Jostein Gaarder was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1952. His father was a headmaster and his mother was a teacher who also wrote children's books. Gaarder went to the University of Oslo, where he studied Scandinavian languages and theology. In 1974 he married and began to write. In 1981 Gaarder moved to Bergen and began to teach high school philosophy, a career that he continued for eleven years. Gaarder's early writings were contributions to philosophy and theology textbooks and in 1986 he published his first book, The Diagnosis and Other Stories. He then wrote two books for children before publishing The Solitaire Mystery, which won the 1990 Norwegian Literary Critics' Award and the Ministry of Cultural and Scientific Affairs' Literary Prize. With the publication of Sophie's World in 1991, Gaarder gained international fame. Sophie's World spent three years as the best selling book in Norway. His first book to be translated into English, Sophie's World was also the top-selling book in Germany, France, and Great Britain. It has been published in forty-four languages and in 1995 Sophie's World was the best selling book in the world. Gaarder is one of the best-known contemporary Scandinavian writers. Sophie's World has spawned a movie, a musical, a board game, and a CD-ROM. Jostein Gaarder lives in Oslo with his wife Siri and their two sons and he now writes full-time.
Gaarder is well known for writing from children's perspectives and most of his books are for a young audience. Sophie's World, however, has bridged the gap between audiences of different ages. The hero of the story, Sophie, turns fifteen during the course of the novel. However, the book is subtitled "A Novel About the History of Philosophy," and in it Gaarder tackles 2000 years worth of western philosophical thought. Much of the book's popularity stems from the fact that it takes complicated ideas and presents them in language comprehensible to young adults. It has been used as a textbook in many freshman year introductory surveys to philosophy. Gaarder himself taught high school philosophy for eleven years, so he must have been extremely aware of both the pitfalls and the importance of teaching the subject. His book has received acclaim both as a novel and as a history. Gaarder's manner of treating the philosophers is extremely helpful because often each chapter focuses on a single thinker or a single line of thought. Therefore, the book can be to understand a particular philosopher. At the same time, the plot is intricately woven through the history of philosophy, and so reading the book as a novel is pleasing and gives the reader a solid grounding in the history of western intellectual thought. It is possible that Gaarder wanted to come up with a way of teaching philosophy that would not be very pedagogical. Sophie's World has been popular with children and adults alike because it teaches philosophy clearly and in an entertaining manner.
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