The Alchemist Book Summary - The Alchemist Book explained in key points
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The Alchemist summary

Paulo Coelho

A Magical Fable About Following Your Dreams

4.5 (700 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is an inspiring novel about a shepherd's journey to fulfill his dream, teaching readers the importance of following their hearts.
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    The Alchemist
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    Dreams are a pathway to our most meaningful desires.

    Paulo Coelho’s 1988 novel is a deceptively simple tale. On its surface, it is the story of Santiago, a shepherd who leaves his native Spanish countryside in search of treasure. Scratch a little deeper, though, and we find an allegory of self-discovery – of the journey we must all embark on if we are to uncover and fulfill our deepest desires. 

    For Santiago, the catalyst for this journey is a dream – a recurring dream that he has had since childhood. It’s apt that a dream sets The Alchemist’s plot in motion. The novel plays with a host of recurring motifs including omens, fate, and alchemy, but the dream is perhaps the most important motif of all. In fact, the story both begins and ends with a dream. 

    So, what was Santiago’s dream? 

    Let’s first set the scene; the details here will be important later on. Santiago has had a long day tending to his flock of sheep in the hills of the Spanish countryside. He searches for somewhere to shelter for the night and settles on an abandoned church. The church roof has crumbled away, and a sycamore tree has grown on the spot where the church sacristy once stood. Santiago falls asleep under the tree’s branches. As he sleeps, he dreams. In his dream, a child appears. She takes Santiago by the hand and transports him to the pyramids of Egypt, a place Santiago has never visited in waking life. At the pyramids, the child tells Santiago that if he visits the pyramids, he will find a treasure. But before she can tell him precisely where he’ll find this treasure, Santiago wakes up. 

    Convinced the dream has a hidden meaning, he visits a fortune-teller and asks her to interpret it. She tells him the dream means he should travel to the pyramids, where he will find a treasure. Santiago is frustrated – this is a far simpler interpretation than he expected. But the fortune-teller reproves him. In life, she tells him, it’s the simplest things that are the most extraordinary, and only the wisest among us can understand them.

    Santiago does follow his dream. He sells his sheep and embarks on the journey to Egypt. But his dream is also intertwined with a long-held desire to travel. In fact, Santiago gave up a life of religious study to become a shepherd explicitly to pursue his desire for freedom and travel, much to his parents' disappointment. Throughout the book, dreams – whether directly or obliquely – often reflect the truest desires of the dreamer. 

    But while dreams in The Alchemist often serve to articulate a desire, it’s a little more nuanced than that. Shortly before Santiago begins his journey, he meets a character called Melchizedek. Although he’s disguised as a shabby old man in eccentric clothes, Melchizedek is actually a magical king. Melchizedek introduces Santiago to an important concept – the “Soul of the World.” This is essentially the world’s spiritual framework, encompassing the soul of every living and nonliving being. But while this framework exists all around us, it is up to us to connect to it. One of the ways the Soul of the World communicates with us is through our dreams. So by listening to and acting on our dreams, we begin to tap into the spiritual power of the Soul of the World.

    Let’s return, for now, to that first dream. Santiago’s vision of buried treasure takes him from Spain to Africa, where he is robbed by thieves of everything he has. He builds up his fortune once again by working in a shop that sells crystals, travels through the desert with a camel caravan, is caught up in conflict between warring desert tribes, falls in love at a desert oasis, and meets a genuine alchemist. At every step, there are distractions both positive – like love or wealth – and negative – like conflict or hardship – that threaten to sway Santiago from the pursuit of his dream. But he is resolute in the face of these diversions and ultimately arrives at the pyramids. He sees a scarab beetle scuttling along the sand and takes it for an omen, so he begins to dig.

    As he shovels sand, two young men see him and are convinced he is burying treasure. They attack him, trying to steal this treasure. Eventually, Santiago explains to them that he is digging here because of what he saw in his dreams. The men release him, but they are scornful. He shouldn’t be so foolish as to believe in dreams, says one. After all, he himself has had a recurring dream all his life – but has never been so stupid as to devote his life to pursuing it.

    The young man’s dream? That if he were to ever visit Spain and find a crumbling church in the countryside, he should dig deep down where a sycamore tree grows; there, he will find untold treasure.

    In this sense, Santiago’s dream takes him full circle. On his return home, he does find the treasure. And the gypsy’s wisdom is proved correct – the location of the treasure couldn’t have been simpler for Santiago to find. Yet, to unearth it, he first had to experience an extraordinary journey.

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    What is The Alchemist about?

    The Alchemist (1988) follows the story of a young Andalusian shepherd, who travels to the pyramids of Egypt to find a treasure he has recurrently dreamed about. On his journey, he has to overcome multiple obstacles – through which he learns valuable life lessons. Based on a thirteenth-century folktale, it explores topics such as following your dreams, finding your destiny, and the nature of love.

    The Alchemist Review

    The Alchemist (1988) is a captivating tale of self-discovery and personal growth. This enchanting novel stands out for its:

    • Rich symbolism and allegorical elements, which encourage deep reflection on life's purpose.
    • Memorable characters and their encounters, demonstrating the power of perseverance and intuition.
    • Universal themes of love, destiny, and the pursuit of dreams, making it a timeless and relatable read.

    Embark on an unforgettable journey with The Alchemist and discover the wisdom within.

    Who should read The Alchemist?

    • People who want to become more resilient
    • Anyone with a dream or passion
    • Those who wish to find their own purpose in life 

    About the Author

    Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian novelist. He is best known for writing The Alchemist, but many of his other books have become best sellers around the world. His work has been translated into 83 languages.

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    The Alchemist FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Alchemist?

    The main message of The Alchemist is to pursue one's dreams and listen to one's heart.

    How long does it take to read The Alchemist?

    Reading The Alchemist typically takes around 3-4 hours, while the Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is The Alchemist a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Alchemist is a beautiful and inspiring novel, well worth reading for its timeless wisdom and insights.

    Who is the author of The Alchemist?

    The author of The Alchemist is Paulo Coelho.

    How many chapters are in The Alchemist?

    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is divided into two parts, with several subchapters within each part.

    How many pages are in The Alchemist?

    There are 208 pages in The Alchemist.

    When was The Alchemist published?

    The Alchemist was published in 1988.

    What to read after The Alchemist?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Alchemist, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
    • Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton
    • Awakening Your Ikigai by Ken Mogi
    • The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
    • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
    • Atomic Habits by James Clear