Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

published by Bren

Last updated: May 9, 2020

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”

Opening thoughts

I don’t read a lot of novels. In fact, I NEVER read novels. I think the last novel I read was “Z for Zachariah” when I was 13 years old. It was pretty good too, from what I remember.

So why did I read The Alchemist? To be honest, I was just looking for something different. I’ve been making an effort to read more this year, and I just didn’t have the energy to read another business or lifestyle design book. I’ve always been a huge fan of Will Smith, and when I found out that The Alchemist was his favourite book, I just knew I had to read it.

It was incredible. The storytelling was beautiful, but more importantly, there were so many lessons that the author shared that would be relevant to anyone’s life. I’m now actively hunting for more books like this – if you know of any, please tell me!

As for this particular book review of The Alchemist, I’m not going to delve deeply into all the lessons he portrays for us. Rather I will tell you what I liked about the book, what I didn’t, and whether it’s a worthy piece to pick up and read yourself.

The author

Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian author, and after reading up on him, it seems his life shares some parallels with the story in his book. He had always wanted to be a writer, but his parents didn’t allow it. He was put in a mental institution, escaped, became a hippie and travelled the world, and eventually returned and fulfilled his dream of being being an author. He is an advocate of not giving up on your dream, and this message seems to come through in this novel in particular. The Alchemist has now sold over 65 million copies – one of the best selling books in history. How have I not heard of it before?!

The Alchemist Review: What’s it about?

The story is about a young shepherd from the south of Spain who has a recurring dream about a finding a treasure. Believing that finding this treasure is his ‘destiny’ he leaves the comfort of home and travels into the African desert to find it.

There’s not too much I can tell you without spoiling the story, so let me leave you with a few extracts that will hopefully show you the kind of message the author hopes to share:

“I’m the King of Salem,” the old man said.

“Why would a king be talking with a shepherd?” the boy asked, awed and embarrassed.

“For several reasons. But let’s say that the most important is that you have succeeded in discovering your Personal Legend.”

The boy didn’t know what a person’s “Personal Legend” was.

“It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.”

The old man related that, the week before, he had been forced to appear before a miner, and had taken the form of a stone. The miner had abandoned everything to go mining for emeralds. For five years he had been working a certain river, and had examined hundreds of thousands of stones looking for an emerald. The miner was about to give it all up, right at the point when, if he were to examine just one more stone – just one more – he would find his emerald. Since the miner had sacrificed everything to his Personal Legend, the old man decided to become involved. He transformed himself into a stone that rolled up to the miner’s foot. The miner, with all the anger and frustration of his five fruitless years, picked up the stone and threw it aside. But he had thrown it with such force that it broke the stone it fell upon, and there, embedded in the broken stone, was the most beautiful emerald in the world.

“People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being,” said the old man, with a certain bitterness. “Maybe that’s why they give up on it so early, too. But that’s the way it is.”

The boy reminded the old man that he had said something about hidden treasure.

“Treasure is uncovered by the force of flowing water, and it is buried by the same currents,” said the old man. “If you want to learn about your own treasure, you will have to give me one-tenth of your flock.”

“What about one-tenth of my treasure?”

The old man looked disappointed. “If you start out by promising what you don’t even have yet, you’ll lose your desire to work toward getting it.”

The boy told him that he had already promised to give one-tenth of his treasure to the Gypsy.

“Gypsies are experts at getting people to do that,” sighed the old man. “In any case, it’s good that you’ve learned that everything in life has its price.”

The old man returned the book to the boy.

“Tomorrow, at this same time, bring me a tenth of your flock. And I will tell you how to find the hidden treasure. Good afternoon.”

And he vanished around the corner of the plaza.

What I liked

This book left a big impression on me. While reading through the book you can tell that the author is wise, that he has lived a long time, because of the messages he shares through the characters in his story. It’s almost as if, while you’re reading it, you can imagine your grandfather telling it to you as if it’s a tale from his childhood. I always thought that novels were a waste of time because you never learn any “real life” lessons from them, but this book finally proved me wrong.

The story itself is special. Even when I was 8 I never had an imagination quite like the author’s. There were a few times where I seriously couldn’t sleep, reading impatiently in the middle of the night to find out what happened next.

Now you might ask, what is an alchemist? From what I understood, an alchemist is like a magician chemist who can turn any metal into gold. But throughout the story and the search for the alchemist, I felt like this was more a metaphor for life in general. If we follow our own “Personal Legends” we can perform the same magic – turn our ordinary lives into gold, as long as we believe in the journey and don’t give up on what we believe is our destiny. If you’re looking for inspiration, this story brings it in droves.

What I didn’t like

To be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing about the book. It can move into religious territory at times, talking quite in depth about God and heaven etc, so depending on your own beliefs this could be a downside. However I think all people will be able to relate to the message of the story regardless of their religion.

Also, it’s worth noting that the book is originally written in Portugese, meaning that what we’re reading is an English translation. I have no doubt this takes away from the book in some regard, as the author’s exact message could be hard to mimic in translation. In fact, there were times when I would think, “I’m sure this part sounds way cooler in Portugese.” But, I probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

You should read this if…

  • You’re looking for travel inspiration (or inspiration for life in general)
  • You like feel-good stories
  • You don’t mind novels that involve mystical, magical things that could never happen in real life. e.g. a shepherd having a conversation with the soul of the universe
  • You respond well to stories that teach you what you already know in a different way
  • You enjoy a short read (167 pages)

Bren rates it: 8.5/10

Really hope you guys enjoyed this review of The Alchemist! You can find more reviews and read more about the book here.

Happy reading!

P.S. Did you know you can read unlimited books with a subscription to Kindle Unlimited? You can also try it completely free for a whole month! Check it out here.

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  1. Hi Bren,

    Glad to hear you found that book very interesting. Same with me, I immediately loved the books entirety many years back and collected some others author by Paulo as well. Presently, I enjoyed listening again and again before going to sleep the audio version read by Jeremy Irons. His way of narration adds up spice to the already sizzling story. you can download it at youtube.
    Maybe once your at YT, you can get to browse some related topics as well. Enjoy them as you like.

    Here’s to us who keep fanning the internal flames that burn within. All our greatest dreams… may it be fulfilled!


  2. Same here Bren, I’m not a big fan of Novels, rather prefer self help or inspirational books, indeed The Alchemist is the first Novel that I have red in my entire life, Yeah I was fascinated by its lesson, follow your dreams for it will determine the course of your life.Check Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl almost same concept but in different setting, try check The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari too by Robin Sharma worth reading. Book is one of the bests travel buddy.
    All the best,

  3. Hi Bren!
    Glad you enjoyed the book! It’s one of my favorites! I make it s point to read it once a year. My first time reading it, I was on a plane to Lima, Peru. I finished it from cover to cover on the flight! You’re right that it is an English translation, but Coelho speaks excellent English! I have no doubt that he tried to get the message across as accurately as possible.

    A similar themed book I’d recommend is “Way of the Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman. It lacks the theme of travel, but Millman writes about taking all the advantages life is offering you. There’s no mention of religion and he avoids writing in a way that comes across as “preachy”. His style of writing is not for everyone, but I enjoyed it. Maybe you will too!

  4. Following your destiny is quiet difficult but it is the basic purpose of your life. The book was really awesome as the protagonist achieves his destiny, though he loses hope many times and also his luck is not on his side. The old king said to him, ‘When you want to achieve something, whole of the universe conspires with you’, but all he said was not that simple. You have to find out your own meaning from the sentence and follow your destiny, which nature has already set for you. You should not complain for anything because our Allah has created us and knows much better than we do. This is also evident in the story, as every difficulty coming in Santiago’s life, leads him to the right way.
    You asked for a recommendation I will recommend you ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens.

  5. Hi , I can can see that a lot of people here haven’t read a novel before . Because The Alchemist in my opinion it’s not a good book , it gets so boring after a while, I thought many times to quit it . The author repeats the same thing over and over , there isn’t much plot , it feels like it’s written by a 10 year old for a 10 year old . Very boring, kids story , don’t wast money and time !!!

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