This novel was written by Jostein Gaarder, a Norwegian writer. It’s about a 14 year old girl that goes through an adventurous philosophical journey. She starts receiving letters from a philosopher and that’s how this journey begins. If I had to classify this book by genre, then it would definitely be a philosophical novel. This novel is targeted towards teenagers and keeps a good balance between history and fiction.
Sophie (the main character) receives letters from a middle-aged philosopher who introduces her to philosophical thinking and the history of philosophy. These letters are generally very open-ended questions, which she has to think about before she gets the answer to them. There were questions such as; does fate exist? where does the world come from? Although some of them were questions that led to something else. For example, Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world? How come all pastries at a bakery look exactly the same? The day after she receives a question, she gets the answer to it and another question. The answers are generally things that different philosophers said. The novel, which is around 500 pages long, covers most of philosophical thinking from the Hellenistic civilization to the rise of Christianity. It also covers Ancient Greek thought, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Romantic Periods.
In my opinion, the book was good because it managed to explain a lot of years of philosophy in not that many pages. Moreover, it is a great book to acquire knowledge and get some thinking going. Most of the questions being proposed are ones that we might have asked ourselves earlier and it’s beneficial to see different perspectives from different philosophers at different times or periods. Of course, since it’s all philosophy the book won’t give a straightforward or ‘correct’ answer to these questions. Yet, by showing us the perspectives and points of view different thinkers of different times had, we can somewhat determine where our answer to these questions lie. Although the ending of the book pulls the entire story and plot together and clarifies all previous confusion, the book itself is very open-ended, which is great because one can interpret it in their own way, like one interprets different philosophical thoughts in their own way.
However, it is true that the novel has a lot of history before it takes you to the thinking part. Some of the aspects are interesting though, like observing philosophy develop throughout the years. Nonetheless, reading so much history can be a little boring. In my opinion, something that’s missing in this book is the fact that Sophie doesn’t have a personality or a character, or at least it’s hard for the reader to identify it. I believe this is because the book is more focused on the historical events. Still, I would’ve personally enjoyed this book more if I’d gotten to know Sophie a little better.
I liked this book and learnt a lot of things I didn’t know before. Also, the book got me thinking about the imposed questions as Sophie thought about them as well, which is why I sort of felt a connection to the book. Overall, I would recommend this to teenagers who like both history and philosophy, or who like philosophy and don’t mind history. If you don’t like history, then you will not like the process of reading this book that much and might not get so much out of it.