Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophyby Jostein Gaarder
The phenomenal New York Times bestseller, this is the story of Sophie, a teenage girl who comes home from school, finds a mysterious letter in her mailbox, and embarks on an incredible journey of philosophical discovery, from Socrates to Sartre and beyond.
“First, think a beginner's guide to philosophy . . . Next, imagine a fantasy novel--something like a modern-day version of Through the Looking Glass. Meld these disparate genres, and what do you get? Well, what you get is an improbable international bestseller . . . [A] tour de force.” Time
“This book contains a novel mantra for those days when the world gets in your face.” Entertainment Weekly
“Extraordinary…read it for yourself.” Newsweek
“A simply wonderful, irresistible book...a cross between Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy and Alice in Wonderland.” Daily Telegraph
“Sophie's World is sheer delight. How I wish I'd had it during my college freshman survey of philosophy!” Madeleine L'Engle
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Read an Excerpt
The Garden of Eden
. . . at some point something must
have come from nothing . . .
Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school. She had walked the first part of the way with Joanna. They had been discussing robots. Joanna thought the human brain was like an advanced computer. Sophie was not certain she agreed. Surely a person was more than a piece of hardware?
When they got to the supermarket they went their separate ways. Sophie lived on the outskirts of a sprawling suburb and had almost twice as far to go to school as Joanna. There were no other houses beyond her garden, which made it seem as if her house lay at the end of the world. This was where the woods began.
She turned the corner into Clover Close. At the end of the road there was a sharp bend, known as Captain's Bend. People seldom went that way except on the weekend.
It was early May. In some of the gardens the fruit trees were encircled with dense clusters of daffodils. The birches were already in pale green leaf.
It was extraordinary how everything burst forth at this time of year! What made this great mass of green vegetation come welling up from the dead earth as soon as it got warm and the last traces of snow disappeared?
As Sophie opened her garden gate, she looked in the mailbox. There was usually a lot of junk mail and a few big envelopes for her mother, a pile to dump on the kitchen table before she went up to her room to start her homework.
From time to time there would be a few letters from the bank for her father, but then he was not a normal father. Sophie's father was the captain of a big oil tanker, and was away for most of the year. During the few weeks at a time when he was at home, he would shuffle around the house making it nice and cozy for Sophie and her mother. But when he was at sea he could seem very distant.
There was only one letter in the mailboxand it was for Sophie. The white envelope read: "Sophie Amundsen, 3 Clover Close." That was all; it did not say whom it was from. There was no stamp on it either.
As soon as Sophie had closed the gate behind her she opened the envelope. It contained only a slip of paper no bigger than the envelope. It read: Who are you?
Nothing else, only the three words, written by hand, and followed by a large question mark.
She looked at the envelope again. The letter was definitely for her. Who could have dropped it in the mailbox?
Sophie let herself quickly into the red house. As always, her cat, Sherekan, managed to slink out of the bushes, jump onto the front step, and slip in through the door before she closed it behind her.
Whenever Sophie's mother was in a bad mood, she would call the house they lived in a menagerie. A menagerie was a collection of animals. Sophie certainly had one and was quite happy with it. It had begun with the three goldfish, Goldtop, Red Ridinghood, and Black Jack. Next she got two budgerigars called Smitt and Smule, then Govinda the tortoise, and finally the marmalade cat Sherekan. They had all been given to her to make up for the fact that her mother never got home from work until late in the afternoon and her father was away so much, sailing all over the world.
Sophie slung her schoolbag on the floor and put a bowl of cat food out for Sherekan. Then she sat down on a kitchen stool with the mysterious letter in her hand.
Who are you?
She had no idea. She was Sophie Amundsen, of course, but who was that? She had not really figured that outyet.
What if she had been given a different name? Anne Knutsen, for instance. Would she then have been someone else?
She suddenly remembered that Dad had originally wanted her to be called Lillemor. Sophie tried to imagine herself shaking hands and introducing herself as Lillemor Amundsen, but it seemed all wrong. It was someone else who kept introducing herself.
She jumped up and went into the bathroom with the strange letter in her hand. She stood in front of the mirror and stared into her own eyes.
"I am Sophie Amundsen," she said.
The girl in the mirror did not react with as much as a twitch. Whatever Sophie did, she did exactly the same. Sophie tried to beat her reflection to it with a lightning movement but the other girl was just as fast.
"Who are you?" Sophie asked.
She received no response to this either, but felt a momentary confusion as to whether it was she or her reflection who had asked the question.
Sophie pressed her index finger to the nose in the mirror and said, "You are me."
As she got no answer to this, she turned the sentence around and said, "I am you."
Sophie Amundsen was often dissatisfied with her appearance. She was frequently told that she had beautiful almond-shaped eyes, but that was probably just something people said because her nose was too small and her mouth was a bit too big. And her ears were much too close to her eyes. Worst of all was her straight hair, which it was impossible to do anything with. Sometimes her father would stroke her hair and call her "the girl with the flaxen hair," after a piece of music by Claude Debussy. It was all right for him, he was not condemned to living with this straight hair. Neither mousse nor styling gel had the slightest effect on Sophie's hair. Sometimes she thought she was so ugly that she wondered if she was malformed at birth. Her mother always went on about her difficult labor. But was that really what determined how you looked?
Wasn't it odd that she didn't know who she was? And wasn't it unreasonable that she hadn't been allowed to have any say in what she would look like? Her looks had just been dumped on her. She could choose her own friends, but she certainly hadn't chosen herself. She had not even chosen to be a human being.
What was a human being?
Sophie looked up at the girl in the mirror again.
"I think I'll go upstairs and do my biology homework," she said, almost apologetically. Once she was out in the hall, she thought, No, I'd rather go out in the garden.
"Kitty, kitty, kitty!"
Sophie chased the cat out onto the doorstep and closed the front door behind her.
As she stood outside on the gravel path with the mysterious letter in her hand, the strangest feeling came over her. She felt like a doll that had suddenly been brought to life by the wave of a magic wand.
Wasn't it extraordinary to be in the world right now, wandering around in a wonderful adventure!
Sherekan sprang lightly across the gravel and slid into a dense clump of red-currant bushes. A live cat, vibrant with energy from its white whiskers to the twitching tail at the end of its sleek body. It was here in the garden too, but hardly aware of it in the same way as Sophie.
As Sophie started to think about being alive, she began to realize that she would not be alive forever. I am in the world now, she thought, but one day I shall be gone.
Was there a life after death? This was another question the cat was blissfully unaware of.
It was not long since Sophie's grandmother had died. For more than six months Sophie had missed her every single day. How unfair that life had to end!
Sophie stood on the gravel path, thinking. She tried to think extra hard about being alive so as to forget that she would not be alive forever. But it was impossible. As soon as she concentrated on being alive now, the thought of dying also came into her mind. The same thing happened the other way around: only by conjuring up an intense feeling of one day being dead could she appreciate how terribly good it was to be alive. It was like two sides of a coin that she kept turning over and over. And the bigger and clearer one side of the coin became, the bigger and clearer the other side became too.
You can't experience being alive without realizing that you have to die, she thought. But it's just as impossible to realize you have to die without thinking how incredibly amazing it is to be alive.
Sophie remembered Granny saying something like that the day the doctor told her she was ill. "I never realized how rich life was until now," she had said.
How tragic that most people had to get ill before they understood what a gift it was to be alive. Or else they had to find a mysterious letter in the mailbox!
Perhaps she should go and see if any more letters had arrived. Sophie hurried to the gate and looked inside the green mailbox. She was startled to find that it contained another white envelope, exactly like the first. But the mailbox had definitely been empty when she took the first envelope! This envelope had her name on it as well. She tore it open and fished out a note the same size as the first one.
Where does the world come from? it said.
I don't know, Sophie thought. Surely nobody really knows. And yetSophie thought it was a fair question. For the first time in her life she felt it wasn't right to live in the world without at least inquiring where it came from.
The mysterious letters had made Sophie's head spin. She decided to go and sit in the den.
The den was Sophie's top-secret hiding place. It was where she went when she was terribly angry, terribly miserable, or terribly happy. Today she was simply confused.
The red house was surrounded by a large garden with lots of flowerbeds, fruit bushes, fruit trees of different kinds, a spacious lawn with a glider and a little gazebo that Granddad had built for Granny when she lost their first child a few weeks after it was born. The child's name was Marie. On her gravestone were the words: "Little Marie to us came, greeted us, and left again."
Down in a corner of the garden behind all the raspberry bushes was a dense thicket where neither flowers nor berries would grow. Actually, it was an old hedge that had once marked the boundary to the woods, but because nobody had trimmed it for the last twenty years it had grown into a tangled and impenetrable mass. Granny used to say the hedge made it harder for the foxes to take the chickens during the war, when the chickens had free range of the garden.
To everyone but Sophie, the old hedge was just as useless as the rabbit hutches at the other end of the garden. But that was only because they hadn't discovered Sophie's secret.
Sophie had known about the little hole in the hedge for as long as she could remember. When she crawled through it she came into a large cavity between the bushes. It was like a little house. She knew nobody would find her there.
Clutching the two envelopes in her hand, Sophie ran through the garden, crouched down on all fours, and wormed her way through the hedge. The den was almost high enough for her to stand upright, but today she sat down on a clump of gnarled roots. From there she could look out through tiny peepholes between the twigs and leaves. Although none of the holes was bigger than a small coin, she had a good view of the whole garden. When she was little she used to think it was fun to watch her mother and father searching for her among the trees.
Sophie had always thought the garden was a world of its own. Each time she heard about the Garden of Eden in the Bible it reminded her of sitting here in the den, surveying her own little paradise.
Where does the world come from?
She hadn't the faintest idea. Sophie knew that the world was only a small planet in space. But where did space come from?
It was possible that space had always existed, in which case she would not also need to figure out where it came from. But could anything have always existed? Something deep down inside her protested at the idea. Surely everything that exists must have had a beginning? So space must sometime have been created out of something else.
But if space had come from something else, then that something else must also have come from something. Sophie felt she was only deferring the problem. At some point, something must have come from nothing. But was that possible? Wasn't that just as impossible as the idea that the world had always existed?
They had learned at school that God created the world. Sophie tried to console herself with the thought that this was probably the best solution to the whole problem. But then she started to think again. She could accept that God had created space, but what about God himself? Had he created himself out of nothing? Again there was something deep down inside her that protested. Even though God could create all kinds of things, he could hardly create himself before he had a "self" to create with. So there was only one possibility left: God had always existed. But she had already rejected that possibility! Everything that existed had to have a beginning.
She opened the two envelopes again.
Who are you?
Where does the world come from?
What annoying questions! And anyway where did the letters come from? That was just as mysterious, almost.
Who had jolted Sophie out of her everyday existence and suddenly brought her face to face with the great riddles of the universe?
For the third time Sophie went to the mailbox. The mailman had just delivered the day's mail. Sophie fished out a bulky pile of junk mail, periodicals, and a couple of letters for her mother. There was also a postcard of a tropical beach. She turned the card over. It had a Norwegian stamp on it and was postmarked "UN Battalion." Could it be from Dad? But wasn't he in a completely different place? It wasn't his handwriting either.
Sophie felt her pulse quicken a little as she saw who the postcard was addressed to: "Hilde Møller Knag, c/o Sophie Amundsen, 3 Clover Close . . ." The rest of the address was correct. The card read:
Happy 15th birthday! As I'm sure you'll understand, I want to give you a present that will help you grow. Forgive me for sending the card c/o Sophie. It was the easiest way.
Love from Dad.
Sophie raced back to the house and into the kitchen. Her mind was in a turmoil. Who was this "Hilde," whose fifteenth birthday was just a month before her own?
Sophie got out the telephone book. There were a lot of people called Møller, and quite a few called Knag. But there was nobody in the entire directory called Møller Knag.
She examined the mysterious card again. It certainly seemed genuine enough; it had a stamp and a postmark.
Why would a father send a birthday card to Sophie's address when it was quite obviously intended to go somewhere else? What kind of father would cheat his own daughter of a birthday card by purposely sending it astray? How could it be "the easiest way"? And above all, how was she supposed to trace this Hilde person?
So now Sophie had another problem to worry about. She tried to get her thoughts in order:
This afternoon, in the space of two short hours, she had been presented with three problems. The first problem was who had put the two white envelopes in her mailbox. The second was the difficult questions these letters contained. The third problem was who Hilde Møller Knag could be, and why Sophie had been sent her birthday card. She was sure that the three problems were interconnected in some way. They had to be, because until today she had lived a perfectly ordinary life.
Excerpted from Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder. Translation copyright © 1994 by Paulette Møller. Originally published in Norwegian under the title Sofies verden, copyright © 1991 by H. Aschehoug & Co. (W. Nygaard), Oslo. Originally published in English in 1994 in the United States by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. This paperback edition published in March 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
Jostein Gaarder was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1952. He taught high-school philosophy for several years before publishing a collection of short stories in 1986 and, shortly thereafter, his first two novels, The Solitaire Mystery and Sophie's World, and several others since then. He lives in Oslo with his family.
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The author knows just how to take the reader into these worlds within worlds and places you inside of each character where you feel every piece of the story as if you were living it yourself. I recommend this book to everyone.
I read this a few years ago (8th grade), but I still remember and cherish it. I would certainly read it again. It was a school book that I actually looked forward to reading each time. Now, I'm a junior and taking a philosophy class that goes more in depth into some philosophers. I'm writing a lecture on Plato at the moment and am using this book and the book for the class. I certainly recommend this as a school read or just something entertaining and educational.
I teach teenage girls and they all love this book. They can all relate to sophie and are learning concepts that they would never go near if they were presented to them in its original form. I have inner city kids talking about philosophy and history and they think its fun! This is a brilliant work!!!
I was assigned this book to read for my philosophical psychology class and thus, assumed I would be in for a long, dry read. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that the story is actually quite entertaining with several plot twists that leave you guessing until the very end. The author has a very clever way of teaching you philosophical lessons right along with the character, provoking new thoughts and ideas without making it seem instructional. By the end of the book, you will most definitely have some new ideas as to who you are, where you come from, and what it all means. Or at least, you'll be thinking about it.
In the novel Sophie¿s World, by Jostein Gaarder, a teenage girl named Sophie discovers that there is more to life in Norway than pet animals and the latest history test. She soon recieves a blessing in the form of mysterious letters from an unknown man who wishes to teach her philosophy. As she begins her journey through the course, Sophie discovers the way to find herself and the completely new ways to look at life. This fascinating novel by Gaarder is an excellent way to make your first dive into the thought-provoking subject that is philosophy, or a superb way to refresh your memory on the subject. Gaarder combines the narrative of an easy-going teenage girl easily with the history and major points in the time line of philosophy to make this novel an excellent read. The courses in philosophy are easy to understand because of the division of the materials into small segments that are just the right length to get your brain moving. The materials covered in the novel make you stop and think What if the world was this way, or how would life be like.... In reading this book, you also find yourself thinking more of others and the community, for that matter, because you know have several different ways to look at life. Some people might be worried about reading this novel because of conflicts between their religion and the concepts of philosophy. However, I believe that in reading this novel, you can better understand the views of some non-religious and some religious philosophers and better understand the views from which other people stand today. However, I feel as if I must warn you: This novel is not for the light reader. This 500-something page book, while incredible in writing and content, takes more time and effort to read than the latest mystery novel or romantic epic. However, I still enthusiastically suggest this novel to anyone who has considered and I also highly suggest that you recommend it to you intellectual you happen to meet.
When I read this book I gained great knowledge about philosophy and it's history. This book is a must read to all who want to gain knowledge of philosophy and/or if they themselves want to be philosophers. The sypnosis of this book is very easy and straight to the point.
Anyone interested in reading about the journey of philosophy from the days of the natural philosophers and the magnificent trio of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle through the Middle Ages into the epochs of Renaissance, Baroque, Enlightenment and Romanticism till the present day must pick up a copy of this book by Jostein Gaarder. In this book, we make this journey through the history of philosophy with a young Norwegian girl named Sophie Amundsen and her mysterious philosophy teacher Alberto Knox. It is a hard to put down book where the evolution of philosophical thinking has been chronicled in a very simple and lucid manner. Through her teacher, Sophie learns about philosphers like Descartes (cogito ergo sum - I think therefore I am), and Kant ('It's a moral necessity to have faith in the existence of God') among others.
I had to read this book my freshman year of high school for my AP World History class and it was one of the most confusing books I have ever read. I think that the philosophy part and Sophie part should be separated because together they create a very confusing book. What is with the ending...Winne the Pooh ?? I definetly didnt get that. But the information on the philosophers was very helpful.
the story started off well, with the exception that at this point in time a mysterious man sending a young teenage girl notes and letters is more likely to be a pedophile than a philosophy teacher. also i have no idea how on earth this 14/15 year old girl could understand all of he information she was getting. but set aside the story was interesting and the philosophy part was interesting and it got me thinking.then about 2/3 of the way through the book it just got absured. mystical creatures running through the woods? its just not my thing. while i did enjoy some of the philosophy it seemed to drag on in places and i lost focus. also the book itself was long and drawn out and i kept wondering when it was going to end. overall unless your very imaginative and enjoy philosophy i suggest you steer clear of the book.
This is a very creative and original book. It also refreshed my memory from my Intro to Philosophy Class in college. I enjoyed the book very much, and I recommend it to anyone with a brain. I warn the reader that it is very involved, and you have to be in the right mindset to get through it.
Surprisingly interesting is an understatement of this book. A friend of mine who is a sophmore in college, 4 years older than I, was reading this for a class over the summer. I thought I would try it out since I had never been taught anything of Philosophy, and I loved it. I will say that it doesn't have much of an in depth story, but it's just enough to keep it from being a Philosophy textbook. The first 5 pages already had me thinking differently and asking a million questions. If you're someone who is interested in this subject at all, or has never even thought about it and wants to see what Philosophy is all about, read Sophie's World.
Well, I have finally made it to the end of 'Sophie's World.' I feel like I have just finished a long hike, or run, and am more impressed by the distance than by the terrain. Yes, reading this book is an uphill challenge. Each chapter introduces us to at least one more philosopher, in which we are given an outline of these thinkers ideas. If you are interested in philosophy - which I am - you will be able to perservere. (Indeed, for the adult reader, these synopses are helpful reviews.) But, if you are looking for a storyline with absorbing drama and tension, you will be disappointed. True, at the stories end, Gaarder does a nifty job of creating some dramatic tension -but, I am not quite sure how this novel, which is intended for the younger audience, is able to sustain the young reader's attention. 'Sophie's World' is nothing more than a series of brief lectures disguised as a story.
I found the background narrative trite and irritating but in fairness this book is aimed at teenagers and their take may be very different. The sugary suoperficial style will appeal to anyone who likes Readers Digest. it really is that shallow and superficvial.
This book is the best history and summary of philosophy I have read! It should be read by every student in High Schools, so they would have a better grounding and understanding of the history of philosophy. I highly recommend this book.
This is a good book about philosophy and it is confusing one.We thanks to Yrd.Doc.Dr.Nilgun Ariturk who makes us read.
I picked up 'Sophie's World' at the wrong time. Between school and a busy homelife, I needed some quick reading and this certainly wasn't light reading! The history of philosophy is, of course, very detailed. Jostein Gaarder has written an in-depth, fascinating book, but unfortunatelly, one has to be in a specific state of mind to be able to follow along, and come away from this wonderful literary experience with everything the author intended. So, to recap, great book, but only pick it up if you have the time and interest in being completely absorbed in the very detailed, and often dry, history of philosophy and the world in general. Not unlike reading a textbook -- fascinating, but often boring.
Sophie’s World first attracted me due to its subject. I’ve always been intrigued by philosophy, and thought this book would be a great chance to delve deeper into one of my unexplored interests. To my luck, the book did indeed have many interesting plot points to keep you on your toes, and also was able to convey lots of knowledge not only concerning philosophy, but also about the history of the world in general. I was pleasantly surprised by the degree of intellect the author had on the subject. This being said, I had a very large problem with the wording of the book, the premise, and how all these things fit together to create an audience. The author really went wrong when he tried to relay such complex and somewhat dry facts and tale through a 13 year old girl. The wording of the book also contributed to the younger than expected target audience. I had trouble understanding why the author chose the main character he did, because most of the readers wouldn’t be able to relate to her very well. By doing this, the author created a pitfall in what could have so much of a better book. His background in children’s literature did not serve him well this time around.
I was assigned this over the summer by my future teacher and although i just started today, i find it fascinating! I've always been curious about the world. I remember being young and asking the adults where everythimg came from and why are we important or why is Earth so important, isn't there something better out there if the universe is so big? As i grew older these questions never actually left me. It was relieving to read this book and see that lots of people wonder about the same things. I haven't finished yet but so far i am loving this book
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder is about a teenage girl named Sophie who lives in Norway. She receives two mysterious notes in the mail, one asking “who are you?” and the other asks “Where does the world come from?” Later she is sent a packet for a philosophy course and becomes the student of a philosopher named Alberto Knox who is the one that sent her the papers and the packet. Throughout the book she learns about the rise of Christianity, Hellenistic civilization, the ancient Greeks, and the renaissance. Sophie also receives a postcard from a man named Albert Knag to Hilde Moller Knag, who is his daughter. I chose this book because it covers the whole course and I’ve heard that’s very good. I thought this book was very well written and i would definitely recommend it to others. Its very infomational and makes you think while reading. Within the first few minutes i had it i didn't want to stop reading because i really wanted to find out what happens. there were many plot twists anf the story was always interesting. Overall i thought this was a very good book and it is one i would take the time to read again
This is one of my favorite books of all time. I have read it several times, and each reading reveals new depths into the author's understanding of philosophy. I love the history of philosophy.
This is my 4th time reading this book and each time I discover something new. Love this book.