Thursday, December 10, 2009

50 Years in 380 Pages

How anyone can condense 18,250 days (or 50 years) of a nation's history, distill it and juice only the essence of half a century is beyond me! But that's what a team of 9 researchers, 15 writers, 9 editors and several others have accomplished.

As a former Geography student, I'd never been as much a fan of history books although history touches me on a certain level. But when I picked up Chronicle of Singapore, I found difficulty putting it down, despite its weighed like a brick - at approximately 3 kilogrammes! . The chunky harcover title wasn't a history book per se, it was what my guest called a 'time machine'! How apt.

Who better suited to be Editor-in-Chief of the book than the former Editor-in-Chief of the then Straits Times Press, Peter Lim. Having spent 33 years as a newspaper journalist and editor, Peter is a news junkie who not only has decades of experience reporting the critical events of his day, but the 'who' and 'what' that made them worthy of reportage. And so he had the arduous task of determining the 45 news stories (on average) that would most best represent each year from 1959 to 2009! They were not all significant political stories that made headlines on the front page of The Straits Times in decades past, but they included violent crime, salacious scandals, sporting achievements and even soft news that showcased the lighter more laughable side of life here.

The editorial team must have anticipated any worries readers may have of the book being too wordy, incorporating more than 1,300 photos and other visuals to complete the flavour. Not that the book is anywhere near being a dry read, but readers will also enjoy a DVD packaged with the book. It contains more than an hour's worth of rare film and news footage sourced from the library of MediaCorp and the National Archives of Singapore.

I personally felt Chronicle of Singapore was like a giant treasure chest of trivia that kids would relish and prove to others just how much they know of Singapore's past even if they didn't live through the recorded years.

For me, I hadn't realised that colour TV first came to Singapore in the year I was born (which year? how about getting the book?). That same year, a three-minute limit was introduced for phone calls at public telephone booths. And the newspaper that year cried 'fowl' with this story:

26 February - A freak chick made heads turn along Undus Road, off Ganges Avenue. It stood and walked upright like a penguin. Those who saw it described it as a "one-in-a-million" bird. Manager Low Boon Leng found it wandering along the road, two days earlier. He felt sorry for it and took it back to his office, where he fed it grain. The rare chick had since become a mini celebrity with both children and adults in the neighbourhood.

For more interesting articles (the serious, scandalous and straight-out quirky), you've got to get this book from the bookstores published by Editions Didier Millet, retailing at $59.90 (incl. GST). To preview the book online, click here.

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