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


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.


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.


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.


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 just re-read this book and HAD to annotate it because it sent my head swimming. I'd studied quite a lot of philosophy since I read it a year and a half ago and so the philosophies didn't go over my head this time.Robert Pirsig’s genius in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is to insert classical forms of thought into the backdrop of a cross-country motorcycle trip. He piques our interest by waxing philosophical in an effort to get to the root of the ghost story haunting him. He succeeds in creating the quintessential philosophy book of the 20th Century. It turns out that the motorcycle is a symbol of the soul.A brief summary of Pirsig’s “chautauquas” follows, but bear in mind that this list is informational, whereas his book is spirited and transformational. (Chautauqua means “talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.” p. 15)There are two ways of experiencing a motorcycle:1. Romantically—riding a cycle down a mountain road, invigorated by the wind rushing past2. Classically—familiarizing yourself with the working parts of the machine, developing a feel for how tight to secure the bolts.Romantic experience is “in the moment.” Classical experience connects the past to the future, allowing us to build on previous knowledge:1. Systems of Components and Functions—physical working parts which we come to know either:a. Empirically—knowledge gained by the sensesb. a priori—knowledge gained intuitively (known without prior experience)2. Concepts—Ideas with the potential to be realized (the thought precedes the creation of the physical object).a. Inductive ideas start with observing specific examples and end with a general conclusion.b. Deductive ideas start with general knowledge used to predict specific observations.Connecting the Romantic to the Classical is Quality. To care about something will increase its quality.Pirsig creates an analogy comparing knowledge to a railroad train that is always going somewhere:• Classic Knowledge is the engine and the cars.• Romantic reality adds the dimension of time—it is the cutting edge of the experience, the moment in time. • Traditional knowledge is the body of classic knowledge plus the history of where the train has been.• Quality is the track—the “preintellectual reality” or “the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place” (p. 247). What carries the train forward is a sense of what is good. It is understood intuitively and enhanced by skill and experience. • If your train gets stuck, understand two things:o Being stuck eventually produces real understanding as you look for the solution in your train of knowledge. (A classical experience)o Don’t be afraid to stop and analyze—you can see in patterns not only the physical object but the idea or function of the object. Eventually you will be able to break through barriers.Creative energy is “gumption” or enthusiasm (enthousiasmos means literally “filled with theos” or God—appropriate since God is the inspiration of creativity).Gumption Traps (“An examination of affective, cognitive and psychomotor blocks in the perception of Quality” p. 305) :1. External (Setbacks)2. Internal (Hangups)a. Inability to learn new facts—slow down and decide if the things you thought were important are really important or if the things you thought were insignificant are more important than you thought.b. Ego (falsely inflated self-image)—let your work struggles teach you to be quiet and modest.c. Anxiety (opposite of Ego; you’re afraid you won’t get it right so you freeze up or don’t try)—“work out your anxieties on paper” (p. 315) Read about the topic, organize your thoughts on paper; remember even the best make plenty of mistakes.d. Boredom—take a break, rest, or clean out your space.e. Impatience (results from an “underestimation of the amount of time the job will take” p. 317)—allow yourself plenty of time to finish the job, break the job down into smaller goals.Quality is understood in Western Culture as arête/excellence.Quality is understood in Eastern Culture as dharma/”duty to self”.Early cultures used Rhetoric to teach Quality in terms of virtue, but after some time the technique of rhetoric was corrupted by the Sophists as ethical relativism. (pp. 376-77) Socrates took issue with the Sophists and established dialogues—or the Dialectic (discussions through which the Truth can be arrived at). Excellence became subordinate to Truth. Rhetoric fell from its supreme position of Excellence (Quality) to teaching mannerisms and forms of writing and speaking.Quality, Pirsig discovers, is "the Tao, the great central generating force of all religions, Oriental and Occidental, past and present, all knowledge, everything." (p. 254)


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.

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