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Sophie's World

by Jostein Gaarder

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Review

Some ideas sound great, but we know instinctively that they are unattainable. Wouldn’t it be great to write the conclusion to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the novel Charles Dickens was working on when he died? Of course! But none of us are Dickens. We’ll have to go on guessing how Dickens would have concluded his story had he lived a little longer.

Likewise, the idea behind Sophie’s World is great but seemingly unattainable. Why not write a novel that is an exciting mystery story and a survey of the history of philosophy? That would be a perfect introduction for high school students just coming to grips with philosophy! But of course philosophy and literature don’t mix.

That last sentence is tongue-in-cheek, of course. There have been several novels that have “mixed with” philosophy and been more successful than Sophie’s World (Dickens’s Hard Times comes to mind immediately). Still, Jostein Gaarder almost attains the unattainable in Sophie’s World, creating a useful introduction to philosophy contained in a story that is often intriguing. The story is weak both in character development and pace, but it narrowly misses being consistently engaging.

As it stands, Sophie’s World is a fantastic help for teachers seeking to orient their students with regard to certain philosophical concepts—e.g., the tension between Plato and Aristotle, the various schools of ancient Greece (including the Stoics and the Epicureans), John Locke’s idea of the blank slate, etc. Think of Sophie’s World as a very simple map—not helpful for knowing all the details about a certain territory, but useful for finding your way to that territory.

by Jeff Baldwin

Thegreatbooks.com