Sophie's World
January 27, 2002 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Sophie's World (a novel about the history of philosophy) is an international bestseller by Jostein Gaarder. Praised by critics for successfully condensing over 3000 years of thought into 400 pages without dumbing the concepts down, itfeatures an enigmatic philosopher teaching a 14 year old Norwegian girl called Sophie. So far, there's been a board game, a movie, a weblog, a musical and a CD-ROM (full text online). It's an absolutely wonderful read and a great introduction to philosophy.
posted by adrianhon (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Excellent book. I didn't see that the movie was subtitled in English...hopefully it will be at some point.
posted by rushmc at 1:24 PM on January 27, 2002

"without dumbing the concepts down" ?

I'd say that's debateable.
posted by drywall at 2:02 PM on January 27, 2002

Is this a contemporary Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?
posted by rodii at 2:13 PM on January 27, 2002

While not exactly literature, I've found the book excellent for high school students - the audience that Gaardner was going for in his native Norway.

The philosophical summaries aren't as in depth as PHD candidates would like, but they're perfect for those who simply want a concise overview of the history of pholosophy.

And while the storyline isn't compelling, it gets maintains the interest of the reader enough to get them through the bits that they might find a bit dry.

The book accomplishes what it sets out to do admirably. It's a good thing.
posted by aladfar at 2:13 PM on January 27, 2002

Hey, what's wrong with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Granted, I haven't re-read it since I started studying philosophy in depth, but then again it was the thing that got me started down that road in the first place, so I'm not quick to knock it.
posted by tweebiscuit at 2:16 PM on January 27, 2002

I've got some kids in the family who'll like this a lot...and the weblog is full of amazing sources! Thanks, adrianhon.
posted by realjanetkagan at 2:20 PM on January 27, 2002

Is this a contemporary Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

No, rodii... Sophie's World is a kid's book - a semi-mystery story, with a young girl as detective - where the clues come in the form of essays on philosophy. It's not the mystical-New-Agey-ness of Motorcycle Maintenance. Because it's explaining the wisdom of others, rather than synthesizing quasi-Eastern beliefs into a mash of platitudes and pastiche (see Zen...), it's more interesting, in my opinion.

But then, I found Pirsig's book to be empty and mostly a waste of time.
posted by Marquis at 3:13 PM on January 27, 2002

The bottom line is that it is an excellent book, one likely to get people not previously interested in philosophy more curious about it. It's also highly readable, and for a novel with such a daunting remit, should surely be welcomed. Not all books are aimed at PhD students..
posted by boneybaloney at 4:28 PM on January 27, 2002

One of my favorite all time books I must say. The good point is the timeline structure. As opposed to learning about philosophy (like most professors like to do) by themes in general. Which, at times can leave you scratching your head. Its a great book for people wanting to better understand philosophy.

I had no idea there was a blog about it.. I have to check that out.
posted by Jessy at 4:39 PM on January 27, 2002

While I love philosophy, and reading, this book was a complete bore....

Very much overhyped....
posted by Espoo2 at 5:06 PM on January 27, 2002

I didn't like Sophie's World at all. It was okay, up until the last 100 pages or so, and then it lost me. Haven't felt the urge to tackle it again.
posted by eilatan at 6:00 PM on January 27, 2002

i did read it in high school for philosophy, and the teacher claimed that the book is 'widely used in europe in secondary school'. can anyone confirm that?
i didn't like the book either, probably because i read it for school and had to engage in annoying superficial discussions therein, poop.
posted by elle at 7:27 PM on January 27, 2002

I have it but haven't attempted to read it cover to cover. I'd heard it was not well crafted as a novel and so, having understood the basic premise, I dip into it occasionally a chapter at a time in no particular order. Taken like that I've found it useful for plugging some basic gaps with people I haven't come across in my own wanderings. I didn't know a thing about Hegel before hand for example. Now at least I know he was a barking mad German. :)

My only beef with it is that it doesn't really do the 20th century well. What I really want is the Noddy Guide to Wittgenstein. Anyone have any recommendations?
posted by vbfg at 7:30 PM on January 27, 2002

I was introduced to this book about six years ago, have gone through several copies and have even read it in the original Norwegian (in fact, I'm staring at my Norwegian copy right now, the last of my copies as I gave all my english ones away). For a more "novel" like work of Jostein Gaarder's, I recommend The Solitaire Mystery, which is a fantastic little story.

I could be biased, because I still think Sophie's World is probably the best book I ever read while learning actual facts about something. I liked the story with its twists, and the characters, though it can be a bit dry. It helps that I speak Norwegian and was able to pick up on some of the stark grammar usage that sounds cold and dry translated in English but is very descriptive when read with Norwegian inflection.

I loved the CD-ROM too. :) Very fun when inebriated and pondering Kierkegaard.
posted by annathea at 7:40 PM on January 27, 2002

Hey, what's wrong with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?

Huh? Where did I suggest there was anything wrong with it? Feeling a little defensive, twee?
posted by rodii at 7:59 PM on January 27, 2002

Noddy Guide to Wittgenstein

It cannae be done. If you nod it's not W. The Ray Monk biography is as close as one can get, & is a fine lovely read-thro
posted by EngineBeak at 8:09 PM on January 27, 2002

I find Pooh to be most enlightening, plus its more fun to say than Sophie.
posted by sadie01221975 at 9:06 PM on January 27, 2002

The Ray Monk biography is as close as one can get, & is a fine lovely read-thro

Thoroughly agree. Also good, though not as philosophically interesting, is Bruce Duffy's novelization The World as I Found It. Unlike with many philosophers, the biography illuminates the philosophy.
posted by rodii at 9:56 PM on January 27, 2002

Noddy Guide to Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein's actually straightforward enough that you might try just diving in and reading the Philosophical Investigations. I think a lot of the secondary sources make him sound more technical and convoluted than he really is.
posted by moss at 10:41 PM on January 27, 2002

I :

a) quite liked Zen and the Art of.
b) didn't much care for Sophie's World.
c) reckon you can get anything you need to know about philosophy from this page.

(Not really, but I've been dying to post that link)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:47 PM on January 27, 2002

Thanks for the Wittgenstein suggestions guys
posted by vbfg at 4:16 AM on January 28, 2002

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