CAPE Essential Reads

Last Revised: 19 June 2019

CAPE presents a non-exhaustive master list of books, publications, and works on politics, activism, and civic affairs in Singapore. The works are categorised by themes and issues. Books in each category are ranked in order of their accessibility as an introduction to the issue/theme.


An Important Starting Point

Politics and history is contested, multifaceted, and complex. Simplified and one-dimensional narratives, while comforting, degrades vibrant public discourse and fails to do justice to the diverse experiences of our members of society. A mature and informed public sphere can only begin with the open exchange of knowledge. And as citizens and members of a democratic society, we have a duty to educate ourselves and to nurture our own political consciousness.

Altogether, this entire body of works and books on our Singapore Story (one that is still being written) is a deep ocean of knowledge, and a useful starting point to better understand Singapore’s political and civic life.


  1. General: Political Development, democratisation, governance
  2. History: Politics, labour movement, student activism, postcoloniality, communism
  3. Law and constitutionalism
  4. General activism
  5. Migration, migrant labour
  6. Freedom of press & expression
  7. LGBTQ+, gender, feminism
  8. Race, minority, Malay issues
  9. Disability Rights
  10. Environmentalism, heritage conservation
  11. Education, meritocracy, inequality
  12. Where to find these books?

1. General: Political Development, Democratisation, Governance

S/N Title Remarks and tags
1 CAPE Resources
2 Living With Myths in Singapore

– Loh Kah Seng, Thum Ping Tjin and Jack Meng-Tat Chia

(Book: collection of essays) Omnibus introductions to local socio-political and culturals issues
3 Hard Choices

– Donald Low & Sudhir Vadaketh

(Book) Collection of essays on public policy issues in Singapore
4 Singapore, Incomplete: Reflections on a First World Nation’s Arrested Political Development

– Cherian George

(Book) Analysis of Singapore’s failure to democratise
5 Liberalism Disavowed

– Chua Beng Huat

(Book) In depth into the philosophy and ideology of state governance in Singapore
6 The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

– Sonny Liew

(Graphic novel)
7 Communitarian Ideology

– Chua Beng Huat

(Book) Seminal work on state ideology and hegemonic control in Singapore
8 Governing Global-City Singapore: Legacies and Futures After Lee Kuan Yew

– Kenneth Paul Tan

9 The Ruling Elite of Singapore: Networks of Power and Influence

– Michael D. Barr

10 Barr, Michael D. “Ordinary Singapore: The Decline of Singapore Exceptionalism.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 46, no. 1 (January 2, 2016): 1–17. (Journal Article)
11 Dunleavy, P., and R. Diwakar. “Analysing Multiparty Competition in Plurality Rule Elections.” Party Politics 19, no. 6 (November 1, 2013): 855–86. (Journal Article)


2. Singapore History: Politics, Student Activism, Communism, Postcoloniality, Labour Movement

S/N Title Remarks
1 A History of Modern Singapore, 1819-2005. 

Turnbull, C. M.

(Book) Seminal work on Singapore’s history
2 Studying Singapore’s Past: C.M. Turnbull and the History of Modern Singapore. 

Tarling, Nicholas, ed.

(Book) Singapore history
3 The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew Vol. 1. .

From Third World to First: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew Vol. 2. 

– Lee Kuan Yew

(Book) From the man, himself
4 Living in a Time of Deception

– Poh Soo Kai

(Book) Dr. Poh Soo Kai’s memoirs on the politics of 1950s and 1960s, challenging the Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs and the state narrative.
5 Men in White: The Untold Story of Singapore’s Ruling Political Party

– Sonny Yap, Richard Lim & Leong Weng Kam

(Book) PAP history
6 Comet in Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History

– Poh Soo Kai, Tan Jing Quee, Jomo K. S.

(Book) Relooking Lim Chin Siong’s history and role in the Singapore Story
7 The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 years

– Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang, Lysa Hong

(Book) Operation Coldstore; Communism, Political detainees; “historical revisionism”
8 Beyond The Blue Gate

– Teo Soh Lung

(Books) Operation Spectrum
9 The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity

– Loh Kah Seng, Edgar Liao, Lim Cheng Tju and Seng Guo-Quan

(Book) Student activism; merger; anti-colonialism
10 Tan, Jing Quee, Kok-Chiang Tan, Lysa Hong, and Strategic Info Research Development, eds. The May 13 Generation: The Chinese Middle Schools Student Movement and Singapore Politics in the 1950s. Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2011. (Journal article) Revisiting and relooking narratives of anti-colonial student activism in Singapore
11 50 Years of ASEAN and Singapore

– Tommy Koh, Sharon Li-Lian Seah, Li Lin Chang

(Book) Situates Singapore within ASEAN’s political and cultural history
12 Creating “Greater Malaysia”: Decolonization and the Politics of Merger

– Tan Tai Yong

(Book) Mergers & decolonisations
13 Pang, Cheng Lian. “The People’s Action Party, 1954-1963.” Journal of Southeast Asian History 10, no. 1 (1969): 142–54. (Journal article) PAP history
14 Curless, Gareth. “‘The People Need Civil Liberties’: Trade Unions and Contested Decolonisation in Singapore.” Labor History 57, no. 1 (January 1, 2016): 53–70. (Journal article) Labour movement, trade unionism and its downplayed intersections with the anti-colonial movement
15 Maritime Heritage of Singapore

– Tan Tai Yong, Aileen Lau, Laure Lau, and Joseph Grimberg

16 Heng, Derek. “Socio-Political Structure, Membership and Mobility in the Pre-Modern Malay World: The Case of Singapore in the 14th Century.” In Migration and Membership Regimes in Global and Historical Perspective: An Introduction, edited by Ulbe Bosma, Kh Kessler, and Leo Lucassen, 113–39. Studies in Global Social History, v. 13. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2013.

Heng, Derek Thiam Soon, Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, and Derek Thiam Soon Heng, eds. “Situating Temasik within the Larger Regional Context: Maritime Asia and Malay State Formation in the Pre-Modern Era.” In Singapore in Global History, 27–50. ICAS Publications Series Edited Volumes 14. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011.

Miksic, John N. Singapore & the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800. Singapore: NUS Press, National University of Singapore : National Museum of Singapore, 2013.

Miksic, John N. “Temasik to Singapura: Singapore in the 14th to 15th Centuries.” In Singapore from Temasek to the 21st Century: Reinventing the Global City, edited by Karl Hack, Jean-Louis Margolin, and Karine Delaye, 103–32. Singapore: NUS Press, 2010.

Harper, T.N. “Globalism and the Pursuit of Authenticity: The Making of a Diasporic Public Sphere in Singapore.” Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 12, no. 2 (1997): 261–92.

Kobayashi, Atsushi. “The Role of Singapore in the Growth of Intra-Southeast Asian Trade, c.1820s-1852.” Southeast Asian Studies 2, no. 3 (December 2013): 443–74.

Trocki, Carl A. “Opium and the Beginnings of Chinese Capitalism in Southeast Asia.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 33, no. 2 (2002): 297–314.

Streets-Salter, Heather. “The Local Was Global: The Singapore Mutiny of 1915.” Journal of World History 24, no. 3 (2013): 539–76.

Ooi, Keat Gin. “Between Homeland and ‘Ummah’: Re-Visiting the 1915 Singapore Mutiny of the 5th Light Infantry Regiment of the Indian Army.” Social Scientist 42, no. 7/8 (2014): 85–94.

A micro-list of publications and works on pre-modern Singapore.

This extensive body of literature discredits the Chinese-centric, “fishing village” narrative of Singapore’s history, and re-situates Singapore’s political identity and history in a heritage of colonialism, exploitation, capitalism, racialisation, and our deep links with the region.


3. Law and Constitutionalism

S/N Title Remarks
1 CAPE resources
2 Authoritarian Rule of Law: Legislation, Discourse and Legitimacy in Singapore

– Jothie Rajah

(Book) “Rule by law” vs. rule of law, authoritarianism
3 Singapore : 50 Constitutional Moments That Defined a Nation

– Kevin Y.L. Tan & Thio Li-Ann

(Book) History of our constitution
4 Tan, Kevin. The Constitution of Singapore: A Contextual Analysis. Constitutional Systems of the World. Oxford ; Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing, 2015. (Journal article ) Analysis of Singapore’s constitution
5 Singapore and International Law: The Early Years, Essays in Memory of S Tiwari (edited) by Kevin Y.L. Tan (Book)
6 Legal Consensus: Supreme Executive, Supine Jurisprudence, Suppliant Profession of Singapore

– Tey Tsun Hang



4. General Activism and other issues

S/N Title Remarks
1 CAPE Resources
2 The Art of Advocacy in Singapore

– Constance Singam and Margaret Thomas

(Book) Reflections by pioneering and current Singaporean activists on their aspirations and experiences of advocacy
3 They Told Us To Move: Dakota – Cassia 

– Ng Kok Hoe and Cassia Resettlement Team

(Book) A collection of essays on the resettlement of Dakota Crescent residents, with a multi-faceted investigation of “urban planning; gender and family; ageing, poverty, and social services; civil society and citizenship; and architectural heritage and place-making”.
4 Civil Society and the State in Singapore

– Carol Soon & Gillian Koh

(Book) Comprehensive analysis of civil society in Singapore
5 The Naysayers’ Book Club: 26 Singaporeans You Need to Know

– Simon Vincent



5. Migration, migrant labour

S/N Title Remarks
1 Me Migrant

– Md Mukul Hossine

(Book) Migrant worker poetry
2 Behind Closed Doors: Forced Labour in the Domestic Work Sector in Singapore


(Report) Domestic workers; human trafficking; debt bondage
3 Justice Delayed, Justice Denied: The Experiences of Migrant Workers in Singapore.


(Report) Migrant workers
4 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Shadow Report 2017

– CEDAW NGO Coalition (including HOME & TWC2)

(Report) NGO joint report to UN CEDAW 2017
5 Migration and integration in Singapore: policies and practice

– Yap Mui Teng, Gillian Koh and Debbie Soon

6 Class Inequality in the Global City: Migrants, Workers and Cosmopolitanism in Singapore

– Ye Junjia

7 Yang, Peidong. “‘Authenticity’ and ‘Foreign Talent’ in Singapore: The Relative and Negative Logic of National Identity.” SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 29, no. 2 (July 2014): 408+. (Journal Article)
8 Thompson, Eric C. “Immigration, Society and Modalities of Citizenship in Singapore.” Citizenship Studies 18, no. 3–4 (April 3, 2014): 315–31. (Journal Article)


6. Freedom of speech & press Issues

S/N Title Remarks
1 Press Freedom in Singapore CAPE Resource
2 Freedom from the Press

– Cherian George

(Book) Extensive historical overview of how the press in Singapore was tamed and how it is currently controlled.
3 OB Markers: My Straits Times Story

– Cheong, Yip Seng

(Book) Former Straits Times’ Editor-in-Chief tell-all memoirs on the newspaper’s close links with the state


7. LGBT, gender issues + Feminism

S/N Title Remarks
1 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Shadow Report 2017

– CEDAW NGO Coalition (including AWARE)

(Report) NGO shadow report to UN CEDAW in 2017
2 Action steps to be a trans ally

– Project X

(Infographic) Transgender
3 Mobilizing Gay Singapore: Rights and Resistance in an Authoritarian State

– Lynette J Chua

(Book) Queer activism and various models of social change in Singapore.
4 GASPP: A Gay Anthology of Singapore Poetry & Prose

– Ng Yi-Sheng, Dominic Chua, Irene Oh, Jasmine Seah

(Book) Poetry & prose
5 The case for anti-discrimination legislation from an unexpected quarter

– Vanessa Ho

(Article) Sex workers in Singapore
6 Perempuan: Muslim Women Speak Out

– Filzah Sumartono

(Book) Muslim women
7 The Forced Sterilization of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People in Singapore

– Vanessa Ho, Sherry Sherqueshaa, and Darius Zheng (Published in the LGBTQ Policy Journal)

(Journal Article)
8 Violence and Discrimination Against LBTQ Women in Singapore

– Sayoni

(Book) Comprehensive overview of LBTQ discrimination in Singapore
9 Queer Singapore: Illiberal Citizenship and Mediated Cultures

– Audrey Yue and Jun Zubillaga-Pow

10 Tan, Chris. “Pink Dot: Cultural and Sexual Citizenship in Gay Singapore” Anthropological Quarterly 88, no. 4 (2015): 969. (Journal Article)


8. Race, Minority, Malay issues

S/N Title Remarks
1 The Singapore Dilemma: The Political and Educational Marginality of the Malay Community by Lily Zubaidah Rahimy, Identity, Trans-Regionalism, edited by Derek Thiam Soon Heng and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, 6.:175–94. Book, Whole. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009. (Journal article) Malay issues, marginalisation, and racial politics in Singapore.
2 The Myth of the Lazy Native

– Syed Hussein Alatas

(Book) Seminal work on how British colonialism artificially constructed racialised stereotypes of Malays, Indians, and Chinese in order to facilitate control and power
3 Malay Sketches

– Alfian Sa’at

(Book) A collection of stories offering insight into the realities of an ethnic minority
4 Lee Kuan Yew: Race, Culture, and Genes

– Michael Barr

(Article) Racism, eugenics, Lee Kuan Yew’s ideas
5 Multiracialism and Meritocracy: Singapore’s Approach to Race and Inequality – R. Quinn Moore (Journal Article) The problems of Singapore’s approach to multiracialism and meritocracy
6 Lyons, Lenore, and Michele Ford. “Singaporean First: Challenging the Concept of Transnational Malay Masculinity.” In Reframing Singapore: Memory, Identity, Trans-Regionalism, edited by Derek Thiam Soon Heng and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, 6.:175–94. Book, Whole. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009. (Journal Article)
7 Chong, Terence. “Asian Values and Confucian Ethics: Malay Singaporeans’ Dilemma.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 32, no. 3 (January 2002): 394–406. (Journal Article) Asian Values; Malay issues
8 Ahmad, Abu Talib. “Japanese Policy Towards Islam in Malaya during the Occupation: A Reassessment.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 33, no. 1 (2002): 107–22. (Journal Article)

9. Disability Rights



Remarks and tags


Singapore’s Initial Report to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

(Report) Prepared by the Ministry of Social & Family Development


Singapore and the UN CRPD

(Report) Compilation of Singapore’s progress towards meeting the CRPD by the Disabled People’s Association


Exploring Disability Studies

Collection of essays by various scholars and activists on s/pores


Inclusion in Singapore: a social model analysis of disability policy – Zhuang Kuansong

(Journal article)


Social Impact of Policies for the Disabled in Singapore – Reuben Wong and Wong Meng Ee

(Book chapter) 50 Years of Social Issues in Singapore


Navigating through the ‘rules’ of civil society – in search of disability rights in Singapore – Wong Meng Ee, Ian Ng, Jean Lor and Reuben Wong

(Book chapter) A History of Human Rights Society in Singapore: 1965 – 2015


A Place for Us – Cassandra Chiu

(Book) Part autobiography, part reflections of social advocate Cassandra Chiu’s experiences as a person living with visual impairment

10. Environment, Heritage and Historiography

S/N Title Remarks
1 Three Lessons For Engagement In Environmental Activism In Singapore

– Faizah Jamal in Civil Society and the State in Singapore

(Book) Experiences and tactics of NSS and other groups in environmental activism in Singapore
2 Loh, Kah Seng, Kai Khiun Liew, and Singapore Heritage Society, eds. The Makers & Keepers of Singapore History. Singapore: Ethos Books : Singapore Heritage Society, 2010. (Book)


11. Education, meritocracy, inequality

S/N Title Remarks
1 This is What Inequality Looks Like

– Teo You Yenn

(Book) Inequality, social work, education, meritocracy
2 Neoliberal Morality in Singapore: How Family Policies Make State and Society

– Teo You Yenn

(Book) Neoliberalism, meritocracy, family
3 Leonel Lim (2016) Analysing meritocratic (in)equality in Singapore: ideology, curriculum and reproduction, Critical Studies in Education, 57:2, 160-174, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2015.1055777 (Journal Article) An overview of meritocracy in education, and its influence on the persistence of inequality.
4 Jasmine B.-Y. Sim (2012) The burden of responsibility: elite students’ understandings of civic participation in Singapore, Educational Review, 64:2, 195-210, DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2011.598916 (Journal Article) Sociology paper about how Singaporean “elite students” understand of civic participation in a “system-confirming” way.
5 Theresa Alviar-Martin, Li-Ching Ho, Jasmine B.-Y. Sim & Pui-San Yap (2012) The ecologies of civic competence: students’ perceptions from one Singapore school, Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 32:4, 473-488, DOI: 10.1080/02188791.2012.739786 (Journal Article) An examination into why Singaporean students feel that they are not capable of effecting change in society.
6 Terence Chong (2014) Vocational education in Singapore: meritocracy and hidden narratives, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 35:5, 637-648, DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2014.927165 (Journal Article) There is a dominant and increasing promotion of vocational education in Singapore. This paper examines the “hidden narratives” that underline the promotion of vocational education.
7 Li-Ching Ho (2012) Sorting citizens: Differentiated citizenship education in Singapore, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 44:3, 403-428, DOI: 10.1080/00220272.2012.675359 (Journal Article) An understanding of how “civic education” is delivered differently depending on your perceived abilities or station in life, even if unintentionally, in the Singaporean education system.
8 Koh, A. (2014). Doing class analysis in Singapore’s elite education: unravelling the smokescreen of ‘meritocratic talk’. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 12(2), 196–210. DOI: 10.1080/14767724.2014.888308 (Journal Article) There is a narrative in elite institutions “about how everyone is made equal based on ‘merit’ without realising that some are less equal than others because they do not have the economic capital to begin with.” Koh examines this through interviews with elite students.
9 Chua, V., Swee, E. L., & Wellman, B. (2019). Getting Ahead in Singapore: How Neighborhoods, Gender, and Ethnicity Affect Enrollment into Elite Schools. Sociology of Education, 92(2), 176–198. DOI: 10.1177/0038040719835489 (Journal Article) A very recent study with an innovative methodology that examined yearbooks in order to estimate racial and gender compositions in Junior Colleges.

“We consider how the wealth of neighborhoods has combined with the elite status of schools to affect the social mobility of gender and ethnic groups. We find persistent differences in educational opportunity.”

10 Heng, Mary Anne, and Matthew Atencio. “‘I Assume They Don’t Think!’: Teachers’ Perceptions of Normal Technical Students in Singapore.” The Curriculum Journal 28, no. 2 (April 3, 2017): 212–30.

Chia, Yeow Tong. “State Formation and Nation Building through Education: The Origins and Introduction of the ‘National Education’ Program in Singapore.” In (Re)Constructing Memory: School Textbooks and the Imagination of the Nation, edited by James H Williams, 2014.

Ho, L., Sim, J., & Alviar-Martin, T. (2011). Interrogating differentiated citizenship education: Students’ perceptions of democracy, rights, and governance in two Singapore schools. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice. 6, 265-276.

Ho, L. (2012). Sorting citizens: Differentiated citizenship education in Singapore. Journal of Curriculum Studies. 44, 403-428.

Ho, L., Alviar-Martin, T., & Leviste, E. (2014). There is space and there are limits”: The challenge of teaching controversial topics in an illberal democracy. Teachers College Record. 116, 1-28.

Han, Christine. “National Education and ‘Active Citizenship’: Implications for Citizenship and Citizenship Education in Singapore.” Asia Pacific Journal of Education 20, no. 1 (January 2000): 63–72.

Tan, Jason. “The Marketisation of Education in Singapore: Policies and Implications.” International Review of Education 44, no. 1 (1998): 47–63.

Marginson, Simon. “Higher Education in East Asia and Singapore: Rise of the Confucian Model.” Higher Education 61, no. 5 (2011): 587–611.

Lim, Leonel, and Michael W. Apple. “Elite Rationalities and Curricular Form: ‘Meritorious’ Class Reproduction in the Elite Thinking Curriculum in Singapore.” Curriculum Inquiry 45, no. 5 (October 20, 2015): 472–90.

Other materials on education in Singapore and its intersections with inequality, politics, democracy, class, and race


Chua Mia Tee – Epic Poem of Malaya (1955)


Where to find these books?

The National Library has an extensive collection of local books that can be browsed and borrowed by members of the public. If you are a university student or staff member, you should also be able to access most of the journal articles through your university library account. Some libraries like the Yale-NUS Library are also open to members of the public, who may browse their materials during opening hours. 

You can also support local and buy from our local, independent publishers: Ethos books and Epigram books! Order these books online and have them delivered to your doorstep! 

If you would also like to search up Parliamentary records, is a useful platform. Uppercase Search provides a simple, user-friendly, and efficient search engine for these records. It trawls through everything spoken in Parliament, from the 1955 Legislative Assembly to the present day.

Do also check out’s Singapore Studies Reading Resource list – put together by a handful of local Singapore scholars!



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