Study Guide

The Alchemist Introduction

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The Alchemist Introduction

If someone told you about a book on how to find buried treasure, fulfill your destiny, and also meet the lover of your dreams, wouldn't you want to read it? No?

Well, what if that book were also recommended by Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Bill Clinton, Oprah, and Madonna?

Oh, now you're interested.

Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist was first published in Portuguese in 1988 in the author's home country, Brazil. It wasn't exactly a bestseller, but it exploded into an international bestseller when the English translation appeared in 1993. It has sold over 65 million copies and counting worldwide and has been translated into almost over languages. Want to read The Alchemist in your native Kannada? Go for it.

In Coelho´s version, a Spanish shepherd dreams of a treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. He meets a crazy old man who claims to be a king and tells him to go for his destiny (usually a bad idea), and then travels through Northern Africa. On his journey, he meets a good-looking girl at an oasis, is captured by warriors, and makes contact with a real, live alchemist. If this story sounds familiar, that's because it's a retelling of "The Ruined Man who Became Rich Again through a Dream," a story from One Thousand and One Nights, in The Alchemist. (Yeah, it didn't sound familiar to us, either.)

Anyway, this plot summary probably clues you into why the book is so famous: it's one part novel and about ten parts live-your-dream self-help book. Think The Secret. As the protagonist learns lessons about fulfilling his "Personal Legend," you can apply them to his or her own life, finally manifesting those One Direction tickets you've been wanting. (Or college acceptance, whatevs.)

Of course, any book that makes its author ridiculous wealthy is going to have its detractors. Critics call Coelho a sell-out and his philosophy empty.

We've got a feeling that Coelho forgets those naysayers on his way to the bank.

What is The Alchemist About and Why Should I Care?

Okay, so maybe you don't need some crazy ancient king to appear and give you magical stones to help you decide what to do with your life. And maybe you don't expect your path to take you to the pyramids and back based on a dream and some chance encounters with possibly-senile old people.

We bet you're still a dreamer.

You don't have to admit it to your too-cool-for-school friends, but you can tell Shmoop. We know you've got itchy feet, wanderlust, ambition. Something gets your heart racing. Playing a concert in Carnegie Hall? Crossing the finish line first at the Olympics? Perfecting that pie crust? Selling 65 million copies of your novel?

Whatever it is, your dream matters. And that's what The Alchemist is all about. You might not believe in the hocus pocus, but you can't argue with its example: tuning out the pressures of the world to focus on what really matters to you.

The Alchemist Resources


Put On Your Chef Hat
Try out this awesome game/distraction, which lets you combine elements until you get to the ultimate gold. Warning: highly addictive.

Make it Official
Paulo Coelho's official website.

In The Loop
Want more mystical talk straight from our author's mouth? Check out Coelho's blog.

Movie or TV Productions

Hold Tight!
Supposedly there's a film in the works—but we're still waiting.

Articles and Interviews

Personal Legends
Santiago's not the only one with a personal legend: Coelho believes that his was to be a writer.

Short Form
@PauloCoelho has more than six million followers on Twitter.

Not Just a Pretty Face
Paulo Coelho works with the UN to combat violence against women.


A Modest Proposal
One filmmaker submits his trailer for the upcoming Alchemist movie on YouTube.

You Can't Win Them All
Listen to one reader's negative response to the book.

Fan Art
Watch one fan's response to the scene of the boy becoming the wind.


To Market, to Market
Coelho tries to keep sales up in the US, but Americans seem to be loyal to The Alchemist.

Listen Up
Listen to the audio version of The Alchemist, read by Jeremy Irons.


Black and White and Read All Over
A photograph of the author.

Cover Art
The 10th anniversary edition of the novel.

The Portuguese-language cover of The Alchemist.

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