Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

by Robert M. Pirsig


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“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called ‘yourself.’”

One of the most important and influential books of the past half-century, Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerful, moving, and penetrating examination of how we live and a meditation on how to live better. Pirsig’s narrative of a father and son on a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest becomes a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life’s fundamental questions. A true modern classic, it remains at once touching and transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence and the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061673733
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/30/2008
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 19,272
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.76(h) x 1.21(d)

About the Author

Robert M. Pirsig (1928-2017) studied chemistry and philosophy (B.A., 1950) and journalism (M.A., 1958) at the University of Minnesota and also attended Benares Hindu University in India, where he studied Oriental philosophy. He is also the author of this book's sequel, entitled Lila.

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 126 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first of Robert Maynard Pirsig's two books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is neither primarily focused on zen nor motorcycle maintenance but is a nonfiction account of the author's search for truth. More symbolic of the manifestation of Pirsig's philosophies, the concepts of zen and motorcycles are used to demonstrate the author's theories so that the reader can better visualize his ideas. Serving as the book's main organizational device, the motorcycle trip lasts for seventeen days beginning in Minnesota and ending in California. This quest motif seems to be representative of the author's larger search for truth, for identity, and for quality. Interspersed throughout the story of the author's journey through the mountains are what he likes to call Chautauquas: philosophical thoughts pertaining to life, human nature, humanity's relationship with technology, and the ever-elusive concept of quality, which is the book's main focus. The philosophical aspects make the book worth your time and somehow more sophisticated. The narrative aspects provides interest and gives you a break from all the deep concepts presented. The autobiographical aspects cause a relationship between the author and yourself to form. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance can be a perplexing book and a struggle to get through. In the beginning of the book, before you've adjusted to this unusual style of the author, you can't help but wonder as what this book's purpose is, be confused at this structure which you had never seen before, and even question the sanity of the author. Then, as a reader you become accustomed to Pirsig's writing style. You begin to look at things differently, where you don't look so much as to what the words are but what they mean. And after becoming accustomed to his unusual style, you learn to appreciate it. His use of narrative structure makes it seem as if the author is just now experiencing all of these thoughts and discovering all of these truths. Pirsig portrays himself to be in the act of philosophizing, in the act of his experiential struggles, not simply telling the reader afterward when the action is finished and the thought has ceased. As a reader, you feel as if you are experiencing these revelations in concurrence with him. Pirsig invites you to step into the next level of thinking but still allows you to formulate your own personal viewpoints and opinions. He doesn't write above the level of the average person, yet manages to not oversimplify things as if he's addressing ignorance. Before reading this book, I perceived the concepts which he discusses to be way above my level, perhaps because they simply are too complex for me or perhaps because I lack the patience to really sit down and examine them. Somehow, Pirsig made these topics more understandable. However, this is not to be confused with effortless. He does not make the topics easy and simple, but he makes them more accessible to an ordinary person like myself. He allows you to have the opportunity to look at and dissect these things, to relate them to your own thoughts and life, to have its own profound impact on you. There is still much confusion, times of frustration, endless hours of thinking about these concepts that just go around and around in your mind. There is still all of this, but there is no confusion as to what these topics are, just the marvelous confusion of what these topics mean. Personally, my perception of the theme was that changing your concept of the world and of life can change the world and life itself. Looking at things from a different point of view, a point of view not tainted by sociey's perception of right and wrong and normal, a point of view not tarnished by structure and routine, a point of view completely new and fresh, can do wonders. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the type of book that stays with you long after you've finished reading it.
clydec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent book although only tangentially about motorcycles
drpeff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
difficult in the 1st 100 pages. Lots of motorcycle talk & the phaedrus part is confusing, but by the end of the book, I felt that the author took me on a philosophical journey that was worth the effort. It made me contemplate why our society believes so much in science & evidence & how art is separate. In the end he defines quality as ¿doing one¿s best¿ & he proposes that it can be measured.
rayski on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A motorcycle ride from Minnesota to California to learn what is Quality, subjectively and objectively; thoughts on romantic and classical thinking. A bit much, too much philosophy; too much Socrates and Plato too.
pjweums on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I first read this book after reading about it in the NYT Review of Books in 1974. It was the first book that I remember reading with a dictionary beneath it (but not the last) and it is one of the books that changed the direction of my life, recognizing that my life IS a quest for meaning. I have read it several times since (including in audio) and each time I get a little more out of it. Definitely one of my 'Top 10 Favorites' books. I highly recommend it.
neurodrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book has been at the periphery of my consciousness for many years, since it was a famous ¿counter-cultural¿ book in the 1970¿s. I decided to buy the 25th anniversary edition, and read it. I was prepared to be critical, and found that was a good way to approach the book. The book, according to the author is based in fact, and that implies that it is autobiographical, and in the examination of the madness of the narrator¿s alter ego, Phaedrus, unbelievable. Phaedrus, the genius of philosophy and rhetoric, the only teacher of worth at a junior college, narcissitic, mean, and belittling to colleagues and family, and probably bipolar, deserved to be suppressed by electroshock therapy. It is not bad that most people need to make a living in a practical way and often just want to get by without spending too much time on the details. Everyone has a passion for something, and sometimes getting along in society means doing ordinary things. Quality, and oneness with the spirit, is an approach to life, that is inchoate, meaningless, and not as powerful a means of understanding the physical world as a dualistic subject and object dialectic. The motorcycle trip and endless ¿Chatauqua¿ on classical philosophy is ultimately elitist and excluding, since the insight occurs only to a madman, sitting incontinent in an empty apartment.
Cygnus555 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just can't bring myself to slop through this book. I have tried twice now and both times I have come to the conclusion - "Do I want to die reading this book?" Hell no. I don't like his writing style, the topic is uninteresting and I've yet to see anything about Zen in there of any note. Mind you, this may be because I've stopped reading it twice.Too many good books out there to make me want to read this one!! I'm really glad some people like it.
MrStevens on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Terrific story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It made me consider philosophy as a second major or a master's degree.
drfishy520 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There's a reason this book is a classic. The writing makes you stop and think at every page, and examine aspects of your own life. Be warned though, this book is not easy reading, and you won't be able to finish it on the plane trip to Atlanta. This is a book that requires you to sit down, think, and re read. It's well worth it though.
Highlander99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Heiho! said Tiny Tim, nursing his swollen ankle.What more can I saybut perceive that which cannot be seen with the naked eye.
jwcooper3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mental masturbation of the worst kind; totally self involving blather with little or no contribution to anything worthwhile save re-enforcement of the author's overblown ego. Even while not waxing tedious on encyclopedic anecdotes, the author's condescending judgmental attitude toward his travel mates makes me wonder why these people want to spend any time with the author in the first place.The marketing come-on gracing the front cover states, "a man in search of himself". I could buy into that if the book had any relation to a true Zen experience. This is more a monologue of scattered philosophical thought chosen to support the authors preconceived prejudices.
Phoenix333 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The most important part of this book, for me, was that it made me consider what sanity really is. Mr. Pirsig roughly defines sanity as living within the mythos of one's own culture, not necessarily the religious norm, but the philosophical norm. This can be quite an interesting point to ponder when one chooses to live outside the norm. Are they really insane, or just questing onto the "road less wandered"? Like Phaedras, the Platonic character from which the author takes his alter-ego's name, the question of Quality is also examined in depth. He traces the meaning of this word back to the Ancient Greek idea of arete, or the duty to one's self to always perform in and honorable and exemplary way. This book considers the idea that we no longer value arete or Quality as part of our philosophical norm.As a narrative, this book is about a father reconnecting with his son after having a breakdown. However, at its core, this book is about an inner journey. It is one of those books that can be read over and over again throughout a person's life and you will always find something new of value in it- something that you are receptive to in that moment. Not only do I recommend the book, but I recommend reading it more than once.
BraveKelso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A compelling story of obsession and insanity. When I first read it, I thought the effort to explain "quality" was interesting. Now I think it's trite. The fascination with quality marks this as an effort to marry selfish consumption to selfish spirituality - a poser's book. Pirsig was a discerning or lucky student of what the market wanted. The book is about justifying attachments. The connection to Zen or Buddhism seems ironic.
houlihan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is an interesting look at the things learned by going mad, in that profound insight often comes from outside of our cultural norms, and that is the journey of our narrator - from deep within to deeply without of the bounds of our societal norms.There's as much in here to ridicule as to take to heart, however. I feel that there is far too much emphasis on "feelings" and "emotions" in the thrust of the decision making pushing the philosophy forward, and I fear that much of the lessons of this book have been missed by most of the population because of this. The thrust of the discussion is on "Quality", a term Pirsig holds as undefinable yet readily apparent. This "Quality" seems at times to be a sense of fitness to purpose, while at other times it seems to be about aesthetics as much as function. It is not, as he takes pains to explain, in aesthetics alone as things built to look nice but serve no purpose bug the hell out of him. He uses the example of a plaster fireplace in the wall of a dwelling as the epitome of non-quality - somethings designed to give the impression of advanced functionality in a purely illusionary sense.The book is a valuable read, but I would suggest that people read further into philosophy once done. Further conceptualization within the "great conversation" helps to evaluate Pirsig's philosophy outside of the last cresting of the baby boomer's striving for a different world before they sold "quality" up the river for material "fulfillment" instead.
bokai on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I must have read this book at the wrong time in my life. Maybe if I was in high school in the 70s this would have all been useful, but I have already studied many of the 'discoveries' in this book, and I've used much more sensible texts to do it. Since the concepts here have been in use in Asia for centuries before hand, the presentation must be the thing that makes this book stand out, but I didn't find that to be impressive either. The detached, unsympathetic way he talks about his son was an odd contrast to a book that seemed to be about improving one's understanding of the universe.370 pages is a lot of space to cover nothing but the most basic tenants of Buddhist philosophy. I have a feeling it has served as an introduction to the tao, and mu, etc... to many people, which is good. For me it seemed too elementary.
Steve55 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is not an easy review for this is not an easy book. One thing I think I¿m sure of is that it¿s not about Zen or motorcycle maintenance. On the surface the book is the story of the author and his son with some friends travelling across America. However this provides the environment for the author to share and explore a range of questions and issues including rationality, attitudes to technology, philosophies of life and the meaning of quality. What the book does is create the opportunity and invite the reader to explore these questions and others that they are stimulated to identify themselves. It¿s a book that provokes and requires the reader to think. In a sense the book becomes and is what the reader makes of it. What I made of it, and what makes the book exciting for me, is this approach through the vehicle of a novel of creating an environment in which the reader is teased into thinking through a range of extremely challenging philosophical questions. Many readers unwilling to engage in this process may see little in this book of value viewing it as being over complex and lacking in immediate gratification of a standard novel. Others looking not for questions but answers will be disappointed that the book has not the rigour they are looking for and provides no solutions.However for those who want their thinking stimulated and their understanding challenged this is a demanding but very rewarding read that will probable warrant being reread several times.I realise that the above says little about what the book is. I take comfort by quoting a passage from the book that I think releases me from having to describe what it is and invite you to find out what it becomes for you. ¿The trouble is that essays always have to sound like God talking for eternity, and that isn¿t the way it ever is. People should see that it¿s never anything other than just one person talking from one place in time and space and circumstance. It¿s never been anything else, ever, but you can¿t get that across in an essay.¿All I can say is that whilst this isn¿t everyone¿s cup of tea, it¿s the kind of book that just might change the way you see yourself, your world and your future. If you decide to read the book I recommend the 25th anniversary edition as this has some additional explanatory information by the author and also an interesting exchange of correspondence between the author and publisher which gives an insight into the creative process.I should first credit a then colleague Dave Price who I recall was the first to mention this book to me, but it took over 20 years and the prompting of a friend I met at the Quality Congress in Harrogate, Shyam Kumar Gujadhur, for me to get around to reading it in its 25 anniversary form.
Linus_Linus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This experience is like scuppering your boat after shooting yourself in the foot and putting it into your mouth, all the while contemplating why is that your foot that rests in your mouth hurts while you are drowning?

The moral is simple: One should just take his medication and shut up. If he is still adamant to do something, he should go and do fishing or write a book about how to improve the efficacy of the internal combustion engine, if thats too boring go find the holy grail or something.
lordraven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This one is now in my top 10 most important books ever.I suppose for one who is a classical thinker this book may seem trite. However, I relate very much to the attitudes towards technology that Pirsig describes as romantic. And contrary to what some reviewers said I did not find his tone condescending or elitist. If I had I probably wouldn't have finished it. Instead I was sucked in and found my perspective slowly being altered. And if I can remember to keep some of these concepts in mind then maybe my machines won't betray me. And then perhaps my life will have been changed by this book.
drwhy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book by Pirsig is a great choice for introducing students to philosophy.It is an autobiographical novel about Pirsig's own forays in the field of philosophy, and his battle with mental illness.First published in 1974, it immediately gained a avid following, and became for many of its admirers, a life changing book.to my knowledge, it has been through more than a hundred printings....Pirsig is a very private person, and gives very few interviews.
GrievousAngel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story is about a judgmental arrogant man who is aghast at those who don¿t think and value what he does. How dare anyone see the world at any angle other than the one he see it at? Had I been on this road trip I would have gone my own way within one day seeing how he treats his son who is punished for being sick.
lindseyrivers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Admittedly over my head. A dense read. The parts I got were insightful, and the fact that it was non-fiction was very interesting.
GShuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This classic combines fiction and philosophy. Even though it is dated it is still relevant. The story line a little drawn out but kept me guessing right to the end. That said I would only recommend this book to those who may have an interest in philosophy. For me it makes me want to learn more about philosophy.
etimme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the storytelling part of this book quite a bit. The father's relationship with his son was complex, and their relationship with their journey was varied and interesting. However, the author uses a heavy handed style of teaching the reader I hated enough to make me put down the book. He would describe a scene they experienced, then would go back through the motorcycle metaphor..again and again and again. I get it, our lives are the motorcycle and we don't understand them or strive to be more in control of them. I don't care, stop talking about it, I really don't care.
willyt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books that I have read and reread. I enjoy the simple backstory, but more importantly, always find something new to (re)consider. As a practicing natural scientist and teacher, I also (re)discover ideas to convey to my students.
amandajoy30 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I find this book enlightening and confusing all at the same time. There are some parts I get, and it¿s like an ¿a-ha¿ type of moment. Other times I have absolutely no idea what he¿s talking about. I think this is the type of book you need to re-read, more than once, and hopefully have someone you can discuss it with.