the alchemist

The Alchemist

Quick Overview

Paulo Coelho's masterpiece tells the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found.

The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories can, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, above all, following our dreams.

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Health Professional Review

Health Professional Reviewer: Gill Eastgate, Mental Health Practitioner. Reviewed 1 December 2015.

Book Title: The Alchemist

Author: Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian author, who is one of the world’s most popular spiritual writers.  His books have been translated into 73 languages and published in 168 countries.  Sales have reached more than 135 million copies worldwide.

Paulo is the recipient of numerous prestigious international awards and was inducted into the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 2002.  In 2007 he was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Date published: 1998

Suitable for: Young people, perhaps from 18 years and older.  Based on level of maturity and understanding. Advanced reading level.

Problems addressed: 

  • Life purpose
  • Living a fulfilling life

Book Summary: 

Ostensibly this is a simple mythical story about a shepherd boy’s journey to follow his heart and find buried treasure.   And yet this story is so much more.  It has layers of symbolic meaning about what it means to live a fulfilling life, and what is the purpose of life.

There are themes of spirituality; journey; purpose; meaning; fulfilment; transformation; love; relationship; happiness; suffering.    The complexity and richness of this story invites more than one reading, in order to tap the depths of understanding and wisdom which it contains.

The book is not evidence based in terms of scientifically validated/ research based, but I would never discount the wisdom and insight contained in the story.

 Strengths and Weaknesses:

The actual story is brief – 167 pages, in a book that is considerably smaller in size than standard books.  The book also includes, A Reader’s Guide with a Plot Summary and Questions for Discussion; as well as an interview with the author, Paulo Coelho talking about The Alchemist.  These additions to the book are helpful in understanding the author’s frame of reference for writing the book, and for plumbing the more obscure features of the book, which may otherwise be missed, not only due to its allegorical nature but also because both the story is set in, and the author comes from, a different cultural context.

I found a wonderful richness and wisdom in this book, and it will appeal to many in terms of this depth and open ness to interpretation.  However it is not for those who are seeking black and white answers and literal directions in how to live a more fulfilling life, and deal with the difficulties which we all encounter in life’s journey.  This is not a ‘ how to’ book in any traditional sense of the word.


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