Biography offers deeper insights into Goh Chok Tong's life

23,000 copies sold Six weeks on the ST bestsellers list

In the book Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, writer Peh Shing Huei (left) covers Mr Goh's rise to power.
In the book Tall Order: The Goh Chok Tong Story, writer Peh Shing Huei (above) covers Mr Goh's rise to power.ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG


By Peh Shing Huei

World Scientific/Paperback/ 279 pages/$39.59/Major bookstores, and

It took less than four weeks for Tall Order, the biography of Singapore's second prime minister Goh Chok Tong, to surge past the 20,000 mark.

The book by former Straits Times news editor Peh Shing Huei covers Mr Goh's rise to power, from shy student to the leader of the Government.

In its pages, the Emeritus Senior Minister opens up about how he felt when founding premier Lee Kuan Yew, whom he succeeded in 1990, publicly revealed he was not his first choice of successor, as well as his perspective on Operation Spectrum, in which 22 people were detained in 1987 for being part of a suspected Marxist conspiracy.

Peh, 43, who is now a partner at content agency The Nutgraf, has inadvertently made popular memoirs of leaders his calling card.

Following a Singapore Literature Prize win in 2016 for his non-fiction book on China, When The Party Ends, he was approached to write Neither Civil Nor Servant, a biography of maverick bureaucrat Philip Yeo that spent 68 weeks on the ST bestsellers list.

The research for Tall Order was done by a team from The Nutgraf, along with ST editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang, and required a dozen interviews with Mr Goh.

It reprises the formula of Neither Civil Nor Servant, which mixes prose led by colourful personal anecdotes with verbatim extracts of interviews.

A chapter on Mr Goh's childhood recounts, for instance, his memory, at age 10, of his uncle carrying his emaciated father on his back to a small room where he would later die of tuberculosis.

Peh, who is now working on the second volume of Mr Goh's biography, hopes his books can shed light on little-known aspects of Singapore's leaders.

"Readers (of Tall Order) come up to me and say, 'I did not know his upbringing was that impoverished.' Or, 'I did not know he was the man behind MediSave.'

"We are a people who are not very well acquainted with our history - even near history, let alone far history - or with our leaders.

"These books share something with Singaporeans that they are not aware of, which are related to our country's development and, more importantly, to the things that affect our lives - town councils, MediSave, the creation of jobs.

"I am very happy that they have added to our people's knowledge and understanding of our lives."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2018, with the headline 'Biography offers deeper insights into Goh Chok Tong's life'. Subscribe