The Alchemist by Pablo Coelho

12 May, 2020 - 17 min read

I. Brief Summary

Pablo Coelho shares the story of a shepherd boy from the Spanish province of Andalusia who dreams of traveling the world in search of a treasure as desirable as any ever found. From his home he journeys to the exotic markets of North Africa and then into the Egyptian desert, where a fateful encounter with the alchemist awaits him. It is an incredible story about the essential wisdom of listening to your heart and, above all, following your dreams. A beautiful book with a powerful and simple message but often difficult to follow.

II. Big Ideas

  • Santiago was a little boy who was trained to be a priest but wanting to see the world so he became a shepherd. He went to a dream interpreter and she wanted 1/10th of his treasure that she said he would find at the pyramids of Egypt. Santiago was disappointed with this vision so he decided to never believe in a dream again. An old man he met at a bench shared that the friends who you see every day will end up wanting to change you. He decided to head to Egypt to find his treasure but works for a while in Tangier for a crystal merchant in order to get some money to get to Egypt. He learned a lot at this shop about how to run a business. He eventually left Tangier and joined an Englishman on a caravan which was headed to Egypt. The Englishman was looking for an alchemist and the universal language by which all things communicated. The boy met a woman, Fatima, in the oasis. This was the omen he had been waiting for his whole life. “Mahktoub” – it is written. Tells the girl he loves her and she describes her culture where the women wait for the men to return from their desert travels and often don’t. Santiago gets an omen of war from hawks and saves the people of the oasis and eventually meets the alchemist who guides him towards the pyramids. Alchemist and boy get stopped by a violent tribe and alchemist asks them to spare their lives if Santiago turns himself into the wind. Santiago figured out when he was trying to transform himself into the wind that the soul of God is within him and he can perform miracles. The winds blew like never before and the boy performed his miracle and they were set free. He reached the pyramids and some thieves beat him up but mentioned that they also had a recurring dream of a treasure by a small church in Spain. Santiago knew this church and went back. He finds an enormous treasure and decided to go back to the desert to meet Fatima. Pablo Coelho writes his big ideas in a narrative form.

    • Pablo shares 4 obstacles on why we don't have courage to share our dreams:

      • We are told from childhood onwards that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea, and as the years accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear and guilt. Our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as it is invisible.
      • Love is the second obstacle. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. But people who love us will accompany our journey.
      • Fear of defeats will meet on the path so it is better not to follow the dream.
      • The fear of realizing the dream for which we have not been fighting all our lives.
    • What's the world's greatest lie? It's this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what's happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That's the world's greatest lie.
    • On destiny: It's what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their destiny is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream....But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their destiny. It's a force that appears to be negative, but actually shows you how to realize your destiny. It prepares your spirit and your will, because there is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it's because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It's your mission on earth. The Soul of the World is nourished by people's happiness. And also by unhappiness, envy, and jealousy. To realize one's destiny is a person's only real obligation. All things are one.
    • The principle of favorability is when you play cards the first time, you are almost sure to win. Beginner's luck.
    • On feeling of insecurity: When I had my sheep, I was happy, and I made those around me happy. People saw me coming and welcomed me, he thought. But now I am sad and alone. I am going to become bitter and distrustful of people because one person betrayed me. I am going to hate those who have found their treasure because I never found mine. And I am going to hold on to what little I have, because I am too insignificant to conquer the world.
    • On history: The boy was beginning to understand that intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it's all written there. This is the universal language that deals with the past and present of all people.
    • On books: It was the Englishman on the caravan who was unaware of things happening around him; he was immersed in reading books. The little boy had his book too. But he found it much more interesting to observe the caravan and listen to the wind. He built a relationship with the camel. The book was unnecessary. The boy developed a superstition that each time he opened the book he would learn something important, he decided to throw the book away because he thought it was an unnecessary burden. Latet during the journey, the Englishman said: “I'd better pay more attention to the caravan.” And the boy said: “I'd better read more books.”
    • On soul: In alchemy, the principles that govern all things is called the Soul of the World. When you want something with all your heart, that's when you are closest to the Soul of the World. It's always a positive force. Everything on earth is being continuously transformed, because the earth is alive...and it has a soul.
    • On being present: The camel driver seemed not be worried about the threat of war. Why? Because he was alive. When I am eating, that's all I think about. If I am marching, I just concentrate on marching. Because I don't live in either my past or my future. I am interested only in present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man. You'll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and the tribesmen fight because they are part of human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival because life is the moment we are living right now. Tribesmen preferred the taste of the battle, and the thrill of not knowing what the outcome would be. The tribesmen lived only for the present, because the present was full of surprises, and they had to be aware of many things. I want to know about the future because I am a man and men always live their lives based on the future. How do I guess at the future? Based on the omens of the present. The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children.
    • On shiny things: I don't know why these things (life lessons) have to be transmitted by word of mouth. It wasn't exactly that they were secrets. God revealed his secrets to all his creatures. He had an explanation for this fact: things have to be transmitted this way because they were made up from the pure life, and this kind of life cannot be captured in pictures of words. Because people become fascinated with pictures and words, and wind up forgetting the Language of the World.
    • On beginner's luck: The boy thought about his treasure that the closer he became to the realization of his dream, the more difficult things became. As if, the beginner's luck were no longer functioning. In his pursuit of the dream, he was being constantly subjected to tests of his persistence and courage. So he could not be hasty , nor important. If he pushed forward impulsively, he would fail to see the signs and omens left by God along his path.
    • On love: She smiled, and that was certainly an omen. It was the pure Language of the World. It required no explanation, just as the universe needs none as it travels through endless times. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world. Without such love, one's dreams would have no meaning. The boy knew that his love for her would enable him to discover every treasure in the world. You must understand the love never keeps a man from pursuit, it's because it wasn't true love...the love that speaks the Language of the World.
    • On bets: It was a frighting bet. But he has been making risky bets ever since the day he had sold his sheep to pursue his destiny. And, as the camel driver had said, to die tomorrow was no worse than dying on any other day. Every day was there to be lived intensely or to mark one's departure from this world.
    • On action: The Englishman rode the desert who had books on alchemy. The alchemist's view is there is only one way to learn which is through action. They were seeking the treasure of their destiny without wanting actually to live out the destiny. The wise men understood the that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise. The existence of the world is simply a guarantee that there exists a world that is perfect. God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of his wisdom. That's what I mean by action. So immerse yourself in it.
    • On listening to your hearts: Why do we have to listen to our hearts? Because, wherever your heart is that is where you'll find your treasure. If your heart is alive, keep listening to it. Naturally heart is afraid that in pursuing your dream you might lose everything you have won. Why then should I listen to my heart? Because you will never again be able to keep it quite. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, repeating to you what you are thinking about life and the world. People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don't deserve them, or that they'll be unable to achieve them. We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren't, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands. Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly. Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and the eternity. Why don't people's hearts tell them to continue to follow their dreams? Because that's what makes a heart suffer most, and hearts don't like to suffer.
    • On happiness: Happiness could be found in a grain of sand from the desert. Because a grain of sand is a moment of creation, and the universe has taken millions of years to create it. We people's hearts, seldom say much about those treasures, because people no longer want to go in search of them. We speak of them only to children. Later, we simply let life proceed, in its own direction, toward its own fate. But, unfortunately, very few follow the path laid out for them—the path to their destinies, and to happiness. Most people see the world as a threatening palace, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed to be a threatening place.
    • On dreams: Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we have learned as we have move toward that dream. That's the point at which most people give up. It's the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon. Every search begins with beginner's luck. And every search ends with the victor's being severely tested. The darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn.
    • With everyday passed, the boy's heart became more and more silent. It no longer wanted to know about things of the past or the future. The boy and his heart had become friends and neither was capable now of betraying the other. His heart told the boy what his strongest qualities were: his courage in having given up his sheep and in trying to live out his destiny, and his enthusiasm during the time he had worked at the crystal shop.
    • Why do alchemists exist? They exist because they show others when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too. Alchemy is about penetrating the truth of the world and discovering the treasure which was meant for you. An alchemist is someone who understands nature.

III. Quotes

  • Then we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though me may not understand how.
  • Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight.
  • Each man kills the thing he loves. — Oscar Wilde
  • If you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here.
  • When someone sees the same people every day, as had happened with him at the seminary, they wind up becoming a part of that person's life. And then they want the person to change. If someone isn't want others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.
  • The boy was tempted to be rude, and move to another bench, but his father had taught him to be respectful of the elderly.
  • People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being. Maybe that's why they give up on it so early.
  • The secret of happiness if to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.
  • The gods should not have desires, because they don't have destinies.
  • When you really want something, the universe always conspires in your favor.
  • In the desert, disobedience means death.
  • The closer one gets to realizing his destiny, the more that destiny becomes his true reason for being.
  • People need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want.
  • Once again he was experiencing the language without words...the universal language.
  • With some patience, he'd be able to transform everything into gold.
  • It's only those who are persistent, and willing to study things deeply, who achieve the Master Work.
  • The world has a soul, and that whoever understands that soul can also understand the language of things.
  • Life will be a party for you, a grand festival because life is the moment we are living right now.
  • The genies were the spirits of gods and evil.
  • The dunes are changed by the wind, but the desert never changes. That's the way it will be with our love for each other.
  • Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the Language of the World.
  • Is wine prohibited here? It's not what enter men's mouths that's evil, but it's what comes out of their mouths that is.
  • Life attracts life.
  • You'll get better and better at understanding omens, because the desert is the best teacher there is.
  • There is only one way to learn. It's through action.
  • The wise men understood the that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise.
  • If your heart is alive, keep listening to it.
  • Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself.
  • When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I've discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible for a shepherd to achieve.
  • Everyone on earth has a treasure that awaits him.
  • Most people see the world as a threatening palace, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed to be a threatening place.
  • One dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.
  • Every search begins with beginner's luck. And every search ends with the victor's being severely tested.
  • The darkest hour of the night came just before the dawn.
  • When you possess great treasures within you, and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed.
  • Don't give in to your fears. If you do, you won't be able to talk to your heart.
  • There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.
  • You'll die in the midst of trying to realize your destiny. That's a lot better than dying like millions of other people, who never knew what their destinies were.
  • Usually the threat of death makes people a lot more aware of their lives.
  • To nourish the falcon. And the falcon then nourishes man. And, eventually, man will nourish your sands, where the game will once again flourish. That's how the world goes.
  • Love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World.
  • Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.
  • What good is money to you if you are going to die?