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

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

Check Price Now


Classics Currently Reading Favorites Literature Non Fiction Nonfiction Psychology Spirituality To Read Travel

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


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.


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.


Hard to know where to begin. This is the type of book I know I'll reread every few years, alongside Dune and Fear and Loathing (strange company). I've kept it in my bag just to go back over highlighted sections and make sure it remains useful.Pirsig essentially tries to break down the ways people make value judgments and how they reason. At the center of this is how we view and react to aspects of technology. He splits it up into classic (function) and romantic (form) all while narrating a cross country motorcycle trip. He seems to discuss Buddhism peripherally for most of the book. It's the way a hyperanalytical person might approach it which was pretty fascinating. I've heard this book called pretentious but the methodology is so thorough and far-reaching that I can't deny the results. He hits philosophical topics from modern thinkers all the way to ancient Greece, as clearly connected as one could hope.I'm not sure how to verbalize much else about this. Maybe some other time.Now to check out the sequel.

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.


I feel like Robert M. Pirsig has wronged me personally.

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.


I decided to finish the book I've been reading all summer: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I've had a lot of complaints about this book, as I read it. It was a rather grueling endeavor, certainly not most people's idea of summer reading. Having just finished the book, however, I can say that it was well worth the experience. This book turns on its head our idea of what it means to be sane. The book can be described as generally a thesis on substance, form, and spirit, as I'll label them. Pirsig called these ideas classical, romantic, and Quality. It reads like a thesis, interspersed between bits of an intriguing and true tale of the author's life.I would like to include here some of the passages that won my attention, but as I look back at the book I realize that there is no way to relate the context. You must read the book and be touched by its perspective. I cannot recreate what is a tapestry by pulling a few threads and claiming they are the best. Perhaps, I will try later when I have some distance on what I've seen. I never want to read it again, because it was just too painstaking and complicated, and I have a finite amount of time to read (as we all do). Therefore, I hope to flip through the book and write down some of the quotes that struck me... just not today.


I learned from this book that you can sell a billion copies of a book that no one should ever waste three minutes reading. This is just another neo-philosophy book disguised as a novel. I'm almost convinced that the only reason people buy this book is so that their pseudo-intellectual (read: pompous scumbag) friends will accept them into the hippie circle. Although I know about twenty people who claim to have read this book, I have yet to meet a single person who actually knows what it's about. This book is a bigger hoax than the bible. So I have written, and so, therefore, must it be.


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.


I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and couldn't recommend it enough, not that it needs any more praise. Brilliant philosophy grounded in a real story with real characters, not much more needs to be said. But I'll say it anyway.It's a book of prose in thought -- the entire plot is told through the thoughts and recollections of a guy on a motorcycle vacation across the United States with his son. His goal is to create a Chautauqua, which from what I understand was sort of a travelling classroom with strong religious roots and a goal of spreading new ideas and challenging old ones. I may be wrong about some of that. But anyway, his Chautauqua begins with a narrow focus on the relationship between man and technology and steadily grows to a complete overhaul and rethinking of metaphysics and epistemology.I don't really know how groundbreaking the philosophy really is. Hell, I'm not sure I could explain the philosophy right now without bumbling it and getting across the wrong message. It's pretty thorough and well thought out. Whatever the case, it's interesting and unlike a lot of philosophy, quite practical and applicable.One significant piece of understanding that I took from it was exactly what sort of a thinker I am. Near the beginning of the book, the author introduces a dichotomy of thought (as a process) and understanding (as a result); the names he gives these opposing concepts are classic and romantic and both are easy enough to understand. Classic thought is purely analytical, breaking things down into smaller comprehensible pieces based on functionality and material and size and everything like that. the technical instructions of how to build something from Ikea is an example of classic understanding at work. Romantic thought is different, in that through it, our appreciation for the things that we experience is derived from the outset of our perception. A romantic thinker isn't too interested in figuring out how and when and under what circumstances the armoire was built, because all that matters now is that the armoire is here and it looks beautiful. you can apply that analogy to literally anything you see.I learned that I am through and through a classic thinker and that it'd do me quite a bit of good to try to cultivate my romantically thinking side. Appreciate things in the very moment I see them instead of appreciating them in hindsight as worthy of appreciation for reasons a), b), c), etc. The overall point (and supposed end goal of the Chautauqua) is that these two different types of thought should play equal roles in your experience of the world.And to go along with all the observations and random thoughts that the main character shares with the reader, there's some pretty fantastic bits about not just motorcycle maintenance but tending to technology in general that I really loved. I'm in the middle of trying to fix up a sh*tty bike that I bought for 50 euros a few months ago and it was fun to read advice on how to approach technical problems while I had a real life (and obviously very similar) project right in front of me.I know a lot of people have already read this book, it's been a bestselling classic for decades now. But if you haven't and you're into philosophical fiction, this is a really fantastic approachable read and a potential life changer depending on where your head is at once you start delving into its ideas. There's a lot to get from this book.

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.

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...


This book is often lauded, so nothing I will say here is that new. (Not that I have read what anyone else has to say). Anyway, I believe that this book is often misinterpreted because people feel that it is simple when the image system is actually quite complex. The comparisons between the narrator and Phaedrus are especially prescient and noteworthy. An excellent novel about reconciliation with self and others. (You don't work on the motorcycle, you work on yourself, etc.) Anyway, so when you read this, please pay attention to that for me. Thanks.


Okay, I confess I haven't finished it yet. But I'm finding it so irksome I don't know if I'll be able to get all the way through it. Here's what I wrote on my bookmark 50 pages in:"the author's logic is self-contained, entirely self-referential and so his argument is self-sustaining! He can set up armies of logical strawmen and have them elaborately duke it out in massive rhetorical battles taking place entirely without any grounding in reality. He has the manic ADDH intelligence of the kind that experiences UFO abductions, never finishes his degree, judges everyone as hopelessly inferior from behind the counter of the sporting goods store. Self-satisfied and superior with a fake Indian name he took on from the time he made deep eye-contact with a timber wolf. The kind of guy who never made it all the way back from 'Nam."So that was 100 pages ago and I've had to change my evaluation a little. He went to Korea, not Vietnam.He's driving me NUTS! It's one false premise and false conclusion after another-- astonishing leaps of logic (e.g. the more I do experiments, the more ideas for future experiments I have, therefore science only leads to more questions, therefore scientific pursuit is meaningless since the purpose of science is to know everything, and if I always have more questions, I'll never know everything. AAARGH!)He's an irritating narrator: his female companions ooh and aah at his speechifying. "Gee, Bob, how do you think of this stuff!" while bringing him steaks. His male companions are awed and impressed with his technical knowledge and mystical skills. He wasn't kicked out of school for "laziness and immaturity" as the official reason went-- it was because his ideas were so RADICAL the whole university system would have come toppling down!The only expert he cites is Phaedrus....who turns out to be himself! Before a nervous breakdown! He talks about discovering the beautiful power of Phaedrus' logic and writing. And it's himself, all along. Very annoying.Ugh. I just want to say to him, yes, you're very smart. Yes, technology and art are a false dichotomy. But no, saying that does not turn the world inside out and make your the smartest person in the universe.


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.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *