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

ISBN: 0060589469
ISBN 13: 9780060589462
By: Robert M. Pirsig

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About this book

One of the most important & influential books written in the past half-century, Robert M. Pirsig's Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerfully moving & penetrating examination of how we live, a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Here is the book that transformed a generation, an unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America's Northwest, undertaken by a father & his young son. A story of love & fear--of growth, discovery & acceptance--that becomes a profound personal & philosophical odyssey into life's fundamental questions, this uniquely exhilarating modern classic is both touching & transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence & the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.

Reader's Thoughts


i kept on reading this book hoping ever more desperately as i got deeper in for some real insight and revelation. Why had so many people recommended it? Why did people say it changed their life?Over 400 pages all the book clumsily manages to ask is: "Are my priorities straight in this consciousness-addled, consumerist culture?"The protagonist's answer: "i don't know. i'm going crazy."Pop philosophy meets a second-rate, "On the Road" ripoff.

Riku Sayuj

Plato's Phaedrus said, "And what is written well and what is written badly...need we ask Lysias or any other poet or orator who ever wrote or will write either a political or other work, in meter or out of meter, poet or prose writer, to teach us this?"Modern Phaedrus said, “And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good— Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?” I keep re-reading passages from Zen and the Art and Tao of Pooh and Siddhartha and try to make sense in the context of everyday life (which is where I firmly believe any philosophical questions need to be answered - If it is not applicable in your kitchen, it is not real philosophy) and quite strangely the answers seem to come from tying in the learning from these metaphysical and spiritual works with a book like The Story of Stuff - neither a great book nor a literary achievement or a leap in thinking - but it helped me understand the real meaning of the word 'materialism' when I read it in parallel with these other books. I will try to give an expanded review soon as a blog post at my blogAnd Then? "I am Phædrus, that is who I am, and they are going to destroy me for speaking the Truth."You can sort of tell these things...


After years of people saying, "Oh, you're a philosophy major? Have you heard of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? You should read it!" I finally broke down and bought a copy. I am usually wary of books that seem to hold promises of sweetness and light and spiritual awakening, in this age of The Purpose-Driven Life and Silver Ravenwolf.My thoughts on the book, even months after reading it, are still mixed. Artistically, I do think it's a polished and respectable piece of literature. It's well-written and compelling. But my philosophy major side is hesitant about it. I don't know much about Zen Buddhism, so I can't speak for how Pirsig treated that aspect, but the rundowns on philosophy made me anxious in the way that "Philosophy for Dummies" makes me anxious: you have to assume that the author's interpretation is one that is valid. And sometimes there was enough value judgment language that it felt like the text was "conveniently" interpreting the philosopher at hand, as opposed to fairly.It's a good book, and I recommend it, but I also recommend reading more about the philosophies Pirsig touches on, eg Kant, Hume, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, etc. Anything that turns people on to philosophy can't be all bad, after all.


I started reading this book because i'd heard from a number of people, including comedian Tim Allen, that it was good. In fact i read an entire Tim Allen book ("I'm Not Really Here") which was kind of about his experience reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence. Tim Allen, although not exactly a respectable philosopher (maybe not even just respectable), had some of Robert Pirsig's philosophy without all his inane bullshit. At least Tim Allen's book was funny.Admittedly, i enjoyed the book in the beginning. I could tell that the plot was going nowhere specific, but i like books like that. In fact i wrote one. But as i pressed on, page after page, chapter after chapter, i became first bored with it, then irritated. There are essentially three parts to this book, all of which are intertwined at irregular intervals:1. The philosophy stuff. I really like this aspect of the book; all the time he spends talking about Phaedrus and Phaedrus's experiences was mostly fascinating to me. Phaedrus is the real star of the story and the only character i really liked.2. The motorcycle maintainence stuff. Despite the fact that i had no idea what most of it meant, it's factual and to the point, and somehow intersted me just by the way it was written. At some point i even thought about buying a motorcycle, just from inspiration by this book.3. The main story. It's a story about the narrator (Pirsig himself) and his son, Chris, on a motorcycle journey across the country with some friends. Chris is 11 or 12 and mostly just annoying, but the interactions between Pirsig and his son just make me think that Pirsig is a bad father. He always seems angry at Chris for no particular reason and Chris seems to cry a lot due to it. I wonder what Chris thought when he read this book. And it's no wonder to me that the guy's wife left him shortly after it was published (Wikipedia: [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_P...]).The main thing that i think the book suffers from is the way he abruptly switches between the topics. I've no problem with a rapidly shifting story, if the transitions work. Here, Pirsig would get me going enthusiastically through a Phaedrus segment, and right at the climax...dump me back into him and Chris doing something boring. Then we'd trudge along through that for a while, and suddenly he'd see something that reminded him of Phaedrus, and we'd come to another Phaedrus segment which was not a continuation of the previous.I gave up on the book shortly after the halfway point where Phaedrus began repeating everything over and over and going absolutely nowhere. Sure, i'd like to see what ultimately got him committed to an asylum, but i don't feel like reading any more of this repetitive and bland crap to get there. Ok, you can't put a definition on "quality," i get it, move on to something else. I feel like what Pirsig is saying to me is, "I've got a point...but i'll never tell you what it is!" and i hate being taunted. Especially while reading. If this were a movie, chances are i'd tough it out and wait for it to finish just because i know it'll be done soon. But reading, although often more enjoyable, is more time consuming and nobody can deny that. And after wasting weeks of my life reading Robert Jordan's "The Shadow Rising," i've learned my lesson. Life is too short to waste on crappy books. There's lots of good stuff out there, i'mma go get it.


I have mixed feelings about this book, most of them good.What the author tries to transmit is a sense of how he feels the Quality, the excellence of caring when doing something, resorting to observations in a motorcycle roadtrip and his own past of being an university professor. The structuring of his own 'philosophy' sometimes gets a little complex, taking pieces from the Greeks and trying to harmonize it with more modern thinkers and his own thoughts. There's a lot of stuff to assimilate in order to understand what he tries to convey.Pirsig's prose doesn't disappoint. The rhythm and structure are good through all the book, mixing his 'Chautauqua' with the subtle details of his journey along the States. There is wisdom spread through all the book, and a for a non-english speaker, lots of opportunity to learn new vocabulary.You'll find this piece a very interesting and most-of-the-time entertaining book, specially if you don't try to fit or pigeonhole the author's contemplations with classical philosophy.


Readers of Thoreau, Emerson, and Dillard will be entranced with this book. In the best traditions of transcendentalism, Zen is about the journey, and the answers that we find when asking the difficult questions, about fairness, and quality. You, as the reader, are taken along on a journey. Pirsig writes with his hands and head, and analyzes a concept in much the same way he would diagnose a problem with his motorcycle. You begin with knowledge, and you form it into a tool with which to attack a problem. The chapters alternate between storyline and chautauqua, or philosophical probing. It strikes a good balance between plot and deep thought, and Pirsig is able to draw the two disparate halves together quite well.Quality is a powerful word, and you will understand much more of it when you finish this book. It's not for everybody.


This is one of those books you hear about your entire life that actually lives up to the hype. I was very impressed.It helped to sleep next to someone who is far better studied in philosophy than I am. I took an introductory course in undergrad many moons ago and knew all the names Pirsig was contrasting, but I really only retained thumbnail summaries of their actual philosophies. Terran was very patient in taking breaks from Anne of Green Gables to dissect the implications of subjective and objective world with me. It must have been jarring for him, but I think he vastly enhanced the nuance of what I was able to take away.I was immediately drawn into the personal narrative, and in some ways I preferred it to the philosophical discourse from the beginning. However, by midway through, I started wanting to smack Pirsig for his dismissive treatment of his clearly bright and sensitive son. People out there: when your kid asks you what you're thinking and honest-to-God wants to know, COME UP WITH SOMETHING TO TELL HIM. Do no blow him off, even if you are thinking deep thoughts. It is incredibly precious that he wants to know. This conflict becomes the center of the personal story and reaches a satisfactory resolution, but the process gets agonizing before the end.I made the mistake of looking up Pirsig on Wikipedia, where I learned that this boy Chris was knifed to death in a mugging in 1979. That hit with some of the blow of Ennis Cosby's death. I guess I would have already known this if I had read a more recent edition, and I'm curious to see Pirsig's commentary about it.Of course, the real purpose of the book is to put forth a philosophy that combines the classic and romantic views of life and technology. I found his writing style to be incredibly accessible, and to a philosophy layman, the ideas seemed to jump off the page as profound and insightful. Unlike any traditional philosophy text that I have ever read, Pirsig tries to speak to everyman and not just high-thinkers. He weaves his ideas tightly with examples from everyday life, making them seem both true and relevant.On the other hand, he went too far for me. The central premise of Pirsig's philosophy seems to be that "Quality is the Buddha." Quality is God. It is the source of our sense of the rightness and wrongness of things. It is the source of our perception of things. There is no subjectivity or objectivity, only Quality. And as a result, there are no objective facts to be discovered, only new facts that come into existence through our interaction with Quality. The truth is that I'm just too much of an empiricist to follow this thinking to the end of the road. I did, however, drink about 75% of the Kool-Aid, and what I did drink seems to stand on its own merits. Quality is the interaction between subjects and objects. It is shaped by perceptions, ours and others', of the world around us. In the best case, it lifts us out of our own heads and shows a wider world of perspective. This perspective-expanding effect may in itself demonstrate good Quality, but any attempt to define it in more specific, objective, technical terms inevitably fails. It exists as indefinable and is yet is incredibly important to our happiness, and thus it can stitch together the rift between the classical and romantic experience. Even if you can't bring yourself to believe that Quality is God, this line of thinking has a lot to recommend it.I highly recommend this book for the thought it inspires, however many of the ideas themselves work for you.


A book for morons, written by a mentally damaged man.Possibly child abuse involved as well.As with Ayn Rand, some people mistakenly think this is aphilosophy book. I realize many people read this book incollege -- it's a time to experiment and make mistakes --but stick to sex, drugs and rock-n-roll ... Ayn Rand andthis kinda crap are more harmful. I was surprised to learnsome colleges even *assign* this. If your college assigns this book (except perhaps ironically, in a class on FraudLiterature [sic]), then you go to a shit college. It's assimple as that.I did learn the word "Chataqua".I would recommend this book to:--People who shop in the "metaphyiscs" section of bookstores.--People who listen to new age mumbo-jumbo "infomercials" on PBS stations at fundraising time.--The Idle Rich of Marin County.


Actually, I am listening to a free MP3 version of this book which was available through The Guardian newspaper web site until Feb. 5th. -------------Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is on my short list of the most influential books I've ever read. This is my third read and I am listening to an audio version this time. My wife picked it for the book club and since it's been twenty years since I read it, I am looking forward to it. An audio read is an interesting choice since Pirsig patterned this work after the Chautauqua, a old-time series of oral presentation designed to both educate and entertain.------So I finished it today. How does it stand up after twenty years from my last reading and almost forty years from its first publication? Marvelously well, I think. Although I wonder how an younger audience would accept this work. ZATAOMM's popularity had a lot to do with its timing. Many of us were unimpressed by the American dream of material success yet disillusioned by the 60s hippie dream of "love, peace and flowers." Pirsig writes about finding and defining "quality". Yet to him, quality is a illusive entity not well defined by either the Romantic mind (the artistic) or the Classical mind (the scientific). The author's success in defining quality is only partially successful yet this partial success resonated with my generation.But ZATAOMM is also a personal journey as Pirsig examines his own past in which he deals with his mental illness and a current journey in which he travels cross country on a motorcycle with his son who is developing similar mental issues. This is what turns this work into something besides a dry intellectual exercise. Pirsig expertly blends his thoughts, his philosophy, and his emotions into this philosophical travelogue so that we can take this information and transfer what we find helpful into our own lives.I know a number of Philosophy professionals, and armchair experts, who deride this book as trite. I do not pretend to know enough philosophy to give expert judgement although what I know fits comfortably with Pirsig's Chautauqua. More importantly, the author does an excellent job in immersing the reader into his tale and gives us pause to think about the meaning of quality and how that can give us a more worthwhile life for ourselves and those who we care about.


Contro il logorìo della vita moderna.Fughiamo subito ogni dubbio.Questo non è un libro né per chi si aspetta un monaco tibetano che a cavallo di una motocicletta vi spieghi la filosofia tutta, né per chi si aspetta istruzioni utili per far partire una moto che avete ferma in officina dal 1965. Chiunque di voi spera nell’una o nell’altra cosa ne rimarrà deluso e sbadiglierà tutto il tempo.Piuttosto è un libro che vi offre un approccio diverso a due cose che sembrano lontane anni luce e tutto sommato non lo sono.Anche senza leggere questo prezioso volumetto, mi era già capitato di pensare che in un modo o nell’altro in ognuno di noi alberga un piccolo filosofo. Il tutto sta a farlo uscire.Ma dove? Tra un post su Facebook e due chiacchiere in chat? Tra l’ora della spesa e quella della pennichella? Tra le telefonate vuote di amici stressati e le lavatrici di capi colorati? Ummm, difficile. Sembrerebbe una questione di tempo. E in fondo lo è.Eppure, il ciondolamento post-prandiale estivo sull’amaca, non è detto faccia di noi dei saggi illuminati. Io ad esempio, ho sempre e solo rimediato le righe della tela sulla faccia e qualche pigna in testa. E quindi non è solo una questione di tempo libero da scassamenti di palle.Mesi fa, vidi in tv un documentario su un corridore famoso di cui non ricordo il nome, che fece stampare sulla maglietta la scritta “L’uomo che corre, è un uomo che pensa”.Eccolo il punto. Perché un’ora sul letto/amaca/divano, produce inerzia , mentre un’ora di corsa produce buoni propositi, ricordi sopiti, strategie di vita? Forse perché pur impegnati a raggiungere una meta, siamo costretti ad ascoltarci. E non solo il nostro fisico che chiede venia e si rifiuta di fare quell’ultimo chilometro, ma anche il nostro cervello, libero finalmente di fare le proprie associazioni senza ingerenze esterne, neanche quelle derivanti dall’ozio.Stessa cosa vale per un viaggio in moto. E non è indispensabile che siate soli. Anche Pirsig fece il suo viaggio on the road con il figlio. La moto è un mezzo fantastico, ma non è adatto a fare salotto. Le conversazioni vengono urlate o smozzicate, perciò se avete voglia di conversare dovete farlo interiormente. Ecco spiegato il binomio zen-moto che all’inizio poteva sembrare tanto dissonante. La ricerca spirituale di noi stessi, specie se fatta con Qualità (la Q maiuscola la capirete solo leggendo il libro), è un modo inverso di concepire il mondo in cui viviamo. Anziché trarre conclusioni sommarie da una visione panoramica, bisognerebbe incominciare a guardarci dentro ed estendere piano piano la visuale fino ad abbracciare ciò che ci circonda. Lo so, sembra una cazzata. Infatti io (tento) di scrivere recensioni, mica libri come Pirsig!!!E proprio perché l’ha scritto lui e non io, si vedranno accontentati anche coloro che cercano una trama. Dolorosa in questo caso, un po’ alla John Nash per intenderci. Ma forse essenziale per poter arrivare a un’accettazione della verità sofferta, ma liberatoria. Sarebbe bello adesso fare del gossip, magari anticipandovi non solo che si tratta di una storia vera, ma dicendovi pure cosa successe dopo; invece mi limito a consigliarvi questo libro a piccole dosi, e vi allego un link, a testimonianza di tempi e riflessioni che furono.http://ww2.usca.edu/ResearchProjects/...

Jim Coughenour

Today I was reading Orhan Pamuk's "By the Book" interview in the NYT and was delighted by his recommendation for Obama.To him or to any American president, I would like to recommend a book that I sometimes give as a gift to friends, hoping they read it and ask me, “Why this book, Orhan?” “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values” is a great American book based on the vastness of America and the individual search for values and meaning in life. This highly romantic book is not a novel, but does something every serious novel should do, and does it better than many great novels: making philosophy out of the little details of daily life.Browsing Goodreads tonight I was surprised I'd never added my 2¢ in praise of Pirsig. (Actually I had, but only by way of reviewing Mark Richardson's Zen and Now.)No doubt my 5 star rating reflects the nostalgic glow of reading Pirsig's book when it first appeared.* I was a dream- and philosophy-haunted college student living in Berkeley with a direct view of the Golden Gate Bridge, where Pirsig's epic journey concludes. Pirsig's book was also my pathway drug to FSC Northrop's nonpareil Meeting of East and West, published in response to the colossal carnage of World War II. In ZMM, Pirsig's alter-ego Phaedrus describes this book as "a text on Oriental philosophy and it’s the most difficult book he’s ever read." Northrop is indeed demanding but not exceptionally difficult. Anyone willing to invest the hours required to read it will be rewarded by an intoxicating, integrated vision of global culture. Probably Northrop's analysis would be faulted on many points by contemporary theorists, but in 1946 his book was authentically visionary. Pirsig's novel translates this vision into the classic American idiom of the road trip, the quest to find oneself – and is itself perhaps the most marvelous instance of that myth.________________* There are plenty of 1 and 2 star reviews here. Obviously the magic doesn't work for everyone.


This book is one of those books that I want to rate way higher than 3, but I don't think I'd quite give it a 4. I always have this problem with Netflix too! By reading the random reviews posted about this book, many of them are extremely negative, focusing on the "arrogance" of the narrator or his "absurd" search for quality. I think if you go into this 400 page novel with the expectation that it will be a light read about a motorcycle trip out West with a couple philosophical insights, you'll probably end up with a similar negative review. However, if you go into this book with an open mind, and are willing to look at the world through the eyes of a man deeply entrenched in philosophical meanderings to the point of insanity then you will be rewarded with a new way to look at things.Pirsig takes an 18-day motorcycle journey that he made with his son in 1968 and turns it into an autobiographical journey not only about this trip, but into his mind. Pirsig spent time in a mental hospital before this trip, and much of this book is the story of his trip entwined with the story of the "insane" Pirsig. Along with the story of his mental past, Pirsig attempts to break down many types of philosophy and explain the concept that drove him into the mental hospital. This concept is the concept that Quality is the only true reality. It is a very abstract concept and that's why there is so much mundane philosophical background information endlessly filling up the pages. However, I feel that once I finally conquered this book, I came away with some very powerful messages and unique perspectives about the world we live in and the way we live our lives. I recommend this to everyone looking for a thinker, but be sure you give yourself plenty of time to absorb everything this novel encompasses.

Guillermo Azuarte

Fuck! I hate this. I give up. I can't anymore. The last page I actually read was 217, so I didn't officially "finish" this book, but it will go into my finished pile. I need all the help I can get. My goal was 50 books this year, and Im 8 books behind. I will count this book as read no matter what you say. You know when you start a roadtrip and everything is awesome and a breath of fresh air in the beginning, but then you're at each other's throats towards the middle? That's what this book was. It started off slow and boring. Like a lazy canoe trip through the Everglades. It was a nice change of pace from the bombastic stuff I was reading, but then you bash into a wall. The boring stuff is interlaced with more boring stuff. I know I sound like a monkey now. I know I sound uneducated as shit, but those philosophy lessons embedded into the narrative were soo boring. The book is a great example of the archethypical "journey story" that turns sucky. At first, you're jiving with everything, you get into some cool conversations, but after a few days, ... everyone stinks. Everyone is tired and have bags under their eyes. The vaginas smell like old tuna and the penises smell like rotting bacon (I made that up I never smelled crusty penis). Everything sucks. Thats what this booj turned into. Plus, the author is a douchebag. He's boring me. I'm supposed to believe he was formerly known as Phaedrus, and he thought himself into insanity on the quest of finding out the meaning of quality and rationality? Im not exaggerating that. Early in the book he describes how he got electro fucking shock therapy for this. Really!! You fucking drove yourself literally insane thinking about that??? You really thought yourself into that black a hole? Fucking get a life! Who does that? At that moment, my credibility for the author (who is thinly veiled as the protagonist in this stupid story) flew out the window. You have a kid dude!! Get it together. It doesn't help that he's such an asshole to that kid. All in the name of making him grow up to be a great man. Really? Fucking feed that kid, and dont make him climb a stupid mountain because of your own ridiculous ambition. Maybe this book does a 180 degree turn in the final half and becomes really evocative AND entertaining, but I just dont care anymore. I hate giving books this low a rating. Its evidence that I wasted my time. No more. There are too many awesome books out there I should spend my finite time on.


I read this book about 35 years ago (really scary thought) when I was in library school and it was all the rage. Recently I read a piece in Skeptic Magazine (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/10-04...) that has me rethinking my originally positive view of Pirsig and his work. Chris Edwards proposes that Pirsig was one of the first writers to “rework old religious beliefs” which laid the foundation for such New Age gurus as Deepak Chopra. In his introduction to the 1999 edition of ZAMM (!) Pirsig talks about his own struggle with schizophrenia or a form of multiple personality disorder. Edwards defines schizophrenia as someone who cannot “distinguish between the images in his head and the images in the world. When the condition is chronic it is defined as a mental disorder. When it is selective we call it faith.” Edwards suggests that Pirsig falls into the first category. Edwards castigates Pirsig for his attacks on “scientific materialism”, i.e. atheism. Edwards goes to great lengths to parse Pirsig’s misunderstanding of mathematics and the ostensible conflict between two types of geometry and his lack of historical knowledge of the development of thinking about zero as a concept.Edwards argues that Pirsig turned “Quality” into “a kind of creator god.” It funny how a book can shape our thinking at one age (and selectively pull what we want from it.) Interesting if unconvincing argument.

Vassilena Valchanova

One of the best books I've read and one that has probably shaped my view of values the strongest. "Zen..." can teach you quite a lot, especially on the subject of the true value of knowledge, the proper way of thinking and life as a whole. The actual motorsysle trip of father and son is nothing but the background for a deeper search, and, without wanting to sound too much of a cliche, I quite liked what characters find in that search.

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