Book Review: The Alchemist

Paolo Coehlo The Alchemist Meaning Themes

“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.”

These were the words with which Paulo Coehlo stole my heart.

My world is far too full of I cant’s, but’s, and if only’s. I hear these words all the time from friends, from lovers, and from family. I heard these words from the woman who introduced me to this book: “I wish I could do what you did and travel, but I need to work.”

Essentially, Paulo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist” pivots around this idea of “I can’t.”

This book exists to convince you: “You can.”

Is the Alchemist “too mainstream?”

This is a book which has been recommended to me dozens of times, by people all across the spectrum. From literature nerds to scene chicks to frat bros, no one seems to have a bad thing to say about this novel.

It’s good. It’s really good.

The book tells the tale of Santiago, a simple Spanish shepherd, whose dream is to travel. He feels a pull to travel to the Pyramids, and he sets out to satisfy that urge. As the journey unfolds, Santiago discovers his treasure was really inside— blah, blah, blah. The book is admirably clear about what it wants to communicate about life, without ever feeling too trite.

It has a strong message about chasing your dreams. It’s written in a simple, approachable style. It doesn’t hide profundity behind big words and dizzying sentence structure, the way some authors lock away their insight, accessible only to those with intellect.

Really, if there’s a reason so many people recommend this book, it’s that it’s easy. I could read this book cover-to-cover in about two or three hours. So could you, even if you don’t read much.

That’s the issue here: everyone has read this book. Few have taken its lesson to heart.

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I was recommended The Alchemist by one of fraternity brothers.

“I loved it,” he said. “My sister says it’s too mainstream though.”

The brother graduated with his degree in Accounting. He spoke of traveling the world after graduation, but when last I talked with him, he had a girlfriend and was well on his way to accepting an accounting job with a local firm. “All these opportunities just fell in my lap,” he said, confused. “And I don’t have the funds to travel right now.”

His sister had taken the leap after her own graduation, moved to South Korea and taught English for several years.

Does reading this book and simply thinking: “Oh, I’d like to chase my dream, too” do anyone any good?

Ultimately, no. It’s no more productive than hashtagging your mundane pictures with #wanderlust on Instagram. As the book reveals throughout, chasing your dreams doesn’t come easy. Ripping up your roots, cutting loose the bowlines and taking off might leave you heartbroken and alone in a foreign airport, as it did me.

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It might leave you broke, and it will undoubtedly leave you frustrated.

But if you read “The Alchemist” and go back to your office job the next day and do it all the same as you’ve done before, you didn’t properly read “The Alchemist.” And far too many people experience this book that way.

This is what led the sister to say “‘The Alchemist’ is too mainstream.”

An inspirational message, gone unheeded, wasn’t very inspirational, now, was it?

So here’s my challenge to you: read The Alchemist. Really read it. Buy a copy, so you can read it twice. But don’t just put it back on your shelf and move on with your day, the way it would be so easy to do.

Ask yourself the hard question:

What is my Personal Legend?

And how do I spend my life in pursuit of it?

Mine sits atop this website. I hope you can see my fulfillment of it, every day, in the content I write and the stories I share. I certainly feel it.

I encourage you: condense yours to a sentence. Write that sentence down. Stick it to your fridge.

And don’t forget about it.

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27 thoughts on “Book Review: The Alchemist

  1. haha i really like your review ! It is , according to me, a different approach to presenting a book as known as this one. I mean, given the fact that it is so popular and known (generally speaking) it is very hard to write reviews that can catch the attention and that present the topic from a different angle. So congratulations!

    • Thank you for taking the time to understand the goal!

      When I ‘review’ a book, I try to use the review as a jumping-off point to discuss the larger ideas and ethos of the book/author/theme. I find this is largely more interesting (and productive) than a ‘by-the-numbers’ breakdown of plot, characterization & the author’s technical and stylistic skill.

      Glad you agree.

  2. I’m currently reading “The Alchemist” as I write this. I’m about half way through the book now. When I first bought the book, I didn’t read it and I’m glad I didn’t because I know I wouldn’t have been ready to receive what it had to say to me. Now I’m at a point in my life where I have gone for broke to pursue my “legend” and its amazing how much is packed into this simple story. The insight that I’m getting in relation to where I am in my life with my goal is marveling and everything is coming together and making since. Thank you for this review and for not spoiling anything, this is great. Peace and love to you.

  3. This book took me from applying for a course and career I’d chosen purely for practicality and out of the fear we all have of taking real risks, and down a three-four month discovery of what my true purpose is. Now I’m so much more fulfilled and inspired, I’d recommend this book to anyone! Your review hits the nail on the head. It takes hard work to truly follow Coelho’s message, but it is so worth it (and I’m only halfway there!). Great review.

  4. Oh boy!
    This brought me close to tears. I am at this very moment struggling not to cry!
    I read this book for the first time when I was in senior year of engineering college. Like all the others, I couldn’t wait to find my personal legend. I thought things will be brighter when I’ll graduate because there were already too much pressure and negativity in my life.
    BUT THEY DID NOT.
    And I’m in a deeper pit of despair as well as struggling to keep my sanity in line.
    And in the midst of these all, I have lost my way to find my personal legend, my one true goal of life. At one point I thought it will be a book that I will finally write which will touch souls.
    BUT I HAVE SERIOUS DOUBTS ABOUT MY ARTICULATION SKILLS NOW. I CANNOT EVEN IMPRESS MYSELF 😡
    But thank you for reminding me, the quest only gets harder. And I will have to keep on trying. But I don’t know if I am fit for it at all.
    I don’t know if I am fit to be a warrior of life, I think I have become too weak and selfish to let things go and embrace the hardships. And the fear of losing the minuscule things I already have is holding me back from doing better.
    I’m really sorry to blabber like a weirdo, but I have decided I will address my fears and accept remarks with an open mind. That is the only way I can overpower the enemy within.

    Thank you for writing this one man. I mean it!

    • Hey thank you so much for taking the time to comment!

      It’s not blathering, and I honestly can’t express to you how meaningful it is for me to hear that my words touched a total stranger in such a way. Really. This comment made my day. So take that as a start: you touched my soul today.

      Thank you.

  5. As many others, I agree wholeheartedly with the ideas the book shares; it’s a big topic of my own life. I’m at the top end of life and writing books about those experiences I HAD. Hoping there’s more to come and living it out in fiction books. Writing and reading. On your recommendation I’m reading the Alchemist.
    Thanks for a great article

  6. This was beautifully written. I was recommended this book recently as well and have purchased a copy. It is the next book on my “To Read” list before I begin reading for school again. Thank you for getting me primed to read this book properly. 🙂

  7. It was only yesterday that I was holding this book at a bookstore, wondering if I should buy it. Many of my friends had recommended this book, but I ended up not buying it. It’s a surprise I had to come across your post today. I take it as a sign that my time has come to read it. Thanks for your recommendation!

  8. This is the second time this book is in my radar in the last few weeks. I read it 15 years ago and loved it. It might be time for a second read.

  9. Nice, piece on one of my favorite books. Paulo Coelho’s writing and message delivery is actually consistent through all of his work (I’m ok with that). A question I have in general is: What are the qualifiers that make something mainstream and what makes that a negative connotation?

    • Hey Lou! thx for stopping by.

      In this case I suppose the negativity is mostly related to the central theme of the book. The book, essentially, rests on the idea that to pursue your Personal Legend, you must reject what is expected of you in society.

      You can see this in the characters of the crystal merchant, and Fatima, the woman at the oasis whom Santiago falls in love with. The crystal merchant found success and wealth, and Santiago found love. Both things mainstream society (in most cultures) tells you are worth sacrificing at least part of your dreams for.

      Coehlo refuses to allow Santiago to rest at either point though. And neither situation is deified (sic) as acceptable trades for your Personal Legend.

      So we come back to the point I made in the post: the book has gone mainstream, but the message has not. Which robs the story of some of its power, don’t you think?

  10. I read `The Alchemist`a while ago, I remember feeling inspired to do anything. Now it’s like I’ve changed so much in my perspectives, that those words you highlighted hold new meaning. Might have to read it again, to understand it better 🙂

  11. Great post, I’ve read this book and found it very inspirational. I don’t think it matters whether mainstream or not. People will take from it when they’re ready in my opinion. It might be that you may read a book like this and simply not be in the right mind to receive, yet months or years later something might ring a bell with you and you pick the book up again. I would recommend ‘The Way Of The Peaceful Warrior’ though I think you may have read it already. Thanks for posting!

  12. I wholeheartedly agree with turning the words into actions. But as Coehlo puts it, “hearts don’t like to suffer”. Keep inspiring and pursuing your dreams and Personal Legend. I write and practice every day to realize mine. Thanks for the post!

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