“You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.” — PAUL SWEENEY
By Alex P. Vidal
Our pockets won’t hurt if we go to the bookstore and pick up Jostein Gaarder’s No. 1 bestseller, Sophie’s World, as a gift for our loved ones–especially children and even adults who still have a passion for reading.
I made a similar endorsement in at least two articles in 2011 of this 1991 novel written by the Norwegian writer about 14-year-old Sophie Amundsen, a teenage girl living in Norway, and Alberto Knox, a middle aged philosopher who introduces her to philosophical thinking and the history of philosophy.
Back in the early 90’s during my frequent trips to the National Book Store, I ignored this book thinking it was a mere fairy tale item for children. What finally caught my attention was the small photo of what looked like Socrates on the cover’s upper left.
When I checked, a statement from the Sunday Times screamed: “Remarkable…What Jostein Gaarder has managed to do is to condense 3,000 years of thought into 400 pages; to simplify some extremely complicated arguments without trivializing them…Sophie’s World is an extraordinary achievement.”
A brief narrative further induced my interest: “Looking in her mailbox one day, a fourteen-year-old Norwegian schoolgirl called Sophie Amundsen finds two surprising pieces of paper. On them are written the questions: ‘Who are you?’ and ‘Where does the world come from?'”
From these two thought-provoking questions, the readers will be brought to a great ride back to events that shaped the world–life in Athens, the Indo-European cultures of Greece and Rome, Hellenism, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Bible, Adam and Eve, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Alexander the great, Jesus Christ, Judaism, Christianity, Roman Emperors, Inquisition, Reformation, Age of Reason, Leonardo da Vinci, French Revolution, Big Bang, among other important events in world history.
For P245.50, I bought the the book, the “thirteenth impression” in 1998 at the National Book Store SM City branch in Cebu City. I read the book repeatedly like a man possessed. My love affair with Sophie’s World actually isn’t yet over.
As I write this article, I was back on page 205 on Spinoza…”God is not a puppeteer…” Alberto was telling Sophie that Baruch Spinoza, who lived from 1632 to 1677, “belonged to the Jewish community of Amsterdam, but he was excommunicated for heresy.”
“Are you going to tell me about him,” Sophie asked Alberto. “That was my intention. And we’re not going to be stopped by military provocations,” Alberto retorted.
“Few philosophers in more recent times have been so blasphemed and so persecuted for their ideas as this man,” Alberto hissed. “It happened because he criticized the established religion. He believed that Christianity and Judaism were only kept alive by rigid dogma and outer ritual. He was the first to apply what we call a historico-critical interpretation of the Bible.”
Sophie requested explanation from Alberto and readers will be able to digest what follows next.
Another thought-provoking chapter was when Sophie and Alberto discussed the Theory of the Big Bang.
“Most astronomers agree that the expanding universe can only have one explanation: Once upon a time, about 15 billion years ago, all substance in the universe was assembled in a relatively small area. The substance was so dense that gravity made it terrifically hot. Finally it got so hot and so tightly packed that it exploded. We call this explosion as Big Bang.”
I strongly recommend the book; I reecho what the Sunday Times had written on the back cover: the author has managed to condense 3,000 years of thought into 400 pages; to simplify some extremely complicated arguments without trivializing them. Enjoy reading.