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on April 12, 2004
To make a long story short, this book intelligently epitomizes the essences of the hisory of philosophy and stimulates the reader's thoughts of the world and everything it comprises.
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on February 26, 2011
This book attempts to do a lot and, in the end, it does at least a little. It introduces beginners to some of the fundamental ideas of the major philosophers from antiquity to the present. What is unfortunate, perhaps, is that the story gets in the way of the philosophy. To put it another way, the story is not really a compelling one, and the reader requires a considerable amount of patience to put up with rather unconvincing characters immersed in a no less unconvincing plot. I think the fact that Sophie's World has sold many millions of copies is a testament not to the book's greatness but rather to a widespread and genuine (and in some cases, perhaps, desperate) curiosity about philosophy. What is it? Who were the "great" philosophers, and why should we care? In short, what is the relevance of whatever philosophy is to our daily lives in the 21st century? Well, as it turns out, it was not for nothing that Plato said of philosophy that "no greater good ever was or will be given by the gods to mortal man" (Timaeus), and nothing is more relevant to our lives than philosophy, the love of wisdom. But you won't necessarily draw this conclusion from Sophie's World, especially if you are one of the many who couldn't manage to finish the book. Perhaps some reviewers are right when they suggest reading the primary sources of philosophy instead; or you might look at Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy, or Julian Marias' History of Philosophy, both single-volume works that are enjoyably rewarding. Or, if you want a story line and don't mind starting at the beginning, you might look at Stargazers: Stories of the first philosophers, by Paul Rossetti Bjarnason, which contains twenty-one stories characterizing the ancient philosophers and revealing the way in which philosophy was relevant to their lives and, as we too are part of the same human family, is relevant to our own. All in all, Sophie's World is not all it has been cracked up to be. If it doesn't work for you, don't give up on philosophy; try another route!
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on December 12, 2010
If you think this book is for teenage girls in the middle of a life crisis, you should think again. Yes, Gaarder's book is about existentialism, but more than that, it is a great (and fun!) book about the history of the human-kind and tells us a lot about the world in which we are living today. It is a book for everyone! If you had to pick just one book to read in your life, this one probably would be it. They possibly should even be given to each child in every school. Why? Because it clearly and concisely explains the evolution of the human mind - the history of our journey to answer the foremost questions about our way of life: why are we here? What's our purpose in life?

In Sophie's narrative, Gaarder examines the sequence of the main events and discoveries in our history with a focus on how each one lead to our current status and way of thinking. After reading this book you will have a great respect and understanding of the stage in which we live today. Imagine that a diary has been passing hands by generations and all your ancestors left a mark on it. Now, this gift has finally made its way to you. Wouldn't it be a nice gift to receive? That's how `Shophie's World' feels like. Well, sorts of. In certain point, the book turns an unexpectable turn and something unimaginable happens. That, however, I'll live with you to figure it out.

Here's a summary of the insights you'll find in this book:

* Philosophy is extremely relevant to life and if we do not question and ponder our very existence we are not really living
* First, ancient myths were created by people in a need to come up with natural explanations for the processes in the world
* Then, natural philosophers appeared and were concerned with change. Democritus and his theory of indivisible atoms underlie all nature as well as the concept of fate
* Socrates was the first `philosopher' and was wise enough to know that he knew nothing. Plato came after with his `world of ideas' and then Aristotle (who criticised Plato) classified much of the natural world, and founded logic and our theory of concepts (founding the cornerstone principle of science)
* The Indo-European and Semitic cultures start to merge and this lead for the first time to unique challenges - making it the `right time' for the appearance of Jesus
* St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, and the Christianisation of Greek philosophy followed in the Middle Ages
* The focus on humanity marked the start of the Renaissance period and the Baroque time marked start of extremes. Descartes doubted the statuesque and by doing so he demonstrated that everyone could. Spinoza sensed that someone had an awesome power over all of us
* Then, came the empiricists. Locke believed in natural rights and that everything we know is gained from experience. Hume showed that our actions are guided by feelings and warned against making laws based upon our experiences. Berkeley suggested that our entire lives were inside the mind of God
* The Enlightenment period arrives and it is marked by its humane values. Kant unifies the empiricist and rationalist thought
* In the world spirit of Romanticism, Hegel brings a dialectical view of history, and Kierkegaard believes that the individual's existence is primary
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on December 11, 2010
Sophie''s story, aside from being a scan through different Ages of Thought, very cleverly intertwines a mysterious intrigue that was part of the reason I managed to read through huge chunks of the book without coming up for air, massively saturated in knowledge as it was. The intrigue relates to what Sophie is learning about herself and the world, and what a certain girl, Hilde, is learning through Sophie's discussions with her philosopher mentor, Alberto Knox. All these strange occurences happen, including random postcards that end up sticking, rolling, flying Sophie's way, sending greetings to a birthday girl that Sophie has never met. I don't want to say anymore about this aspect of the book ' but rest assured, it's a real treat to read! It just keeps on getting cleverer as you read on'

There are so many figures in history that I want to investigate further, now. Reading this book has made me realize how very small a part of the literary world I have experienced ' there's so much out there! It's overwhelming! But the book doesn't make you feel ashamed that you don't know these people, rather, you learn along with Sophie, little tidbits about them. Like for example, this lovely excerpt from Coleridge:

'What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed? And what if, in your dream, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?'

There are so many other great quotes in this book, I've tons of tabs stuck to the pages, that my mother was wondering if I was going to write an essay about this book. No doubt about it, this novel really opened my mind to different concepts and ideas ' all the ideas! - that people throught history played with, in a way that wasn't too daunting.

I'm by no means a student of philosophy. I've never taken philosophy. But I do like to debate and think about absurd and crazy 'what if?' questions. My friends and family get exasperated by it sometimes. So, I really agree with the part of the book that emphasizes the need to continue to ask questions about everything, no matter how simple it may appear on the surface. There are a lot of tiny and complicated nuances that can end up forming the reason behind an answer to a seemingly simple question ' nuances that are a result of thousands of years of thought, that we sort of take for granted in our time.

'A white rabbit is pulled out of a top hat. Because it is an extremely large rabbit, the trick takes many billions of years. All mortals are born at the very tip of the rabbit's fine hairs, where they are in a position to wonder at the impossibility of the trick. But as they grow older they work themselves ever deeper into the fur. And there they stay''

I'm glad I read Sophie's World. I don't want to be another deadened person, traipsing through life, trapped in the rabbit's fur, as Alberto Knox warned against. This book has reminded me to keep a patient and open mind towards all questions and ideas, and has made me want to re-evaluate myself, as a thinking individual and all that had to happen in order for me to think and be the kind of person that I am.

Don't get stuck in the first few chapters of this book! Read on! There is real treasure inside this book ' ideas and thoughts of gold! Jostein Gaarder writes with humor and irony too. It's so lovely altogether! The last chapter, 'The Big Bang' ' I really enjoed it. It was so beautifully written, and really captured the wonder of what the universe could be.

Read more reviews by Sharry at [...]
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on June 29, 2004
This is a history of western philosophy course disguised as a novel (or vice versa). The author covers a much broader range of philosophers and schools of thought than is possible to cover through any intro class, all while keeping the language simple enough for the beginner philosopher to grasp the concepts. The novel is much less intimidating than a textbook or attempting to read Hume's "Treatise" and Kant's "Grounding...Metaphysics".
Sophie's World gently guides the reader into an analytical mindset before diving into the most difficult philosophical questions. It also encourages the reader to think and create their own philosophical stances along with Sophie. However, there are some glaring omissions: logic, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, and several modern philosophers (Karl Popper, Carl Jung, Korsgaard, etc.) are noticably absent. This book is intended for those without any formal philosophy background and not for the philosophy snobs who will merely critique the author for the omissions rather than appreciating the book for what it is: a unique way of introducing western philosophy in a concise abbreviated package.
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on June 14, 2004
Sophie's World has an interesting concept, but this philosophical read is not for everyone. I have some criticism of the book, but also some praise. I'll start with the criticism. This is really a philosophy text disguised as a novel. The characters are caricature at best. They're really just devices Gaarder uses to get his point across. The dialogue is not believable either. Another potential problem for certain readers is that the philosophy lessons contained in this book are, in the novel, aimed for a young audience, for the novel centers on a fifteen-year-old character. If you have studied philosophy at some point in your life, this will probably be far too simplistic for you.
However, there are various things I liked about this novel. Sophie's World is a great introduction to philosophy. Those who find philosophy intimidating will very likely enjoy this book. I think it's a wonderful introduction to philosophy because it is aimed at the fifteen-year-old character. Even if you have studied philosophy, this book will be thought provoking, if only because it makes you think about what you once studied. I think this would be a wonderful book for parents to read with their teenage children. It would certainly make for some excellent discussions. The true strength of this book is the material it covers. Philosophy is a fascinating subject and Sophie's World is the perfect choice for anyone who would like to gently ease themselves into that subject.
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on February 24, 2004
This book has two distinct parts, a very "dreamy" novel and a course in philosophy. It begins with Sophie Amundsen, a 15 year old girl in Norway in the late twentieth a century, receiving mail from a mysterious stranger, mail that turns out to be a course in philosophy.
I found the history of philosophy as presented here interesting, some of the philosophers named here were somewhat familiar to me and I learned more, I liked the author's way of making connections from one stream of thought to the next over the centuries. However when I came across anyone I know a great deal about such as Darwin or Freud, I found those sections of the book to be quite shallow and biased as well as to what was included. I would have liked to have seen him go further with the twentieth century, how could he think of leaving out Carl Jung in a book like this????
The novel part of the book was totally unappealing to me, it just became too ridiculous. Alice in Wonderland herself is a character, and the story seemed like wonderland to me something a mind under the influence of strong drugs might "dream" up. Like a book for children but too mature for children.
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on January 24, 2004
Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder, brilliantly combines philosophy and the story of a curious teenage girl named Sophie, who opens up her mind to the vast world of philosophy around her. Gaarder explains theory in a way that makes the subject almost seem easy to understand, while covering the great philosophers such as Democritus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Darwin, Freud, and several other great world thinkers. At first, the book reads as a poor attempt at being a novel, when the author is actually using a fictional tale as an outlet to switch between past theories, and relate them to the present, Sophie's World.
The book mixes creativity with intellect to help the reader visualize each concept. For example, Democritus' theory that the Lego is "the most ingenious toy in the world," is explained using Sophie as a puppet who reads about this idea and pulls down her old legos from the top shelf. Not only does this explain the theory in depth, but the author finds a way to break philosophy down and apply each idea to our everyday lives.
Gaarder also uses imagery to explain how philosophy got started. The narrator of the "philosophy lessons" explains Plato and Socrates' ideas on the world through a video filmed in Athens. He walks the camera through the Acropolis, around temples, one being the great Parthenon, past the Dionysus Theatre, and through the ancient city. Through detailed description, the reader gets a clear image of the town where philosophy began, and is able to visualize the beauty of Athens and the great orators in the streets teaching and debating the philosophies of life.
Along with theory, the book covers history, which is a necessity in order to understand philosophy and the evolution of thought. Each chapter jumps from one philosopher to the next explaining how, when, and where each idea began. One interesting idea is "the collision between Greek Philosophy and the doctrine of Christian redemption" from the visit of the Pharisee Paul in Athens. Apparently, Paul came to the city and convinced the Athenian philosophers of Jesus' resurrection, which created a whole new perspective on things, and in a way, tied science and religion together. The Semites actually had a theory on history and how time works. Their theory was about this ongoing line (also known as history), created by god, that started at the creation of the world, and ended on what they called "Judgment Day," the day that god judges the living and the dead, the day that all evil is destroyed. With this theory in mind, the Semites spent thousands of years recording history and it was these historical roots that "constitute the very core of their holy scriptures."
By the time I finished this incredibly informative book, I had a great understanding of each philosopher and their theories on life, and felt quite comfortable with the ideas that Gaarder explains. Having read Sophie's World, I now know about certain ideas that I have always been curious about, but would have never taken the time to research in depth. As well as educating myself on others theories, I began to develop some ideas of my own. Furthermore, Jostein Gaarder's masterpiece not only interested me, but it provided the stable information needed to write an essay, and possibly the inspiration to becoming a philosopher myself.
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on January 22, 2004
The concept of this book is fairly interesting. A teenage girl begins to receive letters from a stranger. He introduces her to philosophy in terms of a chronological study of the major philosophers from the Greeks to the likes of Sartre. As such, the book describes an easy approach to philosophy for a teenager and it presents itself also as such.
However, it all became too much for me. The whole thing is quite pedantic. Most readers of all ages will not be able to identify with the characters Hilde and Sophie very well. As such, the actual story (outside the notes on philosophy) is basically a backdrop and definitely reads as such. As for the notes, they may be regarded well by some but patronising by others. When the major thoughts of a philosophical school or personality are reduced to ten pages of pop-style explanations (which in itself isn't a bad way of presenting it), it requires excellent organisation to make the text both representative of the philosopher and interesting. Gaarder has done neither in my opinion.
A mildly useful read in terms of acquainting oneself with the major philosophers. There are many better texts for that purpose though.
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on January 5, 2004
Jostein Gaarder uses metafiction as a tool to emphasize the predominant questions of philosophy: Who are you? and Where do do you/we come from? Sophie Anundson receives mysterious letters from Alberto Knox ostensibly to teach her lessons in the history of philosophy. Interspersed with her lessons is the mystery of Hilde Moller Knag and her father who maintain a correspondance through the unwitting Sophie. The mystery of Hilde and her father's identity (and for that matter Sophie and Alberto's identity)is revealed at the time when Alberto is beginning his lecture on the Enlightenment (ha, ha). This is one of the annoying problems with the novel: it all reads like a high school philosophy coarse and, like most metafiction, is too involved in style and technique (not to mention the author's self-indulgance) to be bothered with insignificant matters like plot or character development. It is all excessively tedious and only remotely interesting. But the author raises very interesting questions, however simplistic his and obviously slanted his answers may be. For better metafiction read italo Calvino's "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler." For a better rendition of the history of philosophy read: "A Short History of Philosophy" by Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins. For a better book by Gaarder read "The Solitaire Mystery"
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