Singapore Shelf

4 reads for July

Need a break from election fever or planning to read up on some of those hot-button issues? In this monthly feature, The Straits Times lines up four hot-off-the-press home-grown books for readers to dive into, from a civil servant's memoir to a collection of essays on difference and diversity

Mr Herman Hochstadt (above, right) receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award from National University of Singapore president Tan Eng Chye (left).
Mr Herman Hochstadt (right) receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award from National University of Singapore president Tan Eng Chye (left). PHOTOS: EPIGRAM BOOKS, ISEAS PUBLISHING, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE, NUS PRESS, WORLD SCIENTIFIC
Lives & Times Of HRH by Herman Ronald Hochstadt



By Herman Ronald Hochstadt

NUS Press/ Hardcover / 222 pages/ $38.52/ Available at

Many a civil servant has a story of a formal-function faux pas, but Mr Herman Hochstadt's is hard to beat.

The former secretary to Singapore's founding premier Lee Kuan Yew was at a dinner hosted by India's then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when he realised the zip of his trousers had given up the ghost.

He quickly tucked his table napkin into the top of his trousers to cover it up. Mrs Gandhi rose to propose a toast and everyone followed suit, Mr Hochstadt included.

He ignored Dr Toh Chin Chye, then Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister, trying surreptitiously and desperately to signal him. He received a tongue-lashing from Dr Toh later in private, but preserved his modesty.

Such colourful anecdotes pepper the 87-year-old's memoir, which many people had pestered him to write since his retirement and to which he finally got round about two years ago. "Best be done with it before I leave this world," he says.

The book relates the history of Mr Hochstadt's Eurasian family, from the founding of the Singapore Casket Company by his paternal grandfather John Hochstadt to the deaths of his maternal grandparents, John and Helen Phillips, as prisoners of war during the Japanese Occupation.

Much of the book is devoted to Mr Hochstadt's own years in the civil service, including his time as the late Mr Lee's secretary from 1962 to 1965, when Singapore seemed to "pop out of Malaysia like a champagne cork, but minus any celebratory froth", he writes.

Working for Mr Lee was so stressful that Mr Hochstadt at one point attempted to resign.

Mr Lee retorted: "If anyone around here has strain, it is me!"

He added that they had to carry on for Singapore's survival, however, and gave Mr Hochstadt the day off - only to summon him back to City Hall before lunch.

"No matter how stressful it was, he was a very inspiring person to work for," recalls Mr Hochstadt in a Zoom interview. "His thoughts were always for Singapore."

Mr Hochstadt went on to serve in various ministries, including stints as permanent secretary in the Ministries of Education, Finance and Law. He retired from the civil service in 1989 and went on to be High Commissioner to several African nations.

He was married to National University of Singapore chief librarian Peggy Leong, who died in 1991. They have two children.

"What I recorded in the book, I did to reflect, because it was something I was persuaded I should do," he says. "It's part of the story of Singapore."



Edited by Terence Chong

ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute/ Paperback/ 272 pages/ $38.41/ Available at

In this timely collection, social scientists expound on ethnicity, religion, class and culture, examining fault lines that often surface as election issues.

In a chapter on political divides, sociologist and former Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh looks at artistic protest and culture war in Singapore, while the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy's Kenneth Paul Tan argues that the People's Action Party needs to consider embracing diversity as a "big tent" party.



Edited by Zuraidah Ibrahim and Jeffie Lam

World Scientific/ Paperback/ 461 pages/ $29.96/ Available at

In this book, South China Morning Post journalists chronicle Hong Kong's year of water and fire as protesters clashed in the streets last year with the Beijing-backed authorities.

From the love story turned homicide that underpinned Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's controversial extradition Bill, through the storm of street violence and arrests to the tensions that remain today, this book seeks to record the city's worst political crisis in decades.



By Gunn Chit Wha

Epigram Books/ Paperback/ 192 pages/ $26.64/ Available at

One of Malaya's first female lawyers pens her memoir. Ms Gunn, now 92, recounts what it was like to break barriers in the 1950s, becoming the third female lawyer in 20th-century Malaya.

She became the first elected female Municipal Councillor in Kuala Lumpur, standing in the Petaling Ward, and was appointed the first female State Councillor in Selangor.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2020, with the headline 4 reads for July. Subscribe