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Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of…

Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy (1991)

by Jostein Gaarder

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
15,636236234 (3.77)160
When 14-year-old Sophie encounters a mysterious mentor who introduces her to philosophy, mysteries deepen in her own life. Why does she keep getting postcards addressed to another girl? Who is the other girl? And who, for that matter, is Sophie herself? To solve the riddle, she uses her new knowledge of philosophy, but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined. A phenomenal worldwide bestseller, SOPHIE'S WORLD sets out to draw teenagers into the world of Socrates, Descartes, Spinoza, Hegel and all the great philosophers. A brilliantly original and fascinating story with many twists and turns, it raises profound questions about the meaning of life and the origin of the universe.… (more)
  1. 51
    The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (Percevan)
  2. 41
    The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (missmaddie)
    missmaddie: As the main characters develop, they also uncover fascinating mysteries with philosophical/psychological significance. Very intellectual reads with twisted, intense plots!
  3. 00
    Looking At Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter by Donald Palmer (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: Another fun introduction to philosophy from a former professor. "Does the Centre Hold?" is also very good.
  4. 00
    Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers by Will Durant (Cecrow)
  5. 00
    Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (beyondthefourthwall)
    beyondthefourthwall: Experimental metafiction that looks like a bit of a gimmick from afar but up close manages to pull it off.
  6. 00
    Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith (mrsbronwyngreen)
  7. 11
    Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (weeksj10)
    weeksj10: Their both lecture style novels which use fiction to present a variety of different thoughts and philosophies.
  8. 00
    The Amnesiac by Sam Taylor (GirlMisanthrope)
  9. 01
    Det store eventyret om virkeligheten : en fantastisk fortelling om den nye fysikken by Jack Falao (Percevan)
  10. 03
    Sorcery and Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede (missmaddie)
    missmaddie: Both books contain letter correspondence, and they also both have supernatural/fantasy elements. Likable girls as the main characters.

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» See also 160 mentions

English (179)  Spanish (18)  Dutch (11)  French (7)  Swedish (3)  Finnish (3)  German (3)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  Portuguese (2)  Norwegian (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (2)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (235)
Showing 1-5 of 179 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed this. Did I grasp everything it was trying to teach me? Definitely not. Was I still entertained? Yes!

Listening to the audiobook was a great way to go - reading with my eyeballs may well have been tedious, but having this one while doing jigsaw puzzles was an perfect way to consume this story. ( )
  j_tuffi | May 30, 2020 |
Novela que relata, a través de una historia encerrada en otra historia, la evolución del pensamiento filosófico humano desde los primeros presocráticos hasta los albores del s. XX. El planteamiento es realmente original y todos los conceptos filosóficos me recordaron a mi época de COU. El nivel es más que accesible, aunque algunos trozos deban ser releídos. El último capítulo es un brevísimo resumen de cosmología moderna. Es una monumental obra, digna de ser releída una segunda vez. ( )
  Remocpi | Apr 22, 2020 |
839.823 74 GAA
  alessandragg | Apr 18, 2020 |

(Full disclosure: Book abandoned on page 234 [out of 394 pages].)

The premise for Sophie's World is ingenious. It's a story about Sophie Amundsen, a sweet fourteen-year-old Norwegian girl who one day begins receiving mysterious letters. The letters are addressed to a girl named Hilde, a girl who sounds just like Sophie, right down to age--yet they come to Sophie's house and are meant for her.

These are highly unusual letters. They're about philosophy and the history of philosophy, each letter focusing on a different philosopher such as Aristotle, Sophocles, and Plato.

Jostein Gaarder's idea--of nonfiction philosophy lessons embedded in fictional mystery--is unique and clever, but it was all that impressed me about Sophie's World. The philosophy lessons overshadow Sophie's story to the point that Sophie's World is really just a philosophy textbook masquerading as a magical-realist mystery. This could be forgiven if the lessons were engaging, but they're dry as dust. This book has its fans, so clearly some disagree; however, even I, someone who looked forward to her philosophy classes in high school and college, was bored during most of each philosophy lesson.

The best parts of Sophie's World are the fictional parts--Sophie's actual world: the time spent with her friend, her reading of the letters in her garden hideout, her interactions with her mom. That is a story. Gaarder was a philosophy teacher, so it isn't really surprising that Sophie's World is so heavy on philosophy. It's just a shame, because the mystery and magical realism elements are smart and are deserving of at least as many pages.

This was such a missed opportunity that I feel disappointed for Gaarder. Philosophy is like history; it needs to be brought to life to be fully appreciated. In the case of philosophy in particular, it's helpful to find a connection to one's own life in some way.

By grounding the lessons in the story of an everyday girl, that's what Gaarder was going for, but he didn't integrate and connect the lessons to the main character's life successfully. The lessons remain a separate entity from the mystery so that Sophie's World feels like someone ripped chapters out of a textbook and inserted them between chapters of a mystery story. What I wanted to see, what I was hoping for, was a book that was mostly a mystery with a sprinkling of philosophy--philosophy that then interacted with the mystery in ways that add dimension and pleasant surprise.

Although I read more than half of Sophie's World, I was so bored I couldn't bear reading another page. I was, however, curious enough to know how it ended that I looked up a plot summary. It looks like Gaarder finally connected all the philosophy lessons in a whirlwind at the end and that this is when the story is at its best. If only he'd connected throughout, Sophie's World would be a much better book.

I don't recommend this widely, and I don't know who its ideal audience is. I think Sophie's World is best suited to die-hard philosophy lovers only; however, with its child protagonist (and a child protagonist who's unwittingly drawn into philosophy lessons at that), Sophie's World seems aimed at teens, as an educational mystery.

In addition to being dull, though, the philosophy is dense and obscure at times. Those teens who do read and enjoy Sophie's World may not fully grasp its various philosophies. High school philosophy teachers could have students read it as a supplement (or maybe not, as it's not so different from a straight textbook).

Adult readers could enjoy this, but that's unlikely if they're not interested in philosophy. Adapted as a graphic novel--a format I think would work beautifully for Sophie's World--it might attract a wider variety of readers, and actually be fun to read.

The fact that it's hard to pin down Sophie's World’s intended audience is further proof to me that Gaarder began writing his book more on the fly than with fully thought-out deliberation. Sadly, what he ended up with is a dull textbook with a half-hearted mystery tossed in for palatability. ( )
  Caroline77 | Feb 11, 2020 |
This was one weird book and hard to rate and really hard to review and I did procrastinate about writing a review. I decided on rating this book 2-1/2 stars, rounded up to 3 for its clever premise and general creativity. It was a disappointment though. I’m trying to read only 5 and 4 star books and this did not come close. I don’t regret reading it and that says something for a book I could assign 3 stars only by stretching it.

I read this as a group buddy read with Caroline, Hilary, and Ann. I wasn’t alone struggling to enjoy it.

There are chapter titles but no chapter numbers. The chapter titles are: The Garden of Eden, The Top Hat, The Myths, The Natural Philosophers, Democritus, Fate, Socrates, Athens, Plato, The Major's Cabin, Aristotle, Hellenism, The Postcards, Two Cultures, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Baroque, Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Berkeley, Bjerkely, The Enlightenment, Kant, Romanticism, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Our Own Time, The Garden Party, Counterpoint, The Big Bang. There is an index and my edition had a Reading Group Guide with some questions. They were okay, nothing readers could not think up on their own.

Here’s the main thing potential readers should know: This is an introductory history of philosophy (and philosophers) book. The novel is a story inserted into what is basically a textbook in order to liven up the educational experience. That is how I experienced it. There is an index. How many novels have those?! For a novel there is too much philosophy and not enough of Sophie/Hilde. It really is a philosophy textbook. Maybe it would go over well as an adjunct text in a high school intro to philosophy class, or would have when it was a newer book.

It started out so well for me. The beginning reminded me a bit of one of my favorite children’s books, The Phantom Tollbooth.

The storytelling is clunky, and did not tie in well enough the fictional story to the philosophies presented, in my opinion. The questions of and statements by Sophie when conversing with Alberto Knox sound stilted and as though presented for the purpose of a lesson vs. a real interaction/conversation/class. I cringed many times.

I enjoyed the history and some of the review (and new learning) of philosophy, but I think it could have been better conveyed. In other words, be a philosophy & history textbook or be a fictional novel. I did like the parts when Sophie and Hilde were on the page and I did like the twist that comes in the Berkeley Bjerkely chapters, chapters 22 & 23. It became quite a trip. The fictional novel is speculative fiction and that is a genre I often enjoy. The direction the story took became quite a trip. This book would have been extremely popular with high school and college students in the last half of the 1960s. It would have bene a huge hit! I’d have also liked it better at ages 13-19 as it has the kind of content teens frequently ponder.

My library has this book shelved as adult but it is both young adult and adult in my opinion, and perhaps enjoyed more by the former group.

This is a wonderfully quotable book. Some quotes that I liked:

“But you might stumble upon yourself one day. You might suddenly stop short and see yourself in a completely new light.”

“The world itself becomes a habit in no time at all. It seems as if in the process of growing up we lose the ability to wonder about the world.”

“One of the main concerns of philosophy is to warn people against jumping to conclusions.”

“A philosophical question is by definition something that each generation, each individual even, must ask over and over again.”

“Many ecophilosophers in the Western world have warned that Western civilization as a whole is on a fundamentally wrong track, racing toward a head-on collision with the limits of what our planet can tolerate.”

Some spoilers:

I was finding it creepy. Power and control with an older man teaching a young girl and with his rules and his boundaries. When we come to the part of the story where we see this is meant to be father and daughter it felt slightly less inappropriate and scary. I’d known it wasn’t meant to be frightening but it freaked me out anyway for the first half or so of the book.

I love Hermes, the dog messenger, when he lasted on the page. He kind of disappears at some point. Given the true nature of this story all sorts of things in it end up not being surprising.

The trip to Athens not too far into the book made it clear that this was a speculative fiction book. I did like the notion of being able to learn history and directly at the source.

I thought perhaps this book, these philosophies might help me think better about things in my own life and might help me make decisions, but that did not happen even a bit. One thing I noticed is how philosophizing throughout the ages is mostly going to occur when at least basic needs are met and when free time is available to potential thinkers. I’m sad to say that I’m not sure to whom I’d recommend this book but I don’t think I would to anyone over about 19 years of age.

ETA: It was incredibly dense. ( )
1 vote Lisa2013 | Feb 5, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 179 (next | show all)
As philoso-narrative, "Sophie's World" is a world above "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" but a universe below "The Magic Mountain." In my view, literate readers would do better to try Bertrand Russell's "History of Western Philosophy," which is shorter on magic but longer on wit, intelligence and curmudgeonly skepticism.

» Add other authors (39 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jostein Gaarderprimary authorall editionscalculated
Buchholz, QuintCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eriksson, MonaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haefs, GabrieleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klok, JankeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Møller, PauletteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pijttersen, LucyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Savolainen, KatriinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Snoeijing, KimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevens, PaulaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vance, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
الحويك عطية , حياةTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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He who cannot draw on three thousand years

is living from hand to mouth.

"Colui che non è in grado di darsi conto di
tremila anni rimane al buio e vive alla giornata".

Information from the Spanish Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Este libro no habría nacido sin el alentador apoyo de Siri Dannevig. También quiero agradecer a Maiken Ims su revisión del manuscrito y sus valiosos comentarios. Mi gran agradecimiento también a Trond Berg Eriksen por sus cariñosas observaciones y sólido apoyo profesional durantes muchos años.
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Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school.
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Deze roman over de geschiedenis van de filosofie is een spannend verhaal, een detective en een filosofie-geschiedenis in één: een intrigerende roman die iedereen zal aanspreken die iets over zichzelf en de wereld om zich heen wil leren.
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