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Why I strongly recommend Sophie’s World

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“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

It won’t hurt our pockets this Christmas if we go to the bookstore and pick Jostein Gaarder’s No. 1 bestseller, Sophie’s World, as gift for our loved ones–especially to children and even adults who still have passion for reading.
If my memory serves me right, 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 in the National Book Store, I ignored this book in the philosophy section 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 upper left portion of the cover.

BACK

When I checked the back, 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.

‘THIRTEENTH IMPRESSION’

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 hasn’t ended.
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.”

EXPLANATION

Sophie requested explanation from Alberto and readers will be able to digest what follows next once they read the book.
Another thought-provoking chapter in the book 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 and 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.

 

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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Dulce et decorum est

“War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” BERTRAND RUSSELL

By Alex P. Vidal

While reading the Aspects of Western Civilization (Volume II) Problems and Sources of History (fourth edition) Chapter 6 on The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Era, compiled by Perry M. Rogers, I came across a very impressive poem written by Wilfred Owen, the greatest writer of war poetry in the English language.
Owen wrote out of his intense personal experience as a soldier and wrote with unrivaled power of the physical, moral and psychological trauma of the First World War. All of his great war poems on which his reputation rests were written in a mere 15 months.
From the age of 19, Owen wanted to become a poet and immersed himself in poetry, being especially impressed by Keats and Shelley. He was working in France, close to the Pyrenees, as a private tutor when the First World War broke out. At this time he was remote from the war and felt completely disconnected from it too.

HOSPITAL

Even when he visited the local hospital with a doctor friend and examined, at close quarters, the nature of the wounds of soldiers who were arriving from the Western Front, the war still appeared to him as someone else’s story, according to The War Poetry website. Eventually he began to feel guilty of his inactivity as he read copies of The Daily Mail which his mother sent him from England. He returned to England, and volunteered to fight on October 21, 1915.
He trained in England for over a year and enjoyed the impression he made on people as he walked about in public wearing his soldier’s uniform. Owen was sent to France on the last day of 1916, and within days was enduring the horrors of the front line. Here’s Owen’s famous poem:

DULCE ET DECORUM EST

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2013 in HISTORY, POLITICS

 

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