Book notes: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho book summary review and key ideas.

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The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paulo Coelho


“Paulo Coelho’s enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its simplicity and wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an Alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a meditation on the treasures found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is art eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I read this book several years back and I remember it was a pretty good read. It’s also in a lot of peoples top books list, but I’ve never done notes on it. I figured this would be the book I reread this month so I can take notes on and revisit with a new perspective 5 years later.

Key notes:

Part One

  • The boys name was Santiago and he had a flock of sheep
  • He felt like either the sheep had gotten used to his energy, or he had gotten used to the sheep’s energy, and they would wake up at the same time
    • He would also call them by name and read to them, thinking that they understood him
  • He met a girl who is the daughter of a merchant and had raven black hair
    • After their talk, he had a desire to live in one spot for the first time with her
  • Sheep seemed to have a carefree lifestyle and didn’t have to worry about anything as long as there were food and water
    • The boy thought that sheep really trusted him and their dependence on him meant they couldn’t live on their own
  • Although he was annoyed at the jackets weight, he was grateful that it allowed him to survive the cold and be adaptable to the weather
    • You have to be prepared for change. The jacket served a purpose and so did the boy
  • Growing up he went to school and seminary because his parents wanted him to become a priest. But he wanted to travel the world so he decided to become a shepherd
  • His father tried to discourage him and say that ultimately all travelers want to be where they’re at. Eventually, however, he supported his son’s decision and gave him gold coins to buy his flock
  • It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting
  • He thought of meeting the merchants daughter again and hopefully no one else asked for her hand in marriage
  • Although he had heard of bad things about gypsies growing up, he went to one who could interpret his dreams
  • A shepherd always takes chances, which makes life exciting
  • He told the gypsy he had a dream that a child who is playing with his sheep took him to the pyramids to find a treasure, but the dream ended there twice
    • The gypsy said if he found a treasure he should promise to give her 1/10 of it in exchange
    • Her interpretation was that the treasurer is real and he needs to go to the pyramids
  • The simple things in life are the most extraordinary, the gypsy told him
  • He came across an old man who looked at his book and said it was the same as all the other boks because he told the same lie
    • He said the worlds greatest lie is that “at a certain point in our lives we lose control of what’s happening to us and our lives become controlled by fate
  • The boy noted that sometimes people say things that are so strange that you don’t know how to continue the conversation
    • He says it’s better to be with the sheep we don’t talk or better yet alone with the books
  • The old man claimed to be the king of Salem, and requested 1/10 of his sheep in return for information on how to find the treasure
    • The old man also wrote down information about the boy that he shouldn’t have known
  • The old man said everyone has a personal legend, something they know when they’re a kid, which is what you’ve always wanted to accomplish
    • At that point, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream and yearn for what they want to see happen in their lives 
  • The old man said 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. To realize one’s personal legend is a person’s only real obligation
    • When you want some thing, all of the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it
  • In the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them then their own personal legends
  • When he offered the old man 1/10 of his treasure when he found it, the old man replied that if you start out by promising what you don’t even have yet, you’ll lose your desire to work towards getting it 
  • When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day the sun rises
  • The principle of favorability – when you play cards for the first time you’re almost sure to win. Beginners luck
    • This is because there is a force that wants you to realize your personal legend. It wets your appetite with a taste of success
  • The old man told him that to get to the pyramids in Egypt, he just had to read and follow the omens
  • He met a man who promised to help him get to Egypt, but ended up stealing all of his money
  • He knew that this setback could make him bitter against God, the world, other people following his dreams, and would make him hold on to what little he had out of fear 

Part Two

  • He started to work for a Crystal merchant to save up some money for sheep
  • The merchant admitted that he also had a dream to travel to Mecca for his religious pilgrimage, but he was too afraid that if he did realize his dream, he wouldn’t have anything to live for
  • You must always know what you want
  • The merchant told the boy that he admitted he has gotten used to his way of life and didn’t want to change
    • He said the boy made him realize that every blessing ignored becomes a curse
  • The boy saw the omens and suggested the crystal merchant sell tea along with the crystal. The idea was a huge success
    • Business boomed because they took an old trade and did something new
  • The sheep taught him that there was a language in the world that everyone understood: the language of enthusiasm
    • The language of things accomplished with love and purpose. And as part of a search of something believed in and desired
  • He realize that he could always go back to being a shepherd or selling crystal, but this might be his only chance to follow his personal legend
  • Making a decision was only the beginning of things
    • When someone is making a decision, he’s really only just guiding into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision
  • While joining a caravan through the desert, he met an English man who discussed with him about omens and coincidence
  • The closer one gets to realizing their personal legend, the more that personal legend becomes his true reason for being
  • Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life
  • We are afraid of losing what we have whether it’s our life or our possessions and property
    • But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand 
  • Alchemists were the men who dedicated their entire lives to the purification of metals in their laboratories

Reader’s note: this metaphor about the alchemists’ purification of the metals and leading to a purification of themselves seems pretty significant. It’s like the alchemist can turn anything into gold, but really it’s a metaphor for improving yourself so that you can create something valuable no matter what you do. It’s like that saying “everything you touch turns to gold.”

  • In regards to the threat of raids on the caravan, the camel driver told the boy that he lives in the present and doesn’t worry about the past or the future
    • He said if you can concentrate on the present, you’ll be a happy man
  • The most important part of the language that everyone understood was love
    • Something older than humanity and more ancient than the desert. Something that exerted the same force when two pairs of eyes met
  • Meeting the girl was a strong omen and he instantly felt love
    • He thought that people who said to wait and really know a person before becoming committed simply couldn’t understand the language of the world
    • The boy felt like he loved the girl before he even knew she existed
      • He knew that his love for her would enable him to discover every treasure in the world

Reader’s note: I interpret this sentiment about love as “true love brings out the best in you, and gives you the strength to achieve the impossible”. Being loved and loving others is what gives people great power.

  • He asked the girl Fatima to marry him and that he would come to the well every day to meet with her
    • They slowly became friends as the boy and the caravan waited in the oasis over a month for the war to be over
  • Fatima said that she had been waiting for him along time, as she asked the desert for a present and that gift turned out to be him
    • She was grateful for learning about omens from him and now she is less fearful and concerned about her past and traditions and the future
    • She then knows that their stories are intertwined and encouraged him to continue his journey to seek the treasure, as their love will still remain
  • Fatima said she’s a desert woman and will be proud to wait for him like how the other women wait for their husbands
    • Even if their husbands don’t come back, they become part of the world
    • She wants her husband to wander as free as the wind that shapes the dunes.
  • The boy had a vision from the desert about an impending attack on the oasis 
  • Courage is the quality most essential to understanding the language of the world
  • After saving the oasis, he met with the alchemist. He would help point the boy in the right direction to fulfill his personal legend
    • While drinking wine, which was prohibited, he told the boy that it’s not what enters men’s mouths that’s evil, it’s what comes out of their mouths that is 
  • Life attracts life
  • The Alchemist told the boy that forsaking his treasure and personal legend for a comfortable life will lead to wealth and power, but the omens will eventually abandon him for not listening and he’ll regret not continuing his quest
  • True love never keeps a person from pursing their personal legend
  • Fatima told him she didn’t need an explanation for his love
    • One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving
  • From that point on, the desert would represent only one thing to her: the hope of his return
  • The Alchemist said the only way to learn is through action
    • Everything you’ll need to know you have learned through your journey
  • We have to listen to our hearts because wherever our heart is, that’s where we’ll find our personal treasure 
  • You’ll never be able to escape from your hearts desires, so you’d better listen to what it has to say
  • The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself
    • No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams because every second of the search is a second encounter with God and eternity

Reader’s note: this idea of following your legend is basically the same as finding your happiness in pursuing your purpose. Exactly as the last book I read Think Like a Monk, and a few other good books I’ve read.

  • Every search begins with beginners luck
    • And every search ends with the victors being severely tested
  • One of life’s simple lessons: when you possess great treasure within you and try to tell others of them, seldom are you believed
  • Your eyes show the strength of your soul
  • Anyone who interferes with the personal legend of another never will discover their own
  • There’s only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure
  • Upon being seized by another army, the Alchemist gave the leader all of the boys gold in exchange for 3 days to prove the boy could turn himself into the wind and destroy a whole town
  • The world is only the visible aspect of God. And that what alchemy does is to bring spiritual perfection into contact with the material plane
  • When you’re loved you can do anything in creation
  • The boy started to talk to the sand and the wind. He told him that because he had love, and the entire universe inside of him, it was possible for him to become the wind 
  • He then spoke to the sun who claimed he knew all about love and the soul of the world
    • The boy told the sun that what alchemists do is to show that when we strive to become better than what we are, everything around us becomes better too
    • Love is the force that transforms and improves the soul of the world
      • He said it’s not like the sand which is static, nor roams the world like the wind, nor sees things from a distance like the sun

Reader’s note: So basically, alchemists use love to purify and improve themselves in order to improve the world around them

  • The sun told the boy to speak to the hand that wrote all, for only it has the power to perform miracles
  • The boy saw that the soul of the world was a part of God, and that the soul of God was his own soul, and that he himself could perform miracles
    • He turned himself into the wind and passed the test by the chief. They were then allowed to leave and were escorted toward the pyramids 
  • The Alchemist believed everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time
  • The Alchemist told the boy that no matter what he does, every person on Earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally, he doesn’t know it
  • When he started digging for treasure at the pyramids, some bandits caught him and beat him asking for his money
  • One of the man who beat him said he also had a dream in the same spot about finding a treasure and stain underneath the sycamore tree where shepherd sleep
    • Now the boy knew where his treasure was and was happy


  • The boy realized it was true, life is generous to those who follow their personal legend
    • He also wanted to make good on his promise to give the gypsy woman 1/10 of his treasure

Closing thoughts:

I’m really glad I reread this book after 5 years. Such a good book overall for several reasons: a concise yet impactful narrative, invaluable nuggets of wisdom sprinkled throughout, and an easy to understand and apply theme of following your personal legend.

This is one of those books you can just listen to on a long car ride or plane trip. It’s also contains a great message that definitely merits a revisit every so often. I think it’s so important for us to actively search for an pursue our purpose once we find it. Combine that with the idea that true love allows us to achieve the impossible, and I can see why this book is in many people’s favorites.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There are a handful of great potential takeaways from this book, and I was going back and forth with a few of them for my one takeaway. Ultimately, the winner is:

  • Listen and follow the omens toward fulfilling your personal legend

I think this is easily the most lesson Santiago learns that propels him along this journey. The more he listens to the “soul of the world” and follows the omens, the further along he goes the path toward fulfilling his purpose.


A story about a shepherd boy who goes on a quest to find a treasure he saw in a dream. Along the way, he learns how to listen to and speak the language of world.

Similar books:


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


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