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Sophie's World Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1996
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This would be a great intro to philosophy for anyone who has ever wondered how we all evolved to NOW
If you are interested in how the Universe works, and in the questions philosophers pondered ( and some got pretty close) from the beginning of time, and if it is for a child/ teen, look up the Sara trilogy by Esther Hicks. It is the culmination of all philosophy, and it seems as close to the Truth as we got so far.
I am not a philosopher, but I have studied enough philosophy to recognize when a named philosopher is being described accurately. Within the realm of academia, of course, there are heated debates about what Plato really meant and whether the Cynics were always in earnest. However, this book takes the entry level historical discussions of philosophers and presents their perspectives in a recognizable way. Leave it to the college professor to nuance the understanding, and deepen it with more data, but this is Newtonian physics in a quantum world: pretty close to accurate and simple enough to gain a foothold for later exploration.
As a Christian theologian, the representations of Christian thinkers was the most distorted. The Christians depicted by Gaarder are flat and lifeless. This is probably the way a philosopher views the explanations of some of the different schools of philosophy. It isn’t debilitating, but it is unimpressive. Some students are likely to gain a little of the famous sophomoric skepticism from reading the book, but a rich immersion in theology afterward is likely to help reinforce sound doctrine.
Sophie’s World also has strong preference for the myth of progress. The storyline of philosophy is presented as if each philosopher advanced on the theories of previous philosophers toward some future state when, if Gaarder got his way, everyone would be governed by the United Nations. Considering that this book was originally published by a Norwegian in 1994, that view of things is understandable, but that piece of the story gets a little preachy.
Some parents may have concern about a few elements of the story, as well. Throughout the story, the young teenager Sophie lies to her mother (her estranged father is away at sea) and meets up alone with a middle-aged man who becomes her philosophy tutor. Parts of this read like the lead up to a 20/20 episode, but fortunately it doesn’t result in the tragic end that would have made the air. In the chapter on Sigmund Freud there is a reference to a boy dreaming about balloons that are said to represent a girl’s breasts, which is pretty tame as Freud goes.
The last couple of chapters dip into the absurd. At Sophie’s philosophy themed birthday party the participants behave bizarrely, with one of Sophie’s friend pouncing on a male classmate with kissing implied and apparent sex in the bushes, off camera. The girl declares that she’s pregnant (absurdly) to reinforce just what’s going on. Of course, what the reader gets from some of these references will depend on what the reader knows, so parents are likely to read more into the stories than an innocent child. In any case, none of these concerns are enough to justify avoiding the book. The questionable content is not extreme, nor is it close to what is available in a lot of young adult literature, but it is easier to know in advance as a parent than to find out after your child points it out.
As a vehicle for communicating the history of philosophy, this is an excellent volume. There are points where the text does turn a bit dry and the dialogue does seem more like philosophy notes than conversation, but the novel is a vessel for the content. As a novel, this would not be on my list of top stories, but there is enough story and character to make the drier content more engaging. Taken as a whole, this is a very useful tool for introducing a young student to philosophy in a manageable, reasonably entertaining format.
Note: This is an edited version of a review posted at Ethics and Culture.
Sophie plays a frustratingly immature Simplicio to Alberto’s Salviati. Gaarder uses enough of the literary “bagatelles” he accuses Albert of using that it starts to wear on the reader. Even with a generous interpretation (for example, that the garden party is strictly a didactic example of the theater of the absurd), the loose storytelling distracts from the substance of the book. I can understand that some readers may need the story “carrot” at the end of each chapter to carry on, but then why are they reading a history of philosophy book? Likewise, anybody reading this book strictly for the story arc will be disappointed.
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I hope you find my review helpful.
It reads as a child of 14-15 reading letters from a mystery sender of postcards and letters. Through her story the plot leads you through the world of the ultimate whys - philosophy
Who is it good for:
I would recommend it to anyone above 15.
Is it a good gift:
Gift it to someone who you know is an avid reader or a deep thinker. Perhaps yourself. (This is not for the casual reader)
What does it cover:
It covers mostly western philosophy. Through the eyes of various philosophers it tries to weave a story. I have attached pictures of the contents so that you get an idea of which philosophers it covers. Nietzsche and Kant who are pre-eminent in today's world are perhaps given slightly less importance. Also given little coverage are economic philosophies like laissez faire. Given the authors slant, i felt a bit of criticism on the free market was due. But then again this is not a text book, so i'm not complaining.
I found the lack of eastern philosophy worrying. Almost like even philosophers in the west are not aware of our great eastern philosophers. Perhaps we need to write a book like this ourselves - taking our philosophy to the masses and to the world - in a common language and not sanskrit.
Conclusion : In over the 500 odd books that i might have read, there are few books in which i've taken as many notes as i did in this one. Don't get me wrong, it is not a slow read. It is extremely fast, and yet has so much information. I read this book over a year back, and as i read back through the notes, i can see how many thoughts of my own the book inspired. Perhaps what every great book should do - inspire wonder.
I'd recommend for anyone with an an interest in philosophy, especially if you've previously struggled with the dry, over-complicated phrasing of many textbooks. Gaarder's text will keep you hooked while offering a fantastic overview of the most influential philosopher.
Although, also a wonderful primer upon the History of Philosophy, which via its storytelling mode, makes philosophical ideas interesting to the general reader in providing a fairly detailed insight into where ideas originated from and how they came to form many of the concepts used to govern societies today.
I think it was written by a Scandinavian author and that in Scandinavia, Philosophy is a school core curriculum subject. Without wading through tomes and analysing it for yourself, you are give the kernel of each of the philosophies described. I suspect that I used it as an alternative to Philosophy for Dummies!