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on 19 February 2009
With a book like this, it's important to know what kind of book it is before you read it. First and foremost this is an educational book, in which the lessons are faciltated by means of a story, so if it's light fiction your after then this isn't the book for you. This may sound obvious to most people, but I know a couple of people who bought this book not realising this. As for me I knew what I was buying beforehand (indeed I deliberately bought it to be educated) and therefore got a lot out of it. As far as I'm concerned this book more than achieves it's goal in teaching what can be a complex subject in a relatively understandable way. My only gripe about this book is that sometimes Sophie's dialogue (both in her conversations with the people around her and in her internal thought process) can feel a bit contrived and, for me at least, slightly irritating. Again though let us remember that this is an educational book and should be judged mainly on that basis. That being said though, one clever aspect of the story writing in this book is that early on in the story there are a number of questions relating to the plot that are answered later in ways you weren't really expecting at all.
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on 17 July 2004
Do you want to know more about the History of Philosophy, but don't feel like studying?. This might be the solution for you !!!.
In "Sophie's World" you will find an interesting novel, intertwined almost seamlessly with the History of Philosohy. Is that possible?. For Jostein Gaarder, yes. This former philosophy teacher, born in 1952 in Oslo (Norway), reached success with this book, which has managed to attract even those not commonly interested in Philosophy and also, somehow, to become part of the bibliography of many undergraduate philosophy courses.
The plot of the book is rather simple. It centers on Sophie Amundsen, a fourteen year old girl approaching her fifteen birthday, who one day begins to receive letters from someone she doesn't know. In those letters, her unknown correspondent begins to tell her about the History of Philosophy, the subject he studies. Sophie's goes on receiving those letters throughout the novel, and they become an essential part of the plot, which is a mystery with unexpected turnarounds.
I would like to point out that I noticed a change in Sophie's attitude towards the world and what was happening around her, as the novel is nearer to its end. After learning in those letters about the History of Philosophy (that could also be called the History of Thought), she starts to think in a different, more analytical way. In my opinion, the reader suffers the same process that changes Sophie, and that is not a bad thing at all.
It is important to remark upon the fact that the letters that Sophie's correspondent sends her are written in a clear way, so that she (a teenager) would be able to understand them. Due to the fact that in those letters the main theme is Philosophy, the reader can not only enjoy a good novel but also have access to graspable explanations regarding the ideas of some philosophers, so far unknown or incomprehensible to him.
I recommend this book to anybody curious enough to want to read it. It doesn't require too much effort: you will learn without being aware of doing so. Concerning the age of the reader, I think that "Sophie's World" can be read easily by teenagers, but will also be appealing to adults who enjoy a good book.
On the whole, I believe this book is worth buying, reading and keeping. It is not perfect, though, because I think that the plot of the novel could have been better.
However, there aren't too many perfect things in this world, and unfortunately that includes books. So my advice is: read it !!!. You are highly likely to enjoy doing that, and you will appreciate the change of perspective that "Sophie's World" will bring to you.
Belen Alcat
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on 11 September 2009
This is a book to teach young adults about philosophy and ideas that have influenced the world. 15 year old Sophie starts to receive messages that ask her to think about who she is and where the world comes from. Then Alberto Knox sends her lessons about philosophers' attempts to ask and answer philosophical questions. The lessons cover highlights of 2000 years of philosophical thought. She also begins to receive some postcards from a UN observer in Lebanon. The philosophy lessons are made interesting by the story of Sophie trying to figure out why she is receiving the lessons and the postcards. This book is not only a great introduction to philosophy for young adults but would be a fascinating read for everyone who heard about different philosophers' ideas throughout their lives but never really got around to reading about philosophy.
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on 16 February 2003
Reading Sophie's World is a great investment of time. Sophies World set me off on a journey of learning all about philosophy. Since then I have devoured other books on the subject. But it was all thanks to this book that I got started. It put the philosophical ideas within the framework of a story about a little girl Sophie and her daily life. Sophie starts to receive mysterious philosophy lessons in the post. At least 50% of the book consists of these "lessons". They are very readable and truly mind-expanding. They teach alot about the development of philsophy over history. It was fascinating exciting reading for me.
The underlying story of what happens to Sophie becomes, in itself, a sort of philosophical investigation. The twist is really rather mind blowing. This book not only introduces the reader to major philosophical ideas, but also implements some really interesting and mind-bending ones in the way it is written.
I cannot recommend this book enough. The joy of learning and thinking are at its core, but it is not some dry textbook. By the time you are a quarter of the way through, you will already be "climbing out of the rabbit fur" as Sophie would say. Reading this book was the beginning of a year long journey of learning and excitement for me. But it was also a fun experience. I do not know how interesting a child under 14 would find this book, but I am an adult of 33 and I loved it!
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on 20 November 1999
The novel, Sophie's World, by Jostein Gaarder, is an extremely entertaining and educational novel, in which a young girl named Sophie is introduced to the quintessential questions that philosophers have been asking since the dawn of enlightenment such as; what the meaning of life is and where the world came from. The author begins the novel in such a way that it shocks the reader into realising that they are letting themselves "be lulled into the enchanted sleep of their humdrum existence". This warns the reader that they are not starting 'just another novel': they are letting themselves in for an experience which seems to be aimed almost specifically at them. Philosophy is basically the search for the answers to lifes most important, but at the same time most basic, questions. However, most people choose to ignore these important issues. Instead they allow themselves to become content with their inconsequential lives: their conventional comforts, problems and ideas. They do not even take the time to marvel at how amazing the world is or the fact that they are stumbling around on a planet which is floating in space. This is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. Mentally stimulating and thought provoking, but at the same time entertaining and amusing it is the perfect introduction to philosophy and a good read for those who are already acquainted with the subject. For anyone who does buy and enjoy this novel, I can also reccomend 'The Solitaire Mystery', by the same author.
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on 10 September 2015
First of all this has been a bit of a slog. I feel like I've been reading it forever - certainly longer than I ought to have been. I started it yolks ago, struggled to get into it, broke off to complete Open University A215 'Creative Writing' - a sixty point level 2 writing course. Then I've been feverishly trying to finish Deathsworn Arc 4: Rise of the Archmage. (Which i just finished and am now in the process of working through with my editor).

Recently my son (4) started going to sleep with me sitting outside his room on the landing reading - so I've been getting up to steam all over again. I found the same when I was ploughing through Follet's 'The Pillars of the Earth' ! Only back then it was my daughter and I was doing the tuck her in, then read for 5 - 10 minutes before returning and repeating.

So how was Sophie's World? Well, to be honest it's a funny one. It started out interesting, fascinating even. The first few chapters really drew me in. It seemed like a really unusual style of book. I liked the character Sophie and was intrigued by the concept of an anonymous, secretive philosophy teacher. When it got on to the philosophy itself it suffered a change of pace. I kind of felt like my brain was trying to switch from the left side to the right side or something? The story itself, the adventure of Sophie and Alberto is GOOD! The difficulty is that it's interspaced with huge chunks of philosophical history, science history and educational stuff.

Now I've given this book 4 stars. The thing is I LIKE the science and the philosophy and the history. It's delivered here in bite size chunks and for once there isn't a written exam at the end! (Thankfully, I honestly can't remember all the history stuff! :( It's in one ear out the other!) I have picked up bits of course and It's given me if nothing else appreciation of philosophy and it's evolution. I think before I read this I saw philosophy as a wishy-washy topic which is probably a good degree to do if you want to do a degree but are perhaps too lazy to take on a difficult degree. The perception was probably wrong however. I now think Philosophy has a value. I think philosophy asked the questions which science answered. As we developed technologically as a species, the lines between philosophy and science perhaps blurred.

I don't think philosophy is as important now as science, but I do think there's still a place for it.

Besides the science stuff, there's a lot of religion and history of religion in here. I think the author is an agnostic deist, or agnostic atheist. I'm interested in this stuff, because I'm a person who embraced atheism. I see religion as a topic that's worth studying and understanding, because of it's influence on the modern world and our global culture. I don't think any religions are worth following though. My view is that there probably isn't a creator god, and if there IS a creator god then 'IT' is probably nothing at all like the deities offered in Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyption religions, or Hindu, or any of the many Abrahamic religions or any of the billions of other religions humans have dreamt up over the millennia. I don't think you can disprove the existence of god at this time. It may never be able to be disproved, but neither is it possible to prove the existence of god. I can see why the merit of faith has been debated by philosophers over the centuries.

When you really get into the various philosophers from Socrates right through to Hume and Keikergard, you start to think many people probably just live their lives taking everything at face value and accepting the existence they inhabit. That's a shame I think, considering why we are here and what it means to be human is genuinely fascinating. It strikes me that the world might be a better place IF Sophie's World was at least made encouraged reading at schools.

Later in the book there was a real moment, when the author seemed to almost break down the fourth wall. Even weirder there was one sentence when I honestly considered my own existence. Read this, there is a bit where if you are in the right mind-frame, you may wonder if you in fact don't exist and are merely a character in a badly written novel.

I'm waffling now, but that kind of reflects the style of this book. The author set out to cover certain topics of philosophy and science history and as such the length of the narrative was dictated. For me it dragged on a bit. I can see why it needed to be long, but at the same time part of me thinks it might have been more enjoyable if it was a little bit shorter. The middle was the worst part. The opening is good, the end is quite gripping, but the middle drags. It's worth pressing on, it's a good book, it's definitely worth reading - however if you are just after a story and aren't interested in science and philosophy and history - I'll be honest it will probably be a painful experience reading this cover-to-cover.

I also felt the ending was a bit weak. A bit of a cop out too in ways, but I think Jostein Gaarder wanted an almost existential feel to the ending - perhaps a nod towards Sartre just to reinforce the philosophical message that is hammered home throughout.

So, 4 stars, because it IS brilliant, even though it drags, but if you aren't interested in the educational sections consider it a 2 and maybe avoid it. This IS a great book, but I'm sure it's not for everyone!

Martyn Stanley

Author of:-
The Last Dragon Slayer (Deathsworn Arc Book 1) (Free to download)
The Verkreath Horror (Deathsworn Arc Book 2)
The Blood Queen (Deathsworn Arc Book 3)
Rise of the Archmage (Deathsworn Arc Book 4) (Due late 2015)

The Lambton Worm (The Lambton Worm Re-telling Book 1) (Short story. A modern re-telling of old english folklore)
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on 31 October 2013
I don't quite understand how this became the hugely successful world-wide bestseller that it did. What you get is a series of essays on the history of philosophy (which are well enough done) strung out along a rather over-stretched plot-line. The story of Sophie, and the clever narrative tricks that Gaardner uses to jazz it up didn't compel me. Part of the problem is Sophie herself, who I found one dimensional and barely credible. I realize of course that there will be thousands of you out there in Amazon-land who will say they know or are a Spohie. In that case, I probably should get out more, but having spent a lot of time in this Sophie's company, I'm not sure I want to meet too many more. Having said this, the philosophy is well-explained, and I found this a good introduction to the ideas.
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on 29 November 2001
The bad news: It's not as good as the hype might lead you to expect. The good news: It's better than most of the other over-hyped pop-philosophy blockbusters on the shelves.
'Sophie's World' is at its worst when it pretends to be the sort of novel you would read purely for entertainment. That's because it starts out as a very good novel but finishes as a very bad one. Early on it catches your interest with an intriguing mystery and efficient classical narrative. Then about half way through, the author reveals his hand and ruins the plot. We are left with just another bit of post-modern ironic detachment or some such gimmick. From then on the fate of the characters ceases to matter, and as a novel it's all downhill from there on.
The book is at its best when it sticks to what Gaarder does best: lecturing on philosophy. This is where the fictive elements work best - by providing a character to voice the questions in our own heads. The author shows a good gra!sp of what will make sense to an uninformed reader, and provides a gentle ramble through a couple of dozen centuries of human thought that will help most people's understanding of the world in which we live.
That is not to say that Gaarder dispatches all periods in history with equal aplomb. His dealing with the metaphysical and ontological abstractions (jargon-free equivalent = world of ideas) of ancient Greece and the middle ages is exemplary. He manages to explain the more-or-less-unexplainable in terms of the easily-understood, in a way that more school texts should copy. Even the prickly thickets of 20th century existentialism yield up some of their unappetizing secrets under his patient hand.
Gaarder is least successful in dealing with creeds that go beyond pure ideas and involve a challenge to behaviour and lifestyle. His treatment of Marxism (which is not so much about ideas as it is about action) is shallow. His survey of Christianity (which is not about! ideas at all, but entirely about relationships) is derisory.
Amazon's warehouses contain better novels (for a first-class Scandinavian novel of ideas, try "Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow") and better introductions to philosophy (e.g. Alain de Botton's 'Consolations of Philosophy'). In the end, however, 'Sophie's World' is surprisingly successful as a hybrid - it makes learning fun and deserves to be read.
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on 11 January 2001
Sophie's World was my first introduction to the work of Jostein Gaarder. It is a book that had me captivated from the very first page right through to the last! Gaarder very cleverly combines two elements which result in a both informative and totally gripping story. Firstly the book provides the reader with a 'beginners guide' to philosophy which introduces all the major philosophical ideas and concepts from Socrates through to current day Existentialism and 'New Age' thinking. It gives an insight into all those names you have heard but knew nothing about! Combined with this, Gaarder manages to weave an exciting story about fourteen year old Sophie which holds the reader entranced not least because of the unexpected twists as the story unfolds. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, learnt a great deal and it is a book I could read several times over and still learn something new.
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VINE VOICEon 3 August 2008
Jostein Gaarder has written a concise history of Western philosophy, disguised as a novel. The good news is that the 2000 years of Western philosophy is well explained, the bad news is that the fiction that he hangs the story around, isn't that impressive.

For a philistine such as myself, whose understanding of philosophy extends to having read Plato's Republic and Matt Lawrence's Like a Splinter in Your Mind i.e. basically quite ignorant, Sophie's World did what I needed it to do: it successfully encapsulated and chronologically presented a sequence of ideas and modes of thought that have come to define a Western, rationalist school of thinking. This was exactly what I wanted from the book and in that, I can unreservedly recommend this work. As a work of fiction, Sophie's World sticks together quite well for the first half of the book but once its' central conceit has been revealed, the story becomes much less interesting. I'm certainly not the best judge of fiction as I don't read much of it at all but this story borders on the overly-contrived (which may be intentional).

Given it's subject matter, there is only so far that the material can be simplified before it loses its' meaning (Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time is a perfect example). As Sophie's World involves a series of letters and conversations betwixt a philosophy professor and a fourteen year old girl, the intention is that if she can understand it, then you certainly should. Jostein Gaarder has boiled philosophy down to its' fundamentals about as far as you can before it would become a series of aphorisms.

In short, a successful introduction to all the big names and theories of Western thought (perhaps an update might include a section on string theory), kind of Now That's What I Call Philosophy; however, if you are to purchase this for its fictional facet, then I'd suggest thinking twice.
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