July 3, 2020

The Alchemist

The story is about a shepherd boy, Santiago, who consistently follows the clues of his heart. His family-led beginning as a priest-in-training is given up to become a shepherd and follow his dream of seeing the world. Later, once a shepherd, he has a series of recurring dreams which he also follows and investigates, which leads him on a quest to the pyramids of Egypt. Along the way he meets a collection of characters embodying different types of personalities that contrast to his own, e.g., a merchant uncomfortable with change who is resigned to fate and has been in the same place for thirty years, an Englishman who has spent the last ten years reading books to find the thing he is looking for, etc.

There’s a lot of concepts embodied in this story from omens as being a form of inference, the need to take your emotional clues (intuition) seriously, emotional repression, taking risks, seeing the world and things for yourself rather than relying on second hand opinions, the non-linearity of the journeys we can take in life, the importance of our environment which includes the objects around us and the virtues they may embody and remind us of, and many more. The fact of these things being embodied in characters and events creates nice points of reference when wanting to remember and think about these abstract ideas. 

I enjoyed the read overall, although I’d understand why many wouldn’t. It’s the other side of the extreme between reason and emotion. Not only is it an extreme, almost appearing to reject reason, but it’s in a magical world of scarabs and alchemists and so many miracles that it can just be too unbelievable. I don’t think this book will inspire anyone to listen or change their view who isn’t already leaning on the emotional side of the reason-emotion split. I really wish I could find a book that did not just cheer on one extreme from the perceived reason-emotion dichotomy, but explored the two together in a positive light.

Posted in Book Summaries