"One day fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen comes home from school to find in her mailbox two notes, each with a question: "Who are you?" and "Where does the world come from?" From this irresistible beginning, Sophie becomes obsessed with questions that take her far beyond what she knows of her Norwegian village. Through successive letters, she enrolls in a kind of correspondence course, covering Socrates to Sartre, with a mysterious philosopher, while also receiving letters addressed to another girl. Who is Hilde? And why does her mail keep turning up? To unravel this riddle, Sophie must use the philosophy she is learning--but the truth turns out to be far more complicated than she could have imagined."--Page 4 of cover.
There were several good points to the book and also a lot of problems. The good points were the philosophy lessons, which were written in easy language that served as a crash course to western philosophy's movers and shakers. The bad point, however, was the story. Sophie's World read like a non-fiction book held together by a thin veneer of character and mystery. Sophie as a character simply serves as a stand-in for the reader to absorb and reflect on ideas. I found her unlikeable and arrogant. There was an overall condescending tone to the book from Sophie's personality to the way the mysterious philosopher taught Sophie, and thus the reader. The story did improve when the focus moved away from Sophie to Hilde, but in general I felt it lacked life.
Sophie's World is a great idea, but a better writer would have done more justice to it. Gaarder did well with the philosophy aspects, but there are plenty of non-fiction books out there that accomplish the same. The catch for this one was its marriage with fiction, but the fiction part failed to keep my attention.
A 14 year old Norwegian schoolgirl, Sophie, comes home from school and finds in her mailbox, an unstamped letter addressed to her contains a note that just asks "Who are you?". A couple of minutes
And so the letters prick Sophie's curiousity and gets her to start thinking about who's sending these letters to her, what they mean, and really.... where DOES the world come from?
A few days later, Sophie receives a package and therein begins her introduction to philosophy. We are taken on a journey tracing the history of philosophy from the natural philosophers in Greece back in about 500B.C., to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the moving through the ages and continents to St Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Marx, Darwin and Freud.
For anyone looking for an easy way to learn philosophy or interested in a refresher course in philosophy, this is a good book to pick up. Sophie's child-like wide-eyed curiousity and eagerness to explore new ways of thinking put a fresh new face on the subject.
And by the way, who's Hilde and why is someone sending postcards for her to Sophie? The answer to this puzzle is quite the surprise.
On the surface it is two stories about the nearly 15 year old Sophie and the nearly 15 year old Hilde. It starts out with Sophie receiving a strange letter which marks the beginning of her philosophy course - delivered by the strange Alberto Knox. Soon, strange, almost inexplicable things begin to happen - Sophie receives postcards containing an uncanny amount of knowledge about what is going on in her life from a stranger working for the UN in Lebanon. Weird birthday messages begin to appear. And then, when Alberto finally reaches the philosophy or Berkeley, which posits that perhaps the world is nothing more than a construction within the mind of God, Sophie's world is suddenly revealed as something she could never have imagined.
I absolutely loved the skipping between the story of Sophie and the story of Hilde, marked by a different font on the pages. All the way through I found myself putting the book down and thinking hard about what I had just learnt. It made philosophy accessible without trivialising it, and in turn encouraged me to look around me like Sophie was, and like Hilde was, and look at the world with new eyes.
A fantastic book. I can't recommend it enough.
Doesn't really work as a novel either- the story is just too implausible and lost amongst the philosophy.
The portions regarding the ancient philosophers were well done and presented in manageable chunks. Coming, quite ignorant, to the subject, I thought it a very good history of philosophy. (4 stars) But setting those into the story, while educating Sophie, the narrative then suffered. Alberto teaches in paragraphs punctuated by Sophie's “Can you give me an example?”, “Go on.”, “I see.”, “What do you mean?”, “I would agree.”, and other such banalities. Then the way that Sophie's world was spun felt like something out of Twilight Zone to me. I didn't at all care for the story in which the history was set. (2 stars)
Did I learn a lot? Yes. Did I enjoy it? No. (3 stars)
The little potted essays on Socrates, Plato etc offer an interesting synopsis of 3,000 years of Western philosophy. But the adult reader may find the tone of the book a little
Still, in spite of one or two obvious flaws, an entertaining read.
The survey, although written in an entertaining and forthright style with helpful reminders and examples, would probably not be enough to carry the book by itself, but Gaarder constructs an interesting fictional world that pulls the reader in, becomes a bit of a fantasy, but also serves to illustrate one of the basic questions of philosophical enquiry: what is reality? Characters in a novel are, by definition, not real, but Gaarder goes a step further. After we are introduced to the main characters, Sophie and her philosophy teacher Albert Knox, and we get comfortable with them, Gaarder gradually brings us to realize that they are in fact creations of another writer, Halts's father who has constructed the whole story as a birthday gift for his daughter. But Sophie and Albert take on lives of their own when they recognize what is happening and conspire to thwart the father, Albert, before he can simply close off the story and leave them imprisoned between the covers. So they "escape" to the fantasy world where they can live forever. But at the same time, although they are "fictional" characters, they have a direct effect on Halts and her father through Halts's plotting and recognizing that Halts also reads the philosophy course which was ostensibly developed for her by Albert, but in fact was written by Albert!. Halts and her father Albert are, of course, creations of Gaarder who in fact is the overall creator, and so the perceptions tangle like looking into the infinity of two mirrors facing each other. It is a clever device, and I think serves to make the reader think about one of the central tenets expounded by Albert in his lessons: what is reality and how is it to be perceived or understood, and does that understanding change with the perspective or grounds from which it is made? Obvious links here to modern physics and quantum mechanics where, for instance, Einstein showed that perceptions of time and space are not immutable, but depend on the status of the observer; also the idea that at the subatomic level the very process of observing or measuring affects the object being observed or measured and so it is impossible to know all aspects of the object at the same time.
Some observations or comments in the book that struck me:
Aristotle disagreed with Plato's belief that humans have innate ideas, but he did believe in an innate power to reason and an innate faculty of organizing all sensory impressions into categories and classes: plants, animals, humans, stones, horses, lobsters, etc. If this is an innate faculty, or perhaps an innate requirement because it is the way we make sense of the world, is it also the basis of racism? Categories are based on differences and skin colour (the most obvious) and cultural differences provide handy categorization techniques. What is lacking when this spills over into racism, is awareness or recognition of the common elements of humanity that transcend any artificial categorization, i.e., what makes us all humans just as all horses are accepted as horses, regardless of what colour they might be or how they might act.
Albert speaking to Sophie: "Acting responsibly is not a matter of strengthening our reason but of deepening our feeling for the welfare of others."
Spinosa believed that only when we are free to develop our innate abilities can we live as free beings; but (elaborates Albert) we are just as much determined by inner potential and outer opportunities as the Stone Age boy on the Rhine, the lion in Africa, or the apple tree in the garden. This made me think of Duff's, Once Were Warriors, and the crushing of potential by outer circumstances until someone recognizes that the latter is not all-powerful, but can be overcome with effort and will.
Albert quotes Goethe and then speaks in his own voice: "Goethe once said that 'he who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.' I don't want you to end up in such a sad state. I will do what I can to acquaint you with your historical roots. It is the only way to become a human being. It is the only way to become more than a naked ape. It is the only way to avoid floating in a vacuum." I could not agree more with this statement, and it is the essence of why people should read and think about this book. How very sad, therefore, that the study of history and ideas is so neglected in schools today. An anecdote: Mike wrote an essay this year in school on Lenin's interpretations of Marxism. In speaking with four or five of his friends, he said that he was writing his essay on Lenin: three of the other students said "John Lennon?" and when Mike explained, not one of them knew who Lenin was. This is unbelievable for people in the last year of high school. Whether or not you like his politics, Lenin was one of the giants of the 20th century and I don't see how you understand where we are today if you have no inkling of how we got here. But to ask the question is to answer it: most people don't care where we are today and so the question of how we got here is not even an academic one.
This is a fine refresher if you've already been exposed (as was my case), but it can also suffice to build that frame of reference. If you've a young person in your house who has the option of pursuing philosophy in post-secondary education, this could help them decide. If you're not as young but still interested, this is a less dry option than Will Durant and less scholarly than Donald Palmer, if not as thorough; but with today's Internet at your fingertips for further investigation, it is probably all the introduction you need.
Whichever the reason, please cease your activities as soon as possible.
If you, though, have ever uttered
When you read philosophical texts that appeal to the masses, you're usually going to get something watered down and easy for you to digest. Sophie's World, however, it a little different. It combines a story with philosophical teachings, and actually makes it more interesting than other authors who try to write philosophical novels and end up writing a 1000 page tome about relative objectivism and how we need to let capitalism run unhindered and how we need a gold standard and how we need less government interference, and well, a 1000 page book is pretty intimidating. Sophie's Wold is about half that size, and takes you on a journey through the ages of philosophy, showing how it influenced things like science and religion, and vice versa.
Sophie's a girl who mysteriously receives letters featuring philosophy lessons. Each day, the mysterious stranger introduces her to a new page in the annals of philosophy, and later that day, she sees it somehow applied in her every day life.
There is a layer of metafiction in this story, and if you know me, you know I love metafiction (if you thought you knew me, and knew that I hated it, you're dealing with my evil twin. Try to break that connection without letting him know you're on to him. He's pretty crafty).
Nevertheless, if you love philosophy, or want to start loving it but just can't wrap your mind around Atlas Shrugged or Republic, then the best place to start is in Sophie's world. Recommended for all fans and wannabe fans of philosophy (and metafiction).
I've read some of the other reviews criticising the author for 'forcing the plot'. I have to disagree with their assessment of this. This too is part of the philosophy lesson on offer. Are we pawns in someone else's reality? To what extent are we actors in someone else's life story? As the book explores the growing self-awareness of the fictional characters, the reader is left to wonder the extent to which others are determining their reality.
My only criticism of this book is the lack of attention to philsophers that have dominated the late twentieth century (particularly Kuhn, Habermas and Foucault and Feyerabend). Sophie's World does not conclude the history to my complete satisfaction but I do recognise that it is difficult so soon after the event to determine who the most important philosophers are for the purposes of an introductory text.
This remains, however, an outstanding achievement on many levels. It is a history. It is a novel. It is a story that offers every intellectually curious person (young and old) access to a wide range of thinking that will enhance their understanding of the human condition.
When Sophie Amundsen finds an envelope in the mailbox containing a single question, "Who are you?", she starts studying the history of Western philosophy from the Greeks to Sartre, taught by the mysterious Alberto Knox aided and abetted by his dog,
SOPHIE’S WORLD is a captivating story that will enchant readers of all ages. It is half a philosophy lesson, half a brilliantly imagined suspense novel. While the ending left me dissatisfied, I was completely fascinated by the rest of the book and would definitely recommend it to everyone.
This is a somewhat unusual format for a novel, because it contains huge passages that are good overviews of the beliefs of various major philosophers in the Western world, so it also serves as a bit of a philosophy primer in addition to being a book about the
I have to confess that this book didn't really grab me at first, it was fine, but it had come so highly recommended that perhaps my expectations were unreasonable. However, by about 2/3 the way through, I was hooked. I am very fond of books that capture my interest from the very first page, but I also have a lot of respect for books that really work to earn my approval; this one did.
I could have done with a little less proselytizing about the UN ... no matter how much I support the UN to begin with, this book made me feel sour about it in the same way I want to smack down Sarah Crewe (the annoying and smarmy Little Princess).
Sophie's World is a philosophy lesson. It's a summary of the history of philosophy written as a novel. The novel part is a bit strange and awkward, but it was entertaining enough to keep my interests. The philosophy
Topics covered (which may somehow end up in Common Knowledge somewhere) include Ancient Greek Natural Philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Christianity, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, George Berkeley, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Marx, and Sartre. They are all fascinating, as is the evolution of ideas from one to the next, such as "the existence of God" which goes from being taken for granted, to being proved, to being unprovable but necessary, to essentially being dropped altogether as "naturalistic" philosophies began to become more dominant post-Darwin. It was Sartre that made me the most curious.