I recently finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and I was pleased by the quick, light read it was, while still being able to glean some life lessons from the book.
The Alchemist is a story about a young shepherd living in Andalusia (old Spain) when he meets King Melchizedek, who tells him about a treasure awaiting the young shepherd by the Pyramids in Egypt. The shepherd leaves his flocks (and the comforts of his lifestyle) and heads to a foreign land with a foreign language and crosses the Sahara Desert in order to reach his treasure. Along the way, he meets an abundance of hardships, trials, and other challenges, but he also meets the Alchemist, who teaches him certain life lessons that allow him to succeed in his quest.
The plot of the book is really just a gateway for the author to present his ideas, in mostly proverbial form. Coelho, it turns out, had similar life experiences, where he abandoned his normal life goals in pursuit of his lifelong dream, to become a writer. I was fascinated by the primary purpose of the book - that when we undertake to fulfill our dreams and aspirations, the entire universe conspires to help us achieve it. Things really seem to fall into place when we actually work towards something. However, this obviously requires no small effort on our part.
The other purpose of the book seems to all revolve around self-betterment. "Fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand." I like this idea. We are not anomalies. No man is an island unto himself, but instead, we can learn from those around us (including those preceding us) and become better in the process by removing our fears about life.
The Alchemist says at one point in the book, "That's what Alchemists do. They show that,
when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too." John Donne would agree with this.
Finally, near the end of the book, we learn this: "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." If you struggle with self-worth, this may seem to help. I think insignificance is a problem we all face, and we all yearn for some feeling of importance.
Anyways, in a nutshell, I would recommend this book to anyone, especially to those who enjoyed the similar book The Little Prince. Plus it's a quick read, so that's a bonus.