Little shepherd boy Santiago is headed to a town where he met a beautiful girl the year before, and is pretty ramped up about it. While camping out in an abandoned church with his sheep, Santiago has a recurring dream. He explains it to a Gypsy woman, like you do, who tells him that he must go to the pyramids in Egypt to find a hidden treasure.
Then Santiago runs into a mysterious old man named Melchizedek, who tells him that everyone has a Personal Legend they must follow, and that he must listen to omens in order to seek his treasure. He also gives him some handy-dandy stones that will help him know what to do when he can't seem to find answers—sort of like a Magic 8 ball, only less ambiguous.
Santiago sells his sheep and heads to Tangier, where he's promptly robbed of all his money. Undeterred, he gets a job selling glass, coming up with flashy marketing ideas that bring in all sorts of business. Once he's saved up enough money to cross the Sahara and get to the pyramids, he meets up with a caravan about to cross the desert on camels. Bonus: an Englishman in the group is headed to the Al-Fayoum oasis to meet an alchemist who will teach him how to turn any metal into gold.
So far everything's going smoothly, which obviously means that something bad has to happen. And it does. There are nerve-wracking rumors of war between desert tribes, and the caravan decides to chill in a handy oasis until the wars are over—meaning anywhere from weeks to years. Poor Santiago: so close to the pyramids and so very far.
He decides to help the Englishman find the alchemist. Luckily, the only person who will give him any info just so happens to be a smoking hot girl named Fatima, with whom Santiago promptly falls in love. When the Englishman goes to the alchemist he makes him start cooking up some lead as a first step towards becoming an alchemist himself, so he's pretty busy with that for the rest of the novel.
Santiago goes out into the desert where he has a vision of the oasis being attacked. He tells the tribal leaders, who decide to get ready to defend. One catch: if the oasis isn't attacked, they'll kill Santiago.
Surprise! The oasis is attacked, and the prepared men are able to defeat the raiders. That worked out well. The alchemist takes note of the new smarty pants in town and decides to help him reach the pyramids, but they're captured by yet another group of warriors as soon as they ride out on horseback across the desert. The alchemist has a solution: he tells them that Santiago will become the wind.
Uh, what? Santiago figures he might as well try, what with being captured, so he sits down, concentrates on the desert, and finally he … becomes the wind. Naturally, this scares the daylights out of the warriors, so they let him and the alchemist go on their way.
They finally arrive at a monastery, where the alchemist whips up some gold and divides it up before sending Santiago on to the pyramids. He digs where he's sure he'll find the treasure, but (of course) some punks come and beat him up and steal his gold. Give a guy a break, punks! Weirdly, one of them mentions that he once had a dream on that spot of a treasure buried in an abandoned church in Spain. Bingo! Santiago has his answer.
The book ends with Santiago digging up the treasure in the church where the whole story started and getting ready to head back to Egypt, where Fatima awaits. Gee, no way that could go wrong.