I think this would be a great book for teenagers as an introduction in philosophy, in an entertaining way, or for any of those who want a quick and light review of its history and who don't want to get trough something as heavy as Bertrand Russell's History of Western philosophy.
Basically, the book is a dialogue (yes, sometimes it gets a little boring) between 14yo. Sophie and this 40yo bizarre stranger who begins secretly sending her this philosophy course through letters, which I have to say I found that a little creepy in the beginning and unrealistic because latter on after they meet, they start seeing each other alone either at his home or other places and mom, although little worried about this strange situation, allows that Sophie continues meeting this stranger by herself. Weird or maybe it is just my cultural background??
Anyways, the history covers from Greek philosophy all the way to the existentialism, with one of my favorites...Sartre. I do have to say that I didn't enjoy very much how Jostein Gaarder projects Darwinism as philosophy. For example, he explains very well evolution and tries to make an approach on abiogenesis and the classic argument on the evolution of something as complex as the eye but then closes with... "I don't think that can be accidental. What do you think?" I almost close the book right there, but as a book on philosophy I guess he had to leave that question open to the reader.
However, at the end, I did like how the author gives the personal growth to Sophie through the importance of philosophy and teaches her to always keep her mind open to new ideas and learn not to jump to conclusions, the focus to think critically as she has finished her course on philosophy and has the historical background to orient herself in life, as well as the feminist ideas she develops, a projection? Mmh! Also, it is interesting to see how Gaarder questions the impact that our modern or future civilization could have under this new era of technology and the rise of New Age and the so many alternative offers that people seem to be very susceptible of. Yes, in the era of science and information these seem to be on the rise! Specially, if you go to a bookstore you will find a wide variety of mystical and paranormal topics under teen selection, which really got me thinking.
Also, it was funny to see his reference to the skeptics and the offer of a large reward to the first person who could provide even the slightest proof of something supernatural, was he referring to James Randi?!
Well, even though it is a simple "ok" 2 star novel with only a few characters and not a big plot, I think the author accomplishes very neatly in describing each of the philosophers with excellent examples that make it easy for anyone to understand or grasp the main philosophical concepts making it a successful read. Those examples and the analogies that he uses are what make it a good and interesting book. Because if you don't explain it simple, you don't understand it well enough right? It is obviously, not a textbook and expect a big lack of information or the absence of many great thinkers, but in general is good and covers the basic topics and again I recommend it mostly for teenagers to create a good discussion among them or get them interested in the quest to gather a deeper knowledge on philosophy or other science subjects, also to any other nobber that might be having a hard time with philosophy.
I liked the end, with the closing chapter of the Big Bang, and although I didn't like the transcendental touch finale I'll give it a 4 star for the motivation he tries to give the reader to get into philosophy, that endless quest on the understanding of our existence. :)