Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder’s bestselling book on philosophy, Sophie’s World, was published in 1991, yet it is still enjoying reprints and a spot on the Top Ten Bestsellers list at Fully Booked bookstore here in Manila.
Its appeal lies in its explanation of Western philosophical thought in terms young teenagers can understand. The book’s main character, Sophie, is a fourteen year old school girl in Norway. She receives lessons from a mysterious philosopher, Alberto Knox. First he sends them anonymously, then he later reveals himself as the plot unfolds.
Spoiler alert: Sophie and Alberto turn out to be characters imagined by one Albert Knag, who invents them in a book he has written for his daughter Hilde’s birthday.
The philosophical explanations are clear and comprehensible. Proceeding in a linear fashion through time, beginning with the Greeks all the way to Sartre in the modern day, it presents difficult concepts in simplified terms and relates them to each other in terms of influence.
Gaarder adds an underlying plot that has Sophie and Alberto attempting to break free from their creator Knag’s mind, with the help of Hilde. These parts contribute little to the flow and are best skipped. There is no mention of Eastern thought, a regrettable omission.
Still, it is significant as one of the best introductions to Western philosophy.