Book & Product Reviews · Philosophy

The Alchemist – Book Review

I decided to read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho because of so many recommendations I encountered in my reading and possibly from something I saw on YouTube. As with the majority of my reviews I am not going to spoil the book for you by giving you a blow by blow commentary, but focus more on what I perceive as the reasons you should consider reading it.

Book Quality

Before I provide a brief summary of the book I wanted to discuss the physical aspects of the hard cover version I read. Overall the book is very high quality from the cover, quality of the pages, and type. The size of the book is just right 8 1/2 inches high and about 6 inches wide. As mentioned the type quality is pretty good and probably about 11 pitch making the 176 pages easy to read. This version of the book by Paulo Coelho  (Author), was published by HarperCollins translated by Alan R. Clarke, can be found at Amazon costing a bit more than $22 USD and strangely enough the same book in paperback was $27 USD. The author Paulo Coelho has written many books; more about him in the section About the Author below. Buy the hardcover version, the Alan R. Clarke translation; you won’t regret it.

Summary

To start out with The Alchemist was written as a fictional story first, more specifically it is the story of a shepherd boy named Santiago that is on a journey to follow his dreams. His adventures take him far from his home where he meets a number of very interesting characters, and during his travels he experiences a number of personal revelations. While this is a good story, the book has several themes, which are intended to be teaching moments. Some of those key themes include:

  • Our propensity to give up on dreams and call it fate
  • When you want something bad enough the universe conspires to help you achieve it (Law of Attraction)
  • Faith and the importance of religion
  • The importance of pursuing your dreams
  • Omens as a guide on your journey through life
  • How following your dreams is about what you become
  • Life, conflict, and death

This book is only 176 pages long, so something you could read in a day or two. There are some interesting, almost mystical characters that the boy encounters during his adventure. At the end of the book there is an Epilogue and a brief section about our author.

Recommendation

I really enjoyed reading this book and think it lives up to the hype that I had heard about it. I feel that it belongs on this blog site as it is inspirational, has some fairly profound messages, and is fun read. The author paints a picture of this fantastical journey for our hero Santiago. It is really a story about personal growth and the attainment of your dreams.

As often happens to us from time to time we need some inspiration to to either begin or continue following our dreams, The Alchemist can provide that to you. I read the book over a couple of days and couldn’t put it down. In addition to enjoying a good story, I also found inspiration in the numerous not so subtle messages conveyed by the author.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph I am hesitant to go into the plot, explaining this story in a lot of detail as especially in this case of this book, it would ruin it for you. Reading is about discovery and this story flows and builds upon itself, and if you know all the characters and how it turns out, well then you just won’t enjoy it as much. With that said, if you need a little kick in the ass to start following your dreams, then I would highly recommend The Alchemist.

Note: If you enjoy The Alchemist and I think you will, there is a companion book called Warrior of the Light that I have yet to read, but it is next up for me from the Paulo Coelho library. Here is a little overview from a page on Amazon:

Warrior of the Light is a timeless and inspirational companion to The Alchemist—an international bestseller that has beguiled millions of readers around the world. Every short passage invites us to live out our dreams, to embrace the uncertainty of life, and to rise to our own unique destiny. In his inimitable style, Paulo Coelho helps bring out the Warrior of the Light within each of us. He shows readers how to embark upon the way of the Warrior: the one who appreciates the miracle of being alive, the one who accepts failure, and the one whose quest leads to fulfillment and joy.

Namaste

About the Author

Paulo Coelho de Souza born 24 August 1947) is a Brazilian lyricist and novelist and a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters since 2002. His novel The Alchemist became an international best-seller and he has published 28 more books since then.

Biography

Paulo Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and attended a Jesuit school. At 17, Coelho’s parents committed him to a mental institution from which he escaped three times before being released at the age of 20. Coelho later remarked that “It wasn’t that they wanted to hurt me, but they didn’t know what to do… They did not do that to destroy me, they did that to save me.” At his parents’ wishes, Coelho enrolled in law school and abandoned his dream of becoming a writer. One year later, he dropped out and lived life as a hippie, traveling through South America, North Africa, Mexico, and Europe and started using drugs in the 1960s.

Upon his return to Brazil, Coelho worked as a songwriter, composing lyrics for Elis Regina, Rita Lee, and Brazilian icon Raul Seixas. Composing with Raul led to Coelho being associated with magic and occultism, due to the content of some songs. He is often accused that these songs were rip-offs of foreign songs not well known in Brazil at the time. In 1974, by his account, he was arrested for “subversive” activities and tortured by the ruling military government, who had taken power ten years earlier and viewed his lyrics as left-wing and dangerous. Coelho also worked as an actor, journalist and theatre director before pursuing his writing career.

Coelho married artist Christina Oiticica in 1980. Together they had previously spent half the year in Rio de Janeiro and the other half in a country house in the Pyrenees Mountains of France, but now the couple reside permanently in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1986 Coelho walked the 500-plus mile Road of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. On the path, he had a spiritual awakening, which he described autobiographically in The Pilgrimage. In an interview, Coelho stated “[In 1986], I was very happy in the things I was doing. I was doing something that gave me food and water – to use the metaphor in The Alchemist, I was working, I had a person whom I loved, I had money, but I was not fulfilling my dream. My dream was, and still is, to be a writer.” Coelho would leave his lucrative career as a songwriter and pursue writing full-time.

The Pilgrim – Story of Paulo Coelho is the international title for the biographical film Não Pare na Pista, a co-production between Brazil’s Drama Films and the Spanish Babel Films, in which the younger and older Coelho are played by two different actors. One of the producers, Iôna de Macêdo, told Screen International: “The film tells the story of a man who has a dream. It’s a little like Alice in Wonderland – he’s someone who is too big for his house.” The film, shot in Portuguese, had its premiere in Brazilian theaters in 2014 and was internationally distributed in 2015.

Read more about the author and a complete list of his books: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paulo_Coelho

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Book & Product Reviews · Philosophy

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck

Overview

Well here we go again, another book making use of the word Fuck. You might remember another book review I did on Unfu*ck Yourself by Gary John Bishop. This book The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck by Mark Manson was a book I read partially a couple years ago. More recently I ran into a review of this book on YouTube by the author and decided to give it another try. It turns out this book is pretty good and kind of got me out of a funk I was feeling.

Don’t let the title fool you, it’s not about meandering your way through life and not giving a shit about anything, far from it. One of the key messages is stop giving a fuck about everything. When you give a fuck about all the little things in life, you lose focus on what is really important. The author encourages you to seek out your values and ruthlessly give a fuck about them, but stop giving a fuck about all the other bullshit that is occurring around you. In the span of a few sentences I have said the “F” word way too many times. Let’s take this in another direction and substitute care for fuck.

These values may relate to some aspect of your work, spending more time with your family, a hobby your are passionate about, or anything you consider important, with the caveat that it cannot be everything. That’s the problem if you care about everything you drive yourself and everyone around you crazy.

Another key concept in the book is this idea that we are all pursuing happiness often via pleasurable or hedonistic experiences. You know spending time on vacation, drinking, smoking pot, chasing men or women, or buying shit. All of these things seem fine for a while, but ultimately leave us feeling somewhat empty and consequently we really aren’t all that happy. The author contends it is the challenges in life that present us with problems to solve that truly makes us happy. It’s not that happiness is bad, but the fact that we value it so much and we orient our lives to try to achieve some constant state of happiness that is the issue. Maybe it’s really those times where you achieved something like getting that job you wanted, pursuing a degree, starting that business that took 2 years to become profitable, or any other goal you had set that aligned with your values that really brought you a sense of satisfaction. It was the struggle, overcoming the problems, and this is where you look back and say this thing I achieved brought me happiness.

There are some other interesting topics explored in this book that reinforces the two concepts we just explored, like you are always making choices, suffering is underrated, failing is good, your not really that special, and we all die in the end. Listen, I don’t want to spoil things for you by reviewing every chapter, so I’m going to leave the rest for you to discover.

Recommendation

If you can get by the first couple chapters of using the “F” word in mega doses then I would recommend you read this book. I have the hardcover version and the type is decent size and the book itself is of high quality. Mark Manson interjects a fair amount of humor in his writing, so not only are you learning, also but being entertained at the same time. Here’s the thing he is brutally honest about the fact that we seem to be seeking a life of bliss, when in reality life has way more suffering and overcoming obstacles in store for all of us. This is not a self help book to help you make more money or reach Nirvana, but instead kind of a kick in the ass to help you set your priorities and determine what the hell is important to you. Once you have done this you can truly not give a fuck about some of those things that annoying the hell out of you on a day to day basis.

If you have read this book, I would love to hear your take on it, so just drop me a comment.

Namaste

Book & Product Reviews · Self Help

Designing Your Work Life

Designing Your Work Life

Summary

The book Designing Your Work Life was written by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Prior to reading this book the authors had written Designing Your Life, which I read, and it peaked my interest in reading this book. I have the hard cover version of the book and it is a great example of what a high quality book should look like. The print quality and font size are excellent.  Most of us struggle with our work from time to time, and our first instinct is to bail, you know get me the hell out of here. The authors provide some techniques on how you can salvage your current job by re-framing how you look at your work, and maybe more important empowering you to make changes to your job to make it more enjoyable. I’m actually looking at a list I created from the book called the Hydra Overwhelm List and Solutions, where I looked at things that were bothering me and sucking all the fun out of my job. In this list you write down the job activity that you have issues with, a possible solution, and whether you will eliminate that activity or change it. Mind you this is only one of the many tools and techniques they offer up that help you turn misery into something approaching joy at work.

In the event that you just can’t redesign your job, or you are in a situation where you work for a complete asshole, they also offer some excellent advise on how to quit the right way, and how to move on and find a new job. They even offer up some very good advice for those of us who might be interested in being self employed. The hardcover version of the book is 292 pages, so it’s not a terribly long read and each chapter is of reasonable length.

 

What I liked about this book

If you like aspects of your job, but hate or dislike some of the things you do, then this book may provide ways that you can not only salvage your current job, but redesign it into something you really enjoy. That alone is motivation to read this book if you are struggling on a day to day basis and losing sleep over your work. The authors come from a design background, so as in their previous book they utilize design practices to approach problems. One example of a design principle they use has to do with challenging your belief and then re-framing it. For instance you might re-frame like this:

Dysfunctional Belief: It’s not working for me here.

Re-frame as: You can make it work (almost) anywhere.

 

What did I dislike about this book

Seriously there is not a lot to dislike about the book. While the technique of re-framing will help you see things in a different light, there are times when that just won’t help you in a truly miserable situation. Your employer may vehemently resist your attempts to change your job to better fit your interests. Even with that said the authors understand that there are situations where invoking the exit strategy is the best thing for your piece of mind. The chapter on Being Your Own Boss is only 23 pages long, and while it has some useful information you will need to read and learn a lot of other things that are not covered in that chapter.

 

Recommendation

I highly recommend this book to those of you who struggle with various aspects of your work. I was able through my Hydra Overwhelm List, and some re-framing techniques to address most of the things that were causing the most pain, and ultimately find greater job satisfaction. I also found the authors advice on preparing to leave an employer and find a new job very valuable. One of the hopeful things that I got out of this book was that you have more control than you think, and some of the things you felt you had no control over were simply not true. On the other hand if you love your job, you may find the book offers little, but from the statistics I have read the majority of people are unengaged or actively disengaged at work. Here are some stats from a Gallop poll:

If your workforce is typical, about one-third of your employees are actively engaged, according to a recent Gallup poll. The poll found that nearly half, or 49 percent, are disengaged while 18 percent are actively disengaged. (Mar 17, 2016)

 

If you would like to support this blog, you can purchase the eBook (eBooks.com) version of this book at:

Designing Your Work Life

About the Authors

Bill Burnett
Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford, Adjunct Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Stanford

After years of drawing cars and airplanes under his Grandmother’s sewing machine, Bill Burnett went off to the University and discovered, much to his surprise, that there were people in the world who did this kind of thing everyday (without the sewing machine) and they were called designers. Thirty years, five companies, and a couple of thousand students later Bill is still drawing and building things, teaching others how to do the same, and quietly enjoying the fact that no one has discovered that he is having too much fun.

Bill Burnett is the Executive Director of the Design Program at Stanford. He directs the undergraduate and graduate program in design at Stanford, both interdepartmental programs between the Mechanical Engineering department and the Art department. He got his BS and MS in Product Design at Stanford and has worked professionally on a wide variety of projects ranging from award-winning Apple PowerBooks to the original Hasbro Star Wars action figures. He holds a number of mechanical and design patents, and design awards for a variety of products including the first “slate” computer. In addition to his duties at Stanford, he is a on the Board of VOZ (pronounced “VAWS – it means voice in Spanish) a social responsible high fashion startup and advises several Internet start-up companies.

Dave Evans
Lecturer, Product Design Program at Stanford, Management Consultant, and co-founder of Electronic Arts

From saving the seals to solving the energy crisis, from imagining the first computer mice to redefining software — Dave’s been on a mission, including helping others to find theirs. Starting at Stanford with dreams of following Jacques Cousteau as a marine biologist, Dave realized (a bit late) that he was lousy at it and shifted to mechanical engineering with an eye on the energy problem. After four years in alternative energy, it was clear that this idea’s time hadn’t come yet. So while en route to biomedical engineering, Dave accepted an invitation to work for Apple, where he led product marketing for the mouse team and introduced laser printing to the masses. When Dave’s boss at Apple left to start Electronic Arts, Dave joined as the company’s first VP of Talent, dedicated to making “software worthy of the minds that use it.”

Having participated in forming the corporate cultures at Apple and EA, Dave decided his best work was in helping organizations build creative environments where people could do great work and love doing it. So he went out on his own; working with start-up teams, corporate executives, non-profit leaders, and countless young adults. They were all asking the same question. “What should I do with my life?” Helping people get traction on that question finally took Dave to Cal and Stanford and continues to be his life’s work.

Dave holds a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford and a graduate diploma in Contemplative Spirituality from San Francisco Theological Seminary.