughly 700 years of Singapore history dating from earliest mentions of the island in the 14th century, then called Temasek. About half the book covers Singapore’s history up until the mid-20th century and the brief but brutal Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II, while the second half of the book gives far greater detail about the political details of Singapore’s progression from a former British colony to an independent city-state.

If you’re familiar with modern Singapore history, lived through that time, knew people involved with it, or otherwise thrive on detailed descriptions of political machinations then you’ll love the second half of this book. But for me it bogged down very quickly. Compared with the sweeping brushstrokes of the first half of the book this half was tedious and I ended up skimming the last 1/4 of the book.

I’ll look for another resource to learn more about Singapore’s more distant past but this book provided an adequate overview of particularly the last 200 years of Singaporean history and some insights into why this small place has and continues to pack such a punch on the world economic stage.

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