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

Zak

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.

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.

Camilo

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.

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...

Zora

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.

Trevor

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.

Kevin

Well, this book is not for everyone, and I have certainly heard people say that they found it overblown, pretentious, pointless, etc. but I loved it and found that what I read and my life experiences as I read it formed a didactic and interesting dialectic with the content of the book.The book itself interstices Pirsig's account of a motorcycle road trip with his son and some friends with the story of his personal and professional struggles developing his philosophy of "the metaphysics of quality". There is also some history of philosophy, although this is to provide an exposition for Pirsig's arguments, so he cherry-picks the stories and interpretations that he tells. This is fine because it is not meant to be a primer on classical or any other kind of philosophy; I don't really have an extensive philosophy background but the little I did know helped I think.Not that they have anything to do with the book, but I have a couple of stories about it. I figure that most people who have any interest in this type of book are already pretty familiar with it, so I won't say too much about it other than that I couldn't put it down and I wholeheartedly recommend it. While I don't agree with Pirsig's entire viewpoint, most of it rang true and even that which didn't was still an excellent impetus for introspection.I got a copy at a used bookstore (I'm pretty sure it was this one) on a trip up to San Francisco with my girlfriend and a mutual friend. At first I had been browsing, and had found a cool coffee table book on phrenology which the lady at the counter chatted with me for a little bit. Encouraged by the chatting, I asked her if they had a book I had been looking for, The Secret Teaching of All Ages by Manly P. Hall, which is an encyclopedic reference about the occult, masonry, astrology, etc. (although it is reprinted in paperback, the original book had lots of charts, illustrations, etc that would not fit in the smaller paperback format and had to be abridged, so I was looking for the original, which I am told is something of a collector's item in certain circles). At this point, the warmth drains from her face. There is an ominous, beginning-of-a-movie-like silence, and she informs me, "No. I don't sell that book. I'm a Christian." When I ask for further clarification, she says that the book contains "a secret spell to undo the universe" and that she didn't want any part in helping anyone undo the universe, so she would not sell the book even if she had it. Well, things got kind of awkward at this point, and while trying to avoid eye contact with her, I saw a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in a stack of books waiting to be shelved, and tried to help myself. My friend Ian H had told me it was really good and I figured I'd check it out. She swatted my hand away and sent someone to get me a copy off the shelf. She told me that it was by far the most popular title that they sold.I didn't get around to reading the book until almost a year later, when me and Vinny were on our rail trip to and through Hokkaido. The book got really water damaged during our ill-fated hike up and down Rishi-fuji-zan right around when I was reading Pirsig's mountain climbing allegory. A lot of the stuff about how when "you can't move forward, you move sideways" and etc. resonated with my at times aimless wanderings over the past couple of years.So, in summation, you'll really like this book, unless you instead think it's interminable, rambling, and obtuse like this review.

Wheels

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.

Paul

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.

Noce

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/...

Wendy

According to family lore, my brother gave this book to my father when he - my brother - was in college. When my father read it, it apparently made a very deep impression on him, 'cuz he turned around and bought 4 copies and gave one to each of his children. I refused to read it for years because...well...because my father gave it to me. Sometime after college though, I picked it up and read it for the first time and, for the next 5 years, I read it once a year every June. Clearly, it made a very deep impression on me, too. Come to think of it, I should probably read it again this year...I love the narrative of the father/son motorcycle trip across the plains. I LOVE the sub-narrative about Zen and Quality and Values. And I love the theme of integration - how it all comes together in the end. Plus, it shed a little light onto my father's psyche and experience. He named his last sailboat "Chautauqua," for Pete's sake.

Marvin

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.

Katherine

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.

Erich

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.

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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