Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

I had a feeling going into this book that it's a little too well-loved to be orthodox. That feeling was right. But overall I'm still glad I read it/listened to it, and not just because it was read by Jeremy Irons on the audiobook. That's because I was able to distill some gold from the dross, but believe me, it is all mixed together in this book. You have to be an alchemist of your own to separate good from bad here.

Myself, I'd take the frequently interesting Biblical allusions (from Melchizidek to Joseph to Abraham to Jesus and the woman caught in adultery) and find what's worthwhile in them, and I'd leave the pseudo-gnostic drivel behind. But there's hints of what to toss, such as the words "personal legend", as in "find your personal legend" (there's GOT to be a better translation of that term), or the "all is one, so everything should be content as it is" stuff.

At least sin is present but it's not really dangerous or warping. Inaction is a far greater sin than action. The great god Plato rises over this book, with a bit of Spinoza, and some other philosophy that drove by too fast to pin down.

It's a fast read, and provocative, just it's only half right, so if you have time to read something half right then this is for you. This is one of those books that I'd be fascinated to analyze in detail why it's so popular, what is true and what is not, because it frequently has flashes of insight, but it also has flashes of the opposite of insight, too. (Would that be out-blind? See what deep questions this raises for me?) I'd say read it skeptically. But that's true for everything, right?

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