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on January 16, 2014
For those of you who may not have time to gather the many pearls of "wisdom" in this book, I'll summarize a few here:

1. Follow your dreams--note, DO NOT follow your hopes, your ideals, your beliefs or your ambitions. You must literally follow your DREAMS. Santiago the shepherd boy, has a dream one night that he will find a treasure. Thus begins his quest. Well, last night I had a dream that I was being chased through Disney World by a gorilla in a tutu. Sucks for me, but apparently that's what the Soul of the World intends for me, so I guess I better head to Florida.

2. There is a secret Language of the Universe. Can you guess which one it is?
a. Spanish
b. Music
c. Mathematics
d. Love

3. Yes, of course it's love. Good news is, the verbs in this language are extremely fun to conjugate. If you're not sure how you will learn this secret language and see into the Soul of the World? Well, you'll need three things:
a. sheep
b. hawks
c. a desert

4. If you are open to the secret Language of the Universe, you will know your intended spouse the moment you see him or her. Unfortunately, for all you married folks, if you didn't immediately recognize that your spouse was your intended mate, like say if you actually took the time to get to know them, GET DIVORCED IMMEDIATELY! You are married to the wrong person. Try to be more open to the secret Language of the Universe next time. Hint: walk in the desert.

5. Oh yeah, back to following your dream. Even if your dream is physically impossible, like say, turning lead into gold, follow it anyway. What matters is that you GO FOR IT!

6. Don't believe the Bible when it says things like "A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign." SIGNS are the way to go. God is constantly sending you omens letting you know what you should do next. You just gotta take the time to see them. (See Hint above).

7. If you're a woman, stop holding your man back from reaching his dreams with your clingy "love." Don't you understand that there is TREASURE for him out there? Your job is to wait till he finds it. Then maybe he'll come back for you, or, hey, maybe he'll die, but that will be okay cause then he'll be like part of the rain and the dirt and stuff.

8. If you meet some random old man on the street who tells you he is a king, there is NO WAY he can possibly be lying. Do whatever he tells you.

9. "There is only one way to learn...through action." Good news for all you college students--dump those useless expensive textbooks now! (No offense Amazon)

10. "Listen to your heart. It knows all things because it came from the Soul of the World." I have been listening to MY heart because apparently it knows neurosurgery. (Although it only seems to say ka-thump ka-thump, still, I got me a scalpel. If you have a brain tumor, I am open for business!)

11. Gold is the metal that has evolved the furthest. HA--you thought is was just a shiny, yellow, highly conductive but still vastly over-priced metal. Pay attention to your heart and the Soul of the World, you fool. Maybe then some of that highly evolved metal will lead you to itself. (Like with omens and stuff)

12. "There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure." True enough, I suppose...though so far I am having trouble finding a tutu that will fit a gorilla...still I will try not to fear failure so that my dream of being chased through Disney World by a tutu-wearing gorilla can come true.

13. The winds know everything...you know, kinda like the heart.

14. "When you are loved, you can do anything in creation." So, dude, if you find that there's anything whatsoever you CAN'T do--bad news, it means you ARE NOT LOVED! (Feel free to test this axiom by performing a triple back somersault...NOW!)
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on March 1, 2003
Yes, much of what negative reviewers of this book have to say is true: the writing is blunt and simple, the characters lack depth and complexity, it is quite male-focused in its subject matter and language, it has a bunch of quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo, and so on. This book should not be put on the list of great literature for the ages. There are doubtless many novels that cover subject matter from this book far more artfully. As I read the book, I was aware of its hokeyness and lack of redeeming literary qualities. I am, in fact, usually the first person to criticize books that read like this.
And yet, I have to say - and I feel a bit sheepish about this - that I found it meaningful, even profound at times. How can I say this, given my criticisms? First of all, unlike many reviewers, I did not approach this book with great expectations. No one told me that this was Shakespeare or Tolstoy; I had never even heard of it until it was recommended to me recently. And by the end of page 2, I had adjusted my expectations further. This clearly was not going to be winning the Booker prize.
But I found the book moving in its simple way. The characters deliver their statements without subtlety, but subtlety is more a literary virtue than a philosophical one. In fact, I essentially came to view this work as a life philosophy expressed as a fable, so I didn't particularly mind that its messages were not buried far beneath the surface.
Are those messages novel? No, but what of it? Novelists have been recycling themes for centuries, becuase many themes are of enduring interest and relevance. The point is, the messages are worthwhile and deserving of consideration. They are simple, but I think that simplicity is itself one of the central themes of the book: that life is not that complicated when one follows one's dreams honestly and passionately, or as the book says, "with love and purpose." And yet the book reminds us that it is very easy to give up dreams and abandon one's passion.
I have to disagree with one often-mentioned criticism of the book, namely, that it advocates pure materialism. That is, in my opinion, a serious misinterpretation. The book is written in the style of a fable, and therefore the goals people strive for are the typical gold-and-buried-treasure stuff. But I think one would have to misread the book quite severely to think that it is advocating material gain. The book is not at all about the specific goals that the protagonist pursues. It is about the importance of wanting something urgently and how the wanting seems to reorient the universe in harmony with that goal (just as a magnetic field can reorder the particles around it), how genuine passion and enthusiasm are rewarded with success, how those who love us encourage us to pursue our goals, and how the act of reaching for goals - whatever they are, and whether or not ultimately reached - plunges us into a strong current that carries us to places that we can never expect or know when we embark. There is something here in common with the beliefs of the Romantics, in that much of the value of the goal is in the journey that it leads us on -- the experiences gained and the lessons learned.
It's not a fair criticism of the book, I think, to say that it doesn't tell us what happens when people's goals conflict with one another, or disclose that circumstances outside of our control often render us unable to reach our goals however sincerely we may pursue them. We don't need a book to tell us that. Anyone who has made it out of childhood knows that, and I have to believe that the author is well aware of this as well. I suspect that through his simple tale, he is trying to provide some kind of argument against the kind of cynicism or fear that the world can sometimes instill in us, and encourage us to keep diving into that "strong current" to see where it takes us.
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on June 5, 2005
Contrived. Pretentious. Juvenile. That's just the introduction, in which the author discusses his amazement at the popularity this book has gained. It is equally astonishing for any reader who is able to endure more than five pages of: "The Soul of the World spoke to the Heart of the Boy as he prayed to the God of the Dessert who commanded the Spirit of the Wind..." I found myself praying to the God of Literature that the boy's beloved sheep would stampeded and trample him to death, sparing me from the Demons of Boredom. If you liked the Celestine Prophecy you'll love The Alchemist. You can read it while you're waiting for the mothership to return. Otherwise, take a pass and read something more intellectually engaging, like the tax code.
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VINE VOICEon June 21, 2006
More parable than novel, "The Alchemist" uses the story of young shepherd Santiago's search for his Personal Legend as an allegory for everyman's struggle to break from the comfortable confines of conformity and pursue his life dreams. Along the way, of course, our young everyman is beset by all manner of setbacks, testing his resolve and forcing him to become attuned to the Soul of the World in order to survive. By paying attention to the details in the world around him, which serve as omens guiding him towards his goal, young Santiago becomes an alchemist in his own right, spinning unfavorable circumstances into riches.

Aside from the ubiquitous theme about the power of perseverance, my favorite part of the book was its glorification of simplicity. Like the pared-down manner in which the story is presented, Santiago's rare ability to get in touch with the Soul of the World comes not from the procedures described in arcane tomes pursued by traditional alchemists, but rather from a simple honesty and observance of the workings of the world. While the lack of character or plot complexity precludes this minimalist work from being considered a great novel, it will be a satisfying read for those seeking inspiration of the purest sort.

-Kevin Joseph, author of "The Champion Maker"
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on July 14, 2000
Last spring I read "Illusions," by Richard Bach. When I read the reviews online, one guy mentioned he thought "The Alchemist" was superior to the story of "Illusions." I finally got around to "Alchemist" and I must say I was quite disappointed.
First off, yes I realize it's considered a fable, but the writing style is far too simplistic. I don't know if it's the translation, but it reads like a book an elementary schooler would read for a report. Annoying points: there are page after page of adolescent terms like "Master Work" and "Personal Legend" and "Language of the Universe", repetitious redundancies of quotes, just in case you haven't been paying attention, and very little masking of points. Coelho must not trust the reader to pick things up because he screams them at you.
But, that's just the writing style. As for the writing, there is a clear spiritual basis to the story, which is welcome, but the incessant talk of fate was a complete turn-off. I also felt there was an air of superiority to it. Santiago would pass people who seemed happy in their lives, and he would feel sorry for them because they weren't on a trek. In the case of the crystal shop owner, yes, he was pathetic for not pursuing his dream of going to Mecca. But to look at another shop owner and judge he has not pursued his dream, when perhaps his dream was to settle with his family, was distracting.
On to love....um, he meets a woman midway through the story and falls in love before they speak? Oooookay. And this woman he supposedly loves, and with whom he could settle with and be rich, he leaves to discover a treasure. Why is his dream that of a material/monetary nature? I had a tiny problemo with that one.
So, before this becomes a lecture. I give it 3 stars for some of the dialogue Santiago has with the alchemist, and for its basic idea: pursue your dream, as it will haunt you if you don't. However, this is hardly a fantastic book....it just speaks to the masses, where others may require one to think more.
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on September 8, 2006
This is a nice little book. It flows well, has an upbeat, positive message and a modicum of exotica is sprinkled throughout the text.

However, it is an unusually spare and simplistic in it's construction. The characters are at best one dimensional, the dialog is minimalist in the extreme and the overall construction can only be described as basic. To be honest, I'm surprised this book has made it big as adult fare--it reads much more like the kind of book I'd give to a 6th grader. The language, the plot--to the extent the book can claim to have a plot--the whole package has the complexity of a pre-teen motivational book. A very good pre-teen motivational book, but a pre-teen motivational boon nonetheless.

Personally, I expect a higher level of complexity, sophistication and intellectual challenge from my novels. I have no quarrel with the message--I just wish it had been packaged in a way that provided some real sense of conviction and, ultimately, reading satisfaction.

I in fact did give this to my 6th grade mentoree at my church this summer and she loved it. So, my advice is if you buy this book, give it to one of your kids. It's the best move for both of you.
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on January 23, 2009
Follow your heart. Don't abandon your dreams. Life is a journey. True love is just around the corner. All that glitters is not gold. Every life has a purpose. You must find your true destiny. All things are connected. The wind, the sun, the moon - all is ONE. We are all ONE. When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.

That about sums up the content of this shallow, woefully uninspiring, childishly written tale passing itself off as some profound spiritual allegory teeming with hidden depths and wisdom. A stroke of marketing genius to be sure, reminiscent of The Celestine Prophecy. This book literally reeks of unoriginality -- formulaic story-line, time-worn themes, stunted dialogue, hokey symbolism (a shepherd boy, the Philosopher's Stone, Egyptian Pyramids, etc.), cartoon-like characters, flat, insipid writing, and a little dime-store Christianity thrown in for good measure. Like a shoddy pre-fab house put up in a day, this sorry piece of New Age drivel was probably cranked out in one drunken weekend. I picked it up from the library to find out what all the hype and fuss was surrounding this "classic" now supposedly celebrating its 20th anniversary. Good grief! Grimm's Fairy Tales is a far finer work of literature than this example of sheer mediocrity. What a shame that books like this become international bestsellers, while many a fine manuscript languishes on a shelf somewhere with no hope of ever being published. But I guess with the increasing illiteracy and dumbing down of our pop culture, we can expect more of the same. Pity.
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on March 12, 2002
Without meaning to sound philosophical, I have to start my review by saying I do not believe there is such a thing as absolute truth. Like beauty, it is in the eyes of the beholder. Case in point: is THE ALCHEMIST a good book, a bad book or an indifferent one? Rarely has a book generated such diverse opinions. Feelings range from one end of the love-hate spectrum to the other, so which is the truth? That, depends on you. Or rather, on who you are.
To me, THE ALCHEMIST is absolute trash. The story revolves around the determined quest of a young boy to fulfil his dream. Not a bad subject in itself. What renders this book dismissable is a rare combination of borrowed axioms presented in the shallowest way. Irritating too. The basic message of `you've got to follow your heart' is repeated over and over again. Duly complemented by the sub-dictum `if you do, the universe will make sure you succeed'. Do not look for substantiation to those grandiose claims, none is given. Presumably the answers lie hidden in the sacred books of the Alchemists (among which Mr. Coelho must be a prominent figure) and not in this book that you are supposed to buy.
But maybe Mr. Coelho meant his book for kids, where, given a kid's short attention span the incessant repetitions make sense. Aha, but what about the fact that the hero's motive for his journey was to find a hidden treasure? Do you really want you kids to grow up valuing material wealth above all?
So there you have it. THE ALCHEMIST is addressed to adults who will not misinterpret the treasure hunt moral. On the other hand it is written like a children's story, complete with desert battles and elements that speak (the wind, the sand etc). If you like it, it is fine with me.
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on June 30, 2015
I heard a lot about this book, all positive. And I really tried to like this book. I read it with an absolutely open mind for about half the book, and then had to force myself to choke down the rest. And I'm doing my best to give a balanced opinion here. So here it goes:

The large, glaring problem with The Alchemist is that it is a 5 page parable written 182 times on 182 pages.

Paulo Coelho introduces you to the moral core of the story, which can and is summed up in a few paragraphs, probably at some point in the first ten pages. After that, apparently because he is incapable of nuanced writing, of metaphors, or of allowing the reader to decipher any meaning at all for himself, he instead decides to pound the exact same few moral points into your skull every single page, for exactly 182 repetitive pages. I'm talking memorization by rote repetition here, folks. It's quite often the same exact wording, sometimes the same exact paragraph. It's quaint and interesting at first, when the boy talks about his personal quest in the same verbiage. For like the first 3 times. And then it's a stretch at 10 times, but you still kind of get why he's doing it given the underlying message. Keep on moving. Keep chasing that dream. And then it's plain boring at 20 and your begging for some new material, some new input or take on the basic message. It is a very positive message. That's great. We get it. Chase your dreams. But can we please have some actual characters experiencing the message in this book? Instead of being berated by the omniscient narrator about chasing our dreams, thinly disguised as the seemingly only thought our one dimensional main character possesses?

Which sort of ties in to the second largest flaw, maybe the first in order of importance depending on what your aim is, which is that this book is simply a dull, boring story, and rather poorly written, or possibly it's a children's book and I missed that because adults are reading it heavily in America. It reads at maybe the 3rd grade level, annoying but not necessarily wrong. The plot moves forward, and moves forward, and forward some more, but does little else. Again, you could attribute this to the sort of keep 'going at all costs' underlying message he's giving us. You could. I attributed it to a boring story. There were no twists, no turns. Nothing interesting really at all. Just the same message reiterated again and again, the plot sort of being there as a vehicle for the mass repetition of the moral lesson.

I'll cut this short by leaving out anything seriously revealing about the characters, because there are none. The omniscient narrator, clearly nothing but Coelho, spouts his belief about following a dream through the most superficial, paper thin main character in the history of literature. There were other characters in the book, but he didn't need to write them in, as they only existed to also repeat Coelho's same moral message word for word, or maybe one or two was put there for juxtaposition.

And none of this is because it's not my type of book. I love all forms of books, fiction to nonfiction. I'm a new age nut. I love simple writing. I love worldly multiple religion hoo-ha. I love quantum physics meats Buddhism spirituality. But no amount of mumbo jumbo repitition about Omens made this book appealing to my inner mystic, which really isn't that hard. It just felt contrived and overwhelmingly boring. Coehlo seems to be under the impression that you can have two characters look at each other, and use the word Omen, or personal treasure, and that is enough substance to intrigue the reader. But he fails to grasp that the reader actually has to feel intrigued and moved; by the plot, and by the characters. If he wants to preach morality and chasing your dreams, which was clearly the sole intent of this book, write a book of parables. That are short. People don't expect character depth in a 10 page story, they expect a brief message.

I tried hard to like this book, and I tried not to be too hard on it. But I seriously believe it is one of the worst books I've read in a long time. Could possibly have been a solid book if I read it at maybe 10-12 years old. I would in fact probably recommend it for kids that age. Sorry if everyone else eats it up. I don't enjoy being a negative force in the universe, but it was just plain dull for me.
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VINE VOICEon June 5, 2012
I remember the hype about this book back when it came out. All the celebrities were prattling on about it, how it changed their life, how it had so much meaning for them. Right there I knew I didn't' want to read it, just like "The Secret" which came out several years later. Anytime billionaire Oprah tells you a book is "life changing", you might want to hold onto your wallet - I'm still trying to recover from "The Road".

Nevertheless, a friend gave me this book and I happened to fish it out of my to be read stack before going on vacation recently (everything else in the stack was too heavy for pool-side reading). So I figured, how bad can 160 pages be? Well, the book is easy reading at least, but the opportunity cost was the opportunity to read something else (anything else!) which might have held some real meaning, unlike this pseudo-spiritual collection of clichés.

As I said, the one blessing of the book is that it's easy reading. I breezed through the book in a matter of a couple hours. There's nothing to slow you down along the way - no plot, no character development, no poetic language to savor. Admittedly, there is a very mild St. Exupery flavor, but it's so contrived and watered down that it's like the difference between freshly squeezed orange juice vs. TANG. Of course, given the popularity of artificial flavoring, it's not surprising how many people rave about this tasteless book.

There is the same sense about this book that there is about some modern art. A sort of, "you're kidding me, right?" You find yourself wondering how someone got away with it, how they duped that many people and how they made that much money doing so. Is throwing a bucket of paint at a canvas really "art"? Worth millions of dollars? You have to wonder whether the perpetrators - the artists, authors, etc. - are really in earnest, or are they aware of the wool they're pulling over our eyes? Perhaps they actually are in earnest, but you may be left waiting for that small child to call out the obvious nakedness.

This book can't really be taken seriously. It's just a constant hammering of obvious clichéd Messages dressed up as Wisdom. It's always darkest before the dawn. Follow your dreams. Let your heart be your guide. It's not what one puts into one's mouth that defiles it, it's what comes out of the mouth. Recognize any of those? But no, I'm sure Coelho came up with those all on his own.

And, of course, the crowning Cliché of the book is the biggest whopper of all: "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it." Right, just the other day I was thinking how much I really wanted a Bentley and, funny thing, when I got home, there was one parked right there in my driveway. Since then I've wanted a million dollars, a big mansion, lots of friends and worldwide fame and - poof - the universe has granted them.

Okay, no, not really. But even if we set aside material and obviously shallow wants, it's clear that the universe does not always - or even usually - grant us our dreams, even if we really, really badly want them and pursue them fearlessly. Millions have suffered and died, heartbroken and penniless, in pursuit of failed dreams. This sort of "think it and achieve it" mentality is not only foolish, but also rather dangerous. It places all of the blame for failure on the person who has already failed, thereby compounding their misery. It's like faith "healers" who blame the parents of a dying child for not having enough faith, when in fact less faith might have led them to pursue medicine instead. It's easy enough for already successful people to believe this sort of mentality has been the source of their success and riches, but for most of us, Lady Luck and circumstances don't favor us the way she favors Santiago the shepherd boy or Oprah the miracle billionaire.

Books like this one, "The Secret" and others aren't merely silly, there's also an insipid element to drawing unsuspecting people into their "think and be rich" mentality. People end up spending money and effort on these doomed pursuits of treasures and happiness only to end up despondent and feeling betrayed (while missing the real treasure and happiness of life, which is the work we put into it). Life isn't actually simple or easy, it's complicated and difficult. "Self-help" doesn't consist of getting people to ignore that reality, but rather to help them face it and live it on a daily basis.
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