Book Review: The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

This book is like Oprah meets the bible. It's heart-warming, inspiring, a bit confusing, and kind of repetitive. You get the feeling as you flip it's unnecessarily expensive pages that you're touching something holy, even though Coelho wrote it in 1988. It was alternately heavy handed and delicately allegorical.

The main idea: at some point, early on in one's life, one has a dream of an incredible treasure that it is one's privilege to pursue. That pursuit is called one's "Personal Legend" and it will lead one on an adventure, teach one about love, the world, and a bunch of other important things. There will be internal and external obstacles, but ultimately, if one wants to persevere in one's Personal Legend, “all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

The book does a great job with examining certain obstacles to success, and I absolutely recommend the book, but it takes other things as given. The most glaring example of this is Santiago, the protagonist, discovering his Personal Legend (to go to the Egyptian Pyramids and find treasure) because he dreams about it a couple nights in a row. Well, jeez. I dreamt I was late for my Calc II final a couple nights in a row my freshman year of college. Is my Personal Legend to oversleep for an exam? I'm only half-kidding. Maybe if I were to do that, I would achieve outcome-independence or run into an old friend who offers me a job at Google or something. I don't know. I doubt it. If I do get offered a job at Google, does that mean it was my Personal Legend all along? There would be no way of knowing.

Coelho wrote the entire book in a couple of weeks so it's hardly a masterpiece, but it's been elevated to the level of scripture. It reads like a particularly good and drawn-out Brothers Grimm fable. In fact it has been criticized for having pretty much the same story has two or three other older fables, which doesn't surprise me. It was basically 'A poor boy leaves his father's home, and through courage, magic, and luck becomes as rich as a king and falls in love with a beautiful woman.' It just had a little more emphasis on believing in himself and following his dreams than most fairy tales.

There were plenty of actionable takeaways, but very few we've never heard before. All of these came from specific passages in the book, but I'm not going to bother quoting them because they wouldn't make sense out of context.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help from others. 
  • Don't be ashamed of working toward a dream you have. A crystal merchant in Tangiers mocks Santiago's Personal Legend, saying that the Pyramids aren't anything special. If others don't think you can do something, then they don't know what they're talking about. 
  • Money is for enabling you to do things, not for hoarding or spending on things you don't need. 
  • Be open minded - our own beliefs limit us more than actual obstacles. 
  • Your surroundings and the people you meet can teach you more than the books you read or the classes you take; they speak a different language that requires a higher level of awareness. 
  • It becomes possible to do things you could never even dream of doing when it's 'do or die.' 
  • A small obstacle becomes an immovable force when you're afraid of it. 
  • Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. 
  • Ignorance of the future is not an obstacle to action - a bird that never jumps out of the nest never learns to fly. Santiago spent all his savings and capital investment on passage to Morocco, but it turned out to be well worth it. 
  • Don't try to control the future because there is much outside your control. 
There were many more lessons, too, but you should really read the book. It's short and inspiring. 7/10.