Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy, is an absorbing read that requires your full attention. The author, Jostein Gaarder, brings to life figures from the past and weaves them with the present in a way that is informative, challenging, and entrancing.
The novel centers around fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen who one day receives in her mailbox a letter with three words: Who are you? A second envelope addressed to Sophie asked, Where does the world come from? And finally, a postcard appeared addressed to Hilde Moller Knog, written to Hilde by Hidle's father, which raised the perplexing questions, Who was Hilde? And why was it addressed c/o Sophie Amundsen?
Followed by these initial questions and Sophie's ponderings on what they meant, Sophie begins to receive philosophy lessons--short, easy-to-read explanations of philosophical theories. Sophie's thoughts about the material help the reader assimilate the ideas, too, so that Sophie and the reader are progressing together toward a deeper understanding of each philosophical theory. The author of these lessons, whom Sophie thinks of as "the unknown philosopher" introduces himself in an unusual video, as Alberto Knox. Sophie later meets Knox in person as her lessons continue.
A quick glance at the chapter titles gives the reader a sense of the seriousness of the study--Hellenism, Descartes, Hume, The Enlightenment--but Gaardner teaches each lesson gently, enriching it with Sophie's questions and the ongoing mystery of Hilde. And while there is a philosophical "aha" at the book's end, it is simply that--philosophical and theoretical. The reader is left to draw her or his own conclusions.
This book would be an excellent introduction to philosophy for a precocious teen or a refresher for the adult who studied philosophy in college. Although there are times that Sophie's comments seem too modern or bold for the circumstances, it adds to the surreal nature of some of the scenes.
Sophie's World was an international bestseller, and published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2007.