on May 21, 2002
The near-consensus on this book seems to be that it's a life-changer. How pathetic. If you actually need Paul Coelho to tell you how to lead your life, then pal, I'm guessing your life ain't much to begin with. And newsflash for those of you comparing this to The Little Prince: St-Exupery (who must do summersaults in his grave each time the comparison is made) wrote a children's story!
That the parellel is drawn at all *is* significant, however, because it shows at what level of intellect The Alchemist works. After all, it is perfectly all right for a child to be swept along by uplifting tales like the ones St-Exupery and (less elegantly) Coelho have written. But if you're an adult and you actually think the simplistic platitudes of The Alchemist can serve as some sort of map to life, then I'm guessing you don't really understand what life is--either you haven't accepted that you live in a complex world or you haven't even realized it.
And one last thing: I hear the word "inspiritional" over and over used to describe this book. What exactly is this book inspiring you guys to do?!
on May 25, 2001
Please, do not give me a "not-useful" vote just because I didn't like the book that your mom loved. I really think that this book has been shamefully publicized and acclaimed - it just isn't worth it. It's written like a book for (not very bright) children - but without the simple beauty that some books for children have - , trying to wring a best-seller out of the formula that makes books sell nowadays - seemingly miraculous revelations about the nature of life, that can make you "suddenly" discover the truth and go for it, thus giving your life a new significance. The truth is, revelations and life wisdom are not so easily achieved. This is basically a story about a boy who "follows a dream" (what dream?) and finds gold. No quest for art, no human relations, no warmth or beauty here - only gold. This has an almost embarrassing quality to me. Coelho's books (like the personal album with his picture and quotes from him - yes, no kidding) are commercial stuff. Nothing wrong with that - but maybe that's not what you're after. Maybe you really want the life teachings, or at least the sort of book that can make you meditate, mature, try to be a better person. My advice, then, is don't go for the commercial- don't buy the best-seller. Go for the real thing. No one is too uneducated or too slow not to be able to understand and profit from a really good book. People have been trying to explain the meaning of life since the beginning of the world. Don't try to find it in a money-making enterprise.
on September 2, 2003
I wasn't engaged by the main character or the theme, which was preached at the reader more than revealed. The book also lacked plot, rhythm and imagery to stimulate the imagination. I cannot fathom the popularity of this book. It does play into the basic human desire to find one's destiny. But it contains muddled, inconsistent and even contradictory spiritual themes centered on tapping into a universal life source. I actually recommend reading the book, for it portrays an increasingly prevalent world view that I'm afraid is based on wishful thinking. Following one's heart to fulfill a personal destiny is desirable. But history provides ample evidence that man's heart - while having potential - has instrinsic flaws. In this case, I believe the author diminishes his point by driving it home again and again through character after character and circumstance upon circumstance. At least it was a quick read. The casual reader may find some food for thought. But anyone with discernment will see this book for what it is -- warm, fuzzy spirituality crafted to appeal to non-critical thinkers.
on February 4, 2003
Paolo Coelho's spiritual roots were very occultic - he was greatly influenced by a friendship with Aleister Crowley, a satanist who referred to himself as "The Great Beast" and was well known as "the wickedest man in the world." Both Crowley's wives went insane and five of his mistresses committed suicide.
Mr Coelho later developed less damaging beliefs and continues his quest for spiritual truth in this book. He is a gifted writer with an excellent mind.
However, he is not a Christian and many of my Christian friends think he is. The church in general has failed to educate its members about what the Bible really says, and this ignorance combined with a hunger for spiritual truth is making people turn to the kind of mythical primordial soup found in "The Alchemist". It is intellectual chewing gum - occupying the mind while providing no substantial nourishment for the inner man.
I believe people would be better off reading deeper teaching about the God of the Bible, rather than submitting to the manipulation by Churchianity and quasi-spiritual gurus like Mr Coelho.
Helpful books for seekers after spiritual truth include:
Nelson's Spirit Filled Life Bible
God's best secrets by Adrew Murray
My utmost for His highest by Oswald Chambers
New evidence that demands a verdict by McDowell
Books by Madame Guyon
Nicky Gumbell's Alpha books
on March 29, 2002
Although this book suggests Free will by urging us to follow our heart in essence it is a hymn to fatality. It tells the story of a young shepherd who gets a dream of a treasure hidden in Egypt and decides to follow it. But all along the way his learnings (and ours) are that things are predetermined. So long as we stick to our dream, that is. Apparently that is why we are here on Earth. To discover our 'personal legend', as it is called in the book. And then fulfil it. If we set on such a course the Universe will conspire to help us succeed (as happens with the protagonist of the book).
Being a free-willed person I have a problem with all that. The idea that I do not control my destiny is unthinkable. The whole notion that things are pre-decided is simply pathetic. A throwback to the superstitious dark ages. As for the author's insistence that if we discover and follow our predetermined mission (OK, 'personal legend', sounds nicer) the Cosmos will turn on its head to make sure we succeed, it would have been laughable if it wasn't downgrading. What differentiates us from animals? What makes us winners if not Free will? This book has been likened to the Bible. Not the Bible I know. Possibly the one for fatalists.
on March 10, 2002
Sure, life is tough, and we all welcome some advice on how to live it better. But ANY advice? Beware! This book will lull you in a false sense of revelation. It's a story so sweetly told you will tend to forgive its annoying repetitions and feel you have seen the light.
Far from it. Yes, it's alright to 'follow your dream', as the book espouses. But that can't be the meaning of life?... What about 'love the ones close to you'?... In the book the hero, a boy shepherd from Spain, leaves the girl he has fallen in love with to pursue his quest of finding a treasure in Egypt... Some moral, especially from a book that purportedly extols spirituality!
But this fixation on following one's dream to the end (Hitler had a dream too) is not the sole flaw of this shamefully acclaimed book. The author's blatant rip-off of Arabian Nights and The Little Prince is the base insult. Another is his attempt to treat us like fools by claiming in the most nonchalant terms that we should take alchemy seriously. A nonsensical prologue that has no connection whatsoever to the rest of the book is yet another. And so is a maddening notion of fatality prevailing throughout. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
The people who made this required reading in a number of US educational Institutions ought to be dismissed. Dear reader, please, do yourself a favour and steer clear of this inconsequential book. But, if, like me, you have fallen prey to well-meaning folk and read it, THINK before succumbing to its lure. Surely, you deserve better.
on December 31, 2001
Believe it or not, the author of this book starts his narrative by recounting how he lost and then FOUND his way seeking truth in alchemy.
All straight-faced. Anyone who was taught elementary chemistry is left dumbfounded.
But the first pages of 'The Alchemist' are just an indication of what's to come: this book is a mixture of supposedly apocryphal wisdom, recycled spiritual teachings and fantasy. All delivered in a tranquil, friend-to-friend (not to say Master-to-novice) manner which adds a false sense of credibility to the storyteller. Coelho must either be a misguided fool with a talent for words or an expert exploiter of peoples' need for a purpose.
Possibly the latter. That's why he calls his tale a fable. But that it ain't, unless we mean to re-write the rules of the genre as set down by its father, Aesop, more than 2500 years ago. Short as it is, 'The Alchemist' is still way too long to be rightly called a fable. That nice term though is smooth cover for Coelho's chosen means of delivering his moral: the story unfolds in a twisted imitation of '1001 nights' (too bad Aladdin-type heroics have to be mixed with recent day Englishmen, one almost misses a couple of mad dogs). But maybe Coelho's moral needed this kind of imaginary setting: how else can you justify a hammering of 'If you follow your dream the whole Universe will conspire in your attaining it'? In 'The Alchemist' we read of the wind, the sun and other elements assisting the hero (Santiago, a boy shepherd and, doubtless, a future Master Alchemist) overcome all odds in his quest. Which is?... None other than finding a treasure in the Pyramids... That, we're told, is Santiago's 'Personal Legend'. This catchy phrase presumably denotes what we too are supposed to look for in our lives (and then follow, no doubt).
Coelho though is a gifted writer. All the folly is remitted in a slick, deceptively enjoyable bedtime story style. This has prompted many a reviewer to suggest this book is great for kids. I think not; I would be very wary of any material that suggests to my children it's OK to become soldiers of fortune if the whim takes them.
All said, this book does not live up to its illustrious reputation. Moreover, to this reviewer it appears a phoney. If you like the mystics I would suggest you seek 'The Book of Mirhad'; if you are after spirituality go for the real thing, 'The little Prince'; if you want fantasy 'The Lord of the Rings' will offer it to you aplenty minus the didactic overtones; and if you're looking for a good children's story Rowling's 'Philosopher's stone' is the vastly preferred choice.
With 'The Alchemist' you may think you're going in for a fable. But in reality you'll be going in for a myth.
on November 17, 2001
Reviewer: A reader from Germany
This is a very shallow tale disguised as a deeply spiritual fable. Sorry. I know that it has helped many people to start on a spiritual journey (that's why it gets two stars not one) but that doesn't change things at all. Anyone with a gift for words could have created this story just by skimming through the world's mystical literature. If you want depth, go to the truly mystical works such as "The Book of Mirdad" (sadly out of print!) or any of the genuine msytics in any of the world religions - for example Ramana Maharshi, St Francis, the Sufi mystics, Zen masters. Or even the Bible, read with a an open mind. All have much more depth than the Alchemist. And of course the ending of this book was ridiculous. A material treasure is tinsel in comparison to the real spiritual treasure - why then should this be shown to be the ultimate goal and fulfillment? It's a very dangerous premise put forward that spiritual wisdom will lead to material wealth - even if the material wealth is only a by-product.
on March 23, 2001
What can I say about this book? It is a poorly written fable, with a little vacant glimmer of hope for all. New age hollowness. With sinister authoritarian undertones planted in an all too subtle way. Oh, the preaching goes on and on and on, covert and ever so potent. Make everyone think like a 6 year old Coelho and become a millionaire in the process, go on, cancel out all the western tradition of thought with your new agey bubbles. This is a very profound book on...well I don't know what it is profound on but it is still very deep. Ah, I figured it, life that's the topic of the book, the big L.
But people seem to like it so I better shut up fore they follow their dream of forcing the ones they don't agree with to shut up. (Just a question if two dreams cause conflict, say in a conflict of dreams, does the universe split in half to favour both, or if a dream becomes reality then does the universe no longer conspire and it has to become a dream again for it to happen, or if you dream a lot at night and wake up and don't remember your dream should you see a witch doctor about it, or if one is a dreamer and follows his heart and wonders off to the mecicine cabin of the medicine man and then the man with the long wooden stick tells him...but that's another tale.) Thanks for reading.
on December 21, 2000
The most mysterious part of this book is its popularity. I understand that it's a simple fable and I'll even grant the "follow your heart" message may be a virtuous pursuit. But the manner in which this message is delivered is tortuous. The characters are passive and hollow and the plot is so contrived as to render the story ridiculous. Instead of having to resolve significant conflicts himself, Santiago floats through the story guided by a sequence of serendipitously fortuitous events. Coelho attributes this to the "universe conspiring" to help him attain his Personal Legend. I attribute this to weak writing.
The underlying message of this book is also troubling. Rather than finding happiness in the journey itself, it suggests that salvation lies in attaining one's Personal Legend--in this case material wealth. The implicit flip-side of this lesson is that if you don't reach your goals, you're either not trying hard enough or not following your "true calling" -- when in reality one's failure is more often attributed to a bunch of external factors over which one has no control.
Those who find this book inspirational probably also find wisdom in fortune cookies and horoscopes.