Sophie’s World


One day fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen comes home from school to find in her mailbox two notes, with one question on each: Who are you? and Where does the world come from?

From that irresistible beginning, Sophie becomes obsessed with questions that take her far beyond what she knows of her Norwegian village. Through those letters, she enrolls in a kind of correspondence course, covering Socrates to Sartre, with a mysterious philosopher, while 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 learningβ€”but the truth turns out to be far more complicated than she could have imagined.

~ Synopsis from goodreads

I picked up this book knowing its philosophical bent, but I was actually expecting a philosophical story (something along the lines of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho). However that’s not really the case here.

Sophie’s World can more accurately be described as a philosophical textbook with a thin wrapper of a story tied around it.

The philosophy aspect of the book comes together very nicely. Gaarder explains in simple language the growth and development of western philosophical thought throughout history starting from the ancient philosophers (pre-Socrates era) right up to modern times (Sartre). Each chapter is devoted to a philosopher or a particular period in history.

My education was sadly deficient in philosophy. I knew the names of the philosophers but that was pretty much it, and this book was a great read in that it explained all the concepts in a way that I was able to grasp. It doesn’t just describe the philosophy but also the historical circumstances that gave rise to a particular philosophic thought.

So, I liked the way the philosophical bits were handled. The focus was primarily on Western philosophical thought which was a bit disappointing (it would have been nice to see the Vedas represented in more detail). However, overall I didn’t mind the western slant too much.

The story part of the book is a disappointment though. I am not sure if Gaarder really thought through the creep aspects of a 40+ man approaching a teenage girl, having secret meetings and correspondence with her. Me being the over-protective mom that I am was totally shocked at the way Sophie’s mom didn’t seem to care one whit about what Sophie was doing in her free time. I suppose the ending explains this aspect a bit, but really, the book would have been better served if the philosophy teacher was a woman.

Apart from the above creepy aspect, the mystery aspect of the book falls flat too. Gaarder may be a world-class philosopher but he just isn’t that good of a writer. His characters are flat, and try as I might I couldn’t care less about Sophie and Knox and their issues.

So overall, this book worked for me because of what I learnt from it, rather than from any entertainment point of view.

Final Words

Snubnose saw me reading this book and told me she’d seen it in her school library and that the older kids were reading and discussing this book among themselves.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Snubnose was already aware of this book, and that it is on the recommended reading list at school because throughout while I was reading it, I felt this is a book all children should read to help improve their critical thinking faculties while at the same time getting a history/philosophy lesson.

Note: After penning this review, I was googling to see what other people thought of it and I came across this very unique take on the book. I confess I hadn’t thought of this book from the existentialist angle like this blogger has, but after reading it, I think it’s a very valid point of view.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon.

  • Sounds like this would have been better as a non-fiction about philosophy. I’d have read that!

    • Nishita

      @priyatabularasa:disqus I am not sure, the story wrapper does add meaning and a sense of urgency to the book. I liked that it was present, would just have liked a little more attention paid to that as well.

  • Sorry that the book disappointed. I hope your next read is better. The cover is nice though πŸ™‚

    • Nishita

      @melindapetersen:disqus I love the cover too. That’s what sucked me into this book in the first place. I can’t say the book was a complete disappointment, I felt that I learnt a lot of ideas and while the book isn’t enjoyable it is very informative.

  • I read this in high school and don’t really remember much about it except that I learned a lot – and promptly forgot it.

    • Nishita

      @disqus_EEI6Da4ah1:disqus My daughter will be reading this book in a few years time. I wonder how much she will actually absorb. It’s a challenging read for sure.

  • I have this book on my shelf, but have not dared to read it yet. I do think it would be interesting to learn some philosophy (I know next to nothing about it), but was worried it would be over my head. If I ever get to this book, I will keep your review in mind. Thanks!

    • Nishita

      @disqus_TYO2upw2ie:disqus I found the early philosophers tough but as the book flows it gets easier to grasp.

  • readingtheend

    I liked the book, but yeah, it’s not so good as a story. When I dip into it, it’s never about the story, but always to refresh my memory of this or that philosopher.

    • Nishita

      @readingtheend:disqus exactly and I loved the Index at the end to go and look back on stuff.

      The ending of the story was pretty curious though. There seemed to be a mad rush in the end towards the philosophical garden party and I was expecting some grand climax, but it turned out quite absurd.

      I did like the points Gaarder was trying to make about taking control of your own destiny rather than leaving things up to God (or at least I think that was the point he was trying to make).

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