In This Review

From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965-2000

From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965-2000
By Lee Kuan Yew
729 pp, HarperCollins, 2000

In this second volume of his memoirs, Lee Kuan Yew begins by telling how he and a small group of Singaporean leaders banded together and, by "getting the basics right," transformed a poor and polyglot city into an astonishingly successful modern nation. Lee tells in crisp and polished prose how this group identified the key problems of nation-building, analyzed what needed to be done, and then -- with uncompromising determination -- did it. While asserting his respect for authoritarian efficiency, Lee also seems to have mellowed in his championing of "Asian values" and criticizing of the West's attachment to the rights of the individual. In the second half of the book, Lee recounts his experiences as confidant of and counselor to world leaders. He hosted six American presidents in Istana, his official residence, and he regularly visited the White House. During the Vietnam War, American presidents seemed to welcome Lee's pep talks to "stick it out." The easy informality of his conversations over lunch and dinner made him a valued interlocutor who knew how to "get it right" in world politics. Throughout this work, Lee's analysis of political problems displays the workings of a brilliant lawyer's mind unencumbered by lawyer's jargon. He also demonstrates a genius for reading human character. His forthright evaluations of the personalities of both his Singaporean colleagues and a host of foreign leaders provide a degree of candor rare in the memoirs of political leaders.