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Acclaimed as one of the most exciting books in the history of American letters, this modern epic became an instant bestseller upon publication in 1974, transforming a generation and continuing to inspire millions. This 25th Anniversary Quill Edition features a new introduction by the author; important typographical changes; and a Reader's Guide that includes discussion topics, an interview with the author, and letters and documents detailing how this extraordinary book came to be. A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, the book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions of how to live. The narrator's relationship with his son leads to a powerful self-reckoning; the craft of motorcycle maintenance leads to an austerely beautiful process for reconciling science, religion, and humanism. Resonant with the confusions of existence, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a touching and transcendent book of life.

Topics: American West, Inspirational, Adventurous, Philosophical, Spirituality , Fathers, Meditation, Mental Illness, Zen, Sons, Philosophers, Road Trip, Ethics, and First Person Narration

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061907999
List price: $6.99
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Another of those books that meant so much to me in my teens, but was part of my college studies. Blessedly, digging and writing about this book didn't quite ruin it for me. There's something so damaging about being told what to think about a book (as is often the case when one is "taught" a book in the classroom).Yes, this book has the nasty aura of 70s popularity and has been a teen/20s read for many years, but once you clear away the dross of popularity and pop culture, it's still a gripping depiction of madness, social analysis, and personal revelation. It's much dated now, almost a historical document, a slice of the world at a particular time and place, but that's only a part of the whole. The "Inquiry into Values" -- the question of what is quality -- applies as much today as it ever did.more
Other than the one passage of misogyny that felt like a friendly dog had just turned and savaged me, this book was everything I'd expected from its reputation. It was simultaneously confusing and enlightening, and as a result I think it will continue to reverberate in my life. Well worth the time I spent. (Also, I highly recommend the audio version I "read," which was narrated by Michael Kramer.)more
Incoherent and nonsensical attempts at philosophy. The author happily discards any logical framework and proceeds to babble about terms he even refuses to define properly ('quality'), and then accidentally does so anyway, by defining what it is not.

The travelogue was somewhat interesting, but even that wound up to be a disappointment in the end.more
I read it because it is a famous book and I was curious. In parts it's boring in others it flows very well. A mixed balance I guess, overall not bad but I wouldn't read it againmore
I read this in high school (light years ago) and am glad I gave it a second look. The book is enlightening, infuriating and tragic all at once. Pirsig's internal ruminations are, at times, overwhelming, but the narrative of the journey and his relationship (or lack thereof) with his son kept me turning the pages. The father's disregard for his son (due, no doubt, to his incredible intellect and resurgent schizophrenia) was tough to take and the final coda of his son's fate is heartbreaking. Nonetheless, for navel-gazing and as a tribute to journeys --of any kind-- this book is a must-read.more
This book is three, no, four things — a story of a man and son on a motorcycle trip across America, the man's exploration of his own past self, a discussion of motorcycle maintenance, and a philosophical discourse. It's a strange book, because I've seen it sold as fiction, but it's really presented as fictionalized memoir. And though the author asserts this fictionalization and the books non-relation to zen discourse at the beginning, he also asserts that everything presented in this book is true. After a while, I stopped caring about where truth and fiction began and ended and just enjoyed the story. The motorcycle road trip is really secondary, more of a way for the author to string together pieces of the puzzle of his past while examining the philosophical discourse of classical versus romantic thinking and or Quality, which he explains to be the nature of reality, the place/time where subject and object meet. The discourse and theory is complex, so breaking it up with descriptions of the road trip also allow the reader a mental break and time to process all that's been said. and the descriptions of motorcycle maintenance provide good analogies for the philosophy he's trying to share. Really, this book only works with all these pieces working together. It's this interaction of physical journey combined with inward journey that makes the novel/memoir something more, something that people cling to, something that provides "answers" for life and how it should be lived, if you want to read into it that way — and you have to read into it to see such "answers" because the author leaves things ambiguous. He doesn't pretend to be a messiah. He imparts views on the nature of the world and then leaves it to the reader to do with them what they will. It was a fascinating read, one that makes me want to explore a hard copy version (because I listened to it on audio), so that I can absorb some of what he wrote in a new way. His philosophy has a solidity to it (unlike some spiritual discussion that tends to be more flighty like clouds aloft, drifting and insubstantial), because it's backed on a study of science and the scientific method, as well as a historical understanding of classic philosophers. It's definitely something to get you thinking and talking and looking at the world a little bit differently. As a side note, the version of this book I was presented was an anniversary edition, released ten years after it's first publication. It included an afterward by the author that pretty much kicked me in the gut and left me breathless and crying. Do you need to read this afterward to enjoy the book? No, and frankly, the ending is much more positive without it. But it does add more layers to the ongoing story of the author's life, which in my opinion, is worth reading.more
One of the most amazing books I have ever read...I have had an ongoing love-affair with this book since 1996. Originally it was given to my fiance, by his brother, for his birthday in 1994. My fiance was killed in 1996; the book became mine. I stuck it on a shelf where it sat for two years: I thought it was about motorcycle repair, and kept it in case I needed it for reference. When I finally did take it off the shelf, and look it over, it was in 1997. Upon opening the book, I noticed my fiance had marked the page he had last read shortly before his death; page 121. One sleepless night, as I was looking for something to read, I again came upon this book; after the first 10 pages, I was hooked...After the first 50, I decided I wasn't putting the book down until I finished it; I read it throughout the night, and finished it in the early morning hours.15 years later, I still have the original copy I first read, and anytime I meet someone new, who enjoys reading, I lend them the book. The last page my fiance read is still marked, and inside the back cover, are my initials, and the dates I have re-read it. I will pass it on to my sons one day!more
An enjoyable read. I think I may need to go back and read this again in the next year. The details of Persig's philosophy of "Quality" are kind of strange. He begins talking about quality as it relates to writing, but he ends up using it to refer to something else -- something bigger -- like Plato's " Form of the Good". That being said, I actually was interested in the relationship between the narrator and his son, Chris. OK, enough blabbering. Enjoyed.more
I find this book enlightening and confusing all at the same time. There are some parts I get, and it’s like an “a-ha” type of moment. Other times I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. I think this is the type of book you need to re-read, more than once, and hopefully have someone you can discuss it with.more
I must have read this book at the wrong time in my life. Maybe if I was in high school in the 70s this would have all been useful, but I have already studied many of the 'discoveries' in this book, and I've used much more sensible texts to do it. Since the concepts here have been in use in Asia for centuries before hand, the presentation must be the thing that makes this book stand out, but I didn't find that to be impressive either. The detached, unsympathetic way he talks about his son was an odd contrast to a book that seemed to be about improving one's understanding of the universe.370 pages is a lot of space to cover nothing but the most basic tenants of Buddhist philosophy. I have a feeling it has served as an introduction to the tao, and mu, etc... to many people, which is good. For me it seemed too elementary.more
There is something unmistakably American about this strange book. The narrator is a true American character, he reminds me of Allen Ginsberg's voice in Howl, of the characters in On the Road by Kerouac, and of Walt Whitman, who was maybe the first beat poet that walked the earth. The book is full of American landscapes, full of that iconic thing that we love, the ROAD TRIP, and completely original in its form. It mixes philosophy, road trips, fiction and life writing into one long meditation about the self and its relationship to society. There are great riffs on the nature of learning, college life, nature, craftsmanship, mental illness and the very nature of existence. This book is a grab bag. It made me want to write in the margins and I did, a lot. Toward the end of the book, I got fatigued, especially because of all of the rereading of earlier passages in the narrative, but I recommend this classic to travellers and learners everywhere!more
Many years ago a chap, who I am glad to report is now my brother-in-law, was prescribed this book as a Stage 1 Engineering pre-read. He took one look at the cover and gave it to me, at that point a pubescent teenager grappling with the existential difficulties of the world which suddenly were presenting themselves (I'm still grappling with them now, come to think of it). "Here," he said, "you might have more use for this than me". He probably meant it as a joke. Well, I had a go - I would guess this was about 1983 - and I still recall Robert M Pirsig's vivid account of the bright, hot sweep of the prairies from the saddle of motorcycle, his ruminations on how to tell if your tappets need realigning, and him rabbiting on about travelling circuses called "chautauquas" and this mysterious Phaedrus character. I can't have got the whole way through because, as the journey arcs across the midwest to San Francisco, the personal story becomes more intense and the philosophy far more technical than a hormonally confused 13 year old could reasonably have stayed with. Recently I've found a copy and re-read it. Pirsig's fascination with the orient feels a little dated (if not glib) but it's still a clever, original and thought-provoking book, though mostly for the narrative structure rather than the philosophical content. As we read on we are presented with uncomfortable chapters in Pirsig's history. We find that Phaedrus is in fact an earlier rendition of Pirsig himself; a child genius and a tenured academic at an early age who, spurred by his own existential search for "quality", drove himself mad. He had a psychotic episode and was only brought out of it with electro-shock therapy. As we meet him, the rehabilitated Pirsig has left academia, writes technical manuals for IBM (a low-stress job if ever there were one) and has just embarked on a pan-American motorcycle tour with his son, Chris, whom he fears also may have psychiatric issues, and another couple whom he doesn't seem much to like. It is not explained why they are riding across America, other than as a vacation (and as a vacation it sounds super: I've wanted to do the same ever since) yet, as he leaves the other couple behind, it becomes clear that Pirsig is wantonly stirring up some old ghosts as he goes, riding directly into the dark heart of Phaedrus' old life and Chris is his unwitting, and increasingly unwilling, accomplice. Along the way Pirsig engages in these Chautauquas, expounding a theory of "quality" which, it emerges, is assembled from his fragmented recollections of Phaedrus' own homespun epistemology, once obliterated by the shock treatment but now slowly being uncovered and pieced together as he ventures westward. This is, of course, precisely the philosophy that engulfed and eventually sent Phaedrus insane, so this, with its obvious parallels to pioneering ventures into the wild west, is a powerful literary device. This narrative structure remains fresh; Pirsig's - or perhaps Phaedrus' - philosophy feels a little more shopworn: some of the ground he covers has been fought over bitterly in the subsequent forty years, and while Pirsig's complaints about analytical and Platonic realism ring true, his attempts to cure them with an appeal to a pre-intellectual, undefinable, "quality" - a valiant attempt, I think, to avoid veering into the roadside ditch of relativism - don't really carry the day (those who have read some of my other reviews will know I don't see a big problem with the roadside ditch). Pirsig's arguments get more strident and technical, but no more compelling, as Phaedrus's personality begins to reassert itself, and as the book enters its last quarter we get into fairly intricate analysis and critique of Plato's dialogues. These have been more lightly dispatched by the likes of Popper and Feyerabend, and Pirsig's alternative (refusing as it does to define its central tenet) lacks any real utility that I could make out. For all this the book never outstays its welcome: Pirsig is canny enough to interleave the philophical musings with the beauty of the American wilderness and an alarming descent towards the psychiatrically unknown. In its erudition, imagination and breath of coverage Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance deserves a place, perhaps further down the rostrum, amongst Philosophy's notably "left field" classics such as Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Paul Feyerabend's Against Method, and even Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The years have passed: my brother-in-law's eldest son is now currently reading engineering at University. I think I had better return the favour and send him a copy.more
This classic combines fiction and philosophy. Even though it is dated it is still relevant. The story line a little drawn out but kept me guessing right to the end. That said I would only recommend this book to those who may have an interest in philosophy. For me it makes me want to learn more about philosophy.more
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is an interesting look at the things learned by going mad, in that profound insight often comes from outside of our cultural norms, and that is the journey of our narrator - from deep within to deeply without of the bounds of our societal norms.There's as much in here to ridicule as to take to heart, however. I feel that there is far too much emphasis on "feelings" and "emotions" in the thrust of the decision making pushing the philosophy forward, and I fear that much of the lessons of this book have been missed by most of the population because of this. The thrust of the discussion is on "Quality", a term Pirsig holds as undefinable yet readily apparent. This "Quality" seems at times to be a sense of fitness to purpose, while at other times it seems to be about aesthetics as much as function. It is not, as he takes pains to explain, in aesthetics alone as things built to look nice but serve no purpose bug the hell out of him. He uses the example of a plaster fireplace in the wall of a dwelling as the epitome of non-quality - somethings designed to give the impression of advanced functionality in a purely illusionary sense.The book is a valuable read, but I would suggest that people read further into philosophy once done. Further conceptualization within the "great conversation" helps to evaluate Pirsig's philosophy outside of the last cresting of the baby boomer's striving for a different world before they sold "quality" up the river for material "fulfillment" instead.more
What would you do if you woke up in a hospital with no memory of what brought you there? What if you learned that you had become a new person because the old one had been annihilated by a court order and a series of electroshock treatments? Well, Robert Pirsig took a long motorcycle journey with his 11-year-old son Chris and wrote a book about it.ZMM can be read on that basic level or it can be read as a mystical journey through the memory of madness with the fear of its return. Robert meets the ghost of his former self Phaedrus and tries to understand where his tormented thoughts were leading him. Phaedrus was obsessed with “Quality” which is loosely a “characteristic of thought that is recognized by a nonthinking process.” If you enjoy mindbending concepts (as I do), then be prepared for a ride deep into philosophical ideas grounded in the everyday world. It’s a world where motorcycle maintenance is a metaphor about connections to life through close observation (awareness) and purposeful action.When I first read this book in the mid-70s, my gut reaction in the slang of the day was “far out.” After another journey with Pirsig I find that he’s still “out there,” however, his ideas make more sense to me now. What didn’t make sense was this paradox. Unity was a major theme of the book yet the closeness of riding across seven states on a motorcycle wasn’t enough to bring father and son together. You have to read to the very end of the book to see how this was achieved.Another confusion for me is how to classify this book. It could easily be considered an autobiography, abstract fiction, or a collection of essays…perhaps all three. No matter how it is categorized, it made me ponder once again the possibility of achieving harmony in the dailiness of life. We can recognize Quality if we are “quiet enough to see and hear and feel the real universe, not just one’s own stale opinions about it.”more
Easy to read while at the same time stimulating and challenging. I read it 30+ years ago and re-read it recently as a prelude to reading Lila. I recalled it as stimulating but not as a challenge to one's whole way of interpreting experience. I still don't grok Pirsig's use of the word Quality to mean, it seems, what I mean by 'god' or 'the ground of being'. It doesn't help me to use that word in that way so I haven't really come to terms with him on that. Maybe after I google "Metaphysics of Quality" I'll get some help with that.This book, with Lila, is certainly a novel way of attempting to turn 2500 years of philosophy sideways.more
I enjoyed the storytelling part of this book quite a bit. The father's relationship with his son was complex, and their relationship with their journey was varied and interesting. However, the author uses a heavy handed style of teaching the reader I hated enough to make me put down the book. He would describe a scene they experienced, then would go back through the motorcycle metaphor..again and again and again. I get it, our lives are the motorcycle and we don't understand them or strive to be more in control of them. I don't care, stop talking about it, I really don't care.more
Admittedly over my head. A dense read. The parts I got were insightful, and the fact that it was non-fiction was very interesting.more
This was one of my favorite books at university.more
Blah, Blah, Blah.Who has time for this stuff?more
Gave me a whole new perspective on the value and meaning of quality in life. Very insightful but kind of sad. Overall good book.more
My husband who died in 2005 probably read this book. I wish I knew. However, he made "the" motorcycle trip across the US in 1966, putting together the Triumph (or was it a BMW) together in our basement. This all rings true.I would recommend t his to anyone about to take a trip and wanting to record impressions. It is such a wonderful example of a travel diary.more
ZAMM narrates a trip to the west coast and discusses Quality in thought & statement. The book is inexplicably self-referential on so many levels. I've read it several times since it was published and recently listened to the audio disk which is extremely well read by Michael Kramer.more
The story is about a judgmental arrogant man who is aghast at those who don’t think and value what he does. How dare anyone see the world at any angle other than the one he see it at? Had I been on this road trip I would have gone my own way within one day seeing how he treats his son who is punished for being sick.more
One of the few books I keep going back to read again....underlining passages. I, too, have looked at people passing by in their cars and wonder why most of them never smile.more
This one is now in my top 10 most important books ever.I suppose for one who is a classical thinker this book may seem trite. However, I relate very much to the attitudes towards technology that Pirsig describes as romantic. And contrary to what some reviewers said I did not find his tone condescending or elitist. If I had I probably wouldn't have finished it. Instead I was sucked in and found my perspective slowly being altered. And if I can remember to keep some of these concepts in mind then maybe my machines won't betray me. And then perhaps my life will have been changed by this book.more
Read all 96 reviews

Reviews

Another of those books that meant so much to me in my teens, but was part of my college studies. Blessedly, digging and writing about this book didn't quite ruin it for me. There's something so damaging about being told what to think about a book (as is often the case when one is "taught" a book in the classroom).Yes, this book has the nasty aura of 70s popularity and has been a teen/20s read for many years, but once you clear away the dross of popularity and pop culture, it's still a gripping depiction of madness, social analysis, and personal revelation. It's much dated now, almost a historical document, a slice of the world at a particular time and place, but that's only a part of the whole. The "Inquiry into Values" -- the question of what is quality -- applies as much today as it ever did.more
Other than the one passage of misogyny that felt like a friendly dog had just turned and savaged me, this book was everything I'd expected from its reputation. It was simultaneously confusing and enlightening, and as a result I think it will continue to reverberate in my life. Well worth the time I spent. (Also, I highly recommend the audio version I "read," which was narrated by Michael Kramer.)more
Incoherent and nonsensical attempts at philosophy. The author happily discards any logical framework and proceeds to babble about terms he even refuses to define properly ('quality'), and then accidentally does so anyway, by defining what it is not.

The travelogue was somewhat interesting, but even that wound up to be a disappointment in the end.more
I read it because it is a famous book and I was curious. In parts it's boring in others it flows very well. A mixed balance I guess, overall not bad but I wouldn't read it againmore
I read this in high school (light years ago) and am glad I gave it a second look. The book is enlightening, infuriating and tragic all at once. Pirsig's internal ruminations are, at times, overwhelming, but the narrative of the journey and his relationship (or lack thereof) with his son kept me turning the pages. The father's disregard for his son (due, no doubt, to his incredible intellect and resurgent schizophrenia) was tough to take and the final coda of his son's fate is heartbreaking. Nonetheless, for navel-gazing and as a tribute to journeys --of any kind-- this book is a must-read.more
This book is three, no, four things — a story of a man and son on a motorcycle trip across America, the man's exploration of his own past self, a discussion of motorcycle maintenance, and a philosophical discourse. It's a strange book, because I've seen it sold as fiction, but it's really presented as fictionalized memoir. And though the author asserts this fictionalization and the books non-relation to zen discourse at the beginning, he also asserts that everything presented in this book is true. After a while, I stopped caring about where truth and fiction began and ended and just enjoyed the story. The motorcycle road trip is really secondary, more of a way for the author to string together pieces of the puzzle of his past while examining the philosophical discourse of classical versus romantic thinking and or Quality, which he explains to be the nature of reality, the place/time where subject and object meet. The discourse and theory is complex, so breaking it up with descriptions of the road trip also allow the reader a mental break and time to process all that's been said. and the descriptions of motorcycle maintenance provide good analogies for the philosophy he's trying to share. Really, this book only works with all these pieces working together. It's this interaction of physical journey combined with inward journey that makes the novel/memoir something more, something that people cling to, something that provides "answers" for life and how it should be lived, if you want to read into it that way — and you have to read into it to see such "answers" because the author leaves things ambiguous. He doesn't pretend to be a messiah. He imparts views on the nature of the world and then leaves it to the reader to do with them what they will. It was a fascinating read, one that makes me want to explore a hard copy version (because I listened to it on audio), so that I can absorb some of what he wrote in a new way. His philosophy has a solidity to it (unlike some spiritual discussion that tends to be more flighty like clouds aloft, drifting and insubstantial), because it's backed on a study of science and the scientific method, as well as a historical understanding of classic philosophers. It's definitely something to get you thinking and talking and looking at the world a little bit differently. As a side note, the version of this book I was presented was an anniversary edition, released ten years after it's first publication. It included an afterward by the author that pretty much kicked me in the gut and left me breathless and crying. Do you need to read this afterward to enjoy the book? No, and frankly, the ending is much more positive without it. But it does add more layers to the ongoing story of the author's life, which in my opinion, is worth reading.more
One of the most amazing books I have ever read...I have had an ongoing love-affair with this book since 1996. Originally it was given to my fiance, by his brother, for his birthday in 1994. My fiance was killed in 1996; the book became mine. I stuck it on a shelf where it sat for two years: I thought it was about motorcycle repair, and kept it in case I needed it for reference. When I finally did take it off the shelf, and look it over, it was in 1997. Upon opening the book, I noticed my fiance had marked the page he had last read shortly before his death; page 121. One sleepless night, as I was looking for something to read, I again came upon this book; after the first 10 pages, I was hooked...After the first 50, I decided I wasn't putting the book down until I finished it; I read it throughout the night, and finished it in the early morning hours.15 years later, I still have the original copy I first read, and anytime I meet someone new, who enjoys reading, I lend them the book. The last page my fiance read is still marked, and inside the back cover, are my initials, and the dates I have re-read it. I will pass it on to my sons one day!more
An enjoyable read. I think I may need to go back and read this again in the next year. The details of Persig's philosophy of "Quality" are kind of strange. He begins talking about quality as it relates to writing, but he ends up using it to refer to something else -- something bigger -- like Plato's " Form of the Good". That being said, I actually was interested in the relationship between the narrator and his son, Chris. OK, enough blabbering. Enjoyed.more
I find this book enlightening and confusing all at the same time. There are some parts I get, and it’s like an “a-ha” type of moment. Other times I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. I think this is the type of book you need to re-read, more than once, and hopefully have someone you can discuss it with.more
I must have read this book at the wrong time in my life. Maybe if I was in high school in the 70s this would have all been useful, but I have already studied many of the 'discoveries' in this book, and I've used much more sensible texts to do it. Since the concepts here have been in use in Asia for centuries before hand, the presentation must be the thing that makes this book stand out, but I didn't find that to be impressive either. The detached, unsympathetic way he talks about his son was an odd contrast to a book that seemed to be about improving one's understanding of the universe.370 pages is a lot of space to cover nothing but the most basic tenants of Buddhist philosophy. I have a feeling it has served as an introduction to the tao, and mu, etc... to many people, which is good. For me it seemed too elementary.more
There is something unmistakably American about this strange book. The narrator is a true American character, he reminds me of Allen Ginsberg's voice in Howl, of the characters in On the Road by Kerouac, and of Walt Whitman, who was maybe the first beat poet that walked the earth. The book is full of American landscapes, full of that iconic thing that we love, the ROAD TRIP, and completely original in its form. It mixes philosophy, road trips, fiction and life writing into one long meditation about the self and its relationship to society. There are great riffs on the nature of learning, college life, nature, craftsmanship, mental illness and the very nature of existence. This book is a grab bag. It made me want to write in the margins and I did, a lot. Toward the end of the book, I got fatigued, especially because of all of the rereading of earlier passages in the narrative, but I recommend this classic to travellers and learners everywhere!more
Many years ago a chap, who I am glad to report is now my brother-in-law, was prescribed this book as a Stage 1 Engineering pre-read. He took one look at the cover and gave it to me, at that point a pubescent teenager grappling with the existential difficulties of the world which suddenly were presenting themselves (I'm still grappling with them now, come to think of it). "Here," he said, "you might have more use for this than me". He probably meant it as a joke. Well, I had a go - I would guess this was about 1983 - and I still recall Robert M Pirsig's vivid account of the bright, hot sweep of the prairies from the saddle of motorcycle, his ruminations on how to tell if your tappets need realigning, and him rabbiting on about travelling circuses called "chautauquas" and this mysterious Phaedrus character. I can't have got the whole way through because, as the journey arcs across the midwest to San Francisco, the personal story becomes more intense and the philosophy far more technical than a hormonally confused 13 year old could reasonably have stayed with. Recently I've found a copy and re-read it. Pirsig's fascination with the orient feels a little dated (if not glib) but it's still a clever, original and thought-provoking book, though mostly for the narrative structure rather than the philosophical content. As we read on we are presented with uncomfortable chapters in Pirsig's history. We find that Phaedrus is in fact an earlier rendition of Pirsig himself; a child genius and a tenured academic at an early age who, spurred by his own existential search for "quality", drove himself mad. He had a psychotic episode and was only brought out of it with electro-shock therapy. As we meet him, the rehabilitated Pirsig has left academia, writes technical manuals for IBM (a low-stress job if ever there were one) and has just embarked on a pan-American motorcycle tour with his son, Chris, whom he fears also may have psychiatric issues, and another couple whom he doesn't seem much to like. It is not explained why they are riding across America, other than as a vacation (and as a vacation it sounds super: I've wanted to do the same ever since) yet, as he leaves the other couple behind, it becomes clear that Pirsig is wantonly stirring up some old ghosts as he goes, riding directly into the dark heart of Phaedrus' old life and Chris is his unwitting, and increasingly unwilling, accomplice. Along the way Pirsig engages in these Chautauquas, expounding a theory of "quality" which, it emerges, is assembled from his fragmented recollections of Phaedrus' own homespun epistemology, once obliterated by the shock treatment but now slowly being uncovered and pieced together as he ventures westward. This is, of course, precisely the philosophy that engulfed and eventually sent Phaedrus insane, so this, with its obvious parallels to pioneering ventures into the wild west, is a powerful literary device. This narrative structure remains fresh; Pirsig's - or perhaps Phaedrus' - philosophy feels a little more shopworn: some of the ground he covers has been fought over bitterly in the subsequent forty years, and while Pirsig's complaints about analytical and Platonic realism ring true, his attempts to cure them with an appeal to a pre-intellectual, undefinable, "quality" - a valiant attempt, I think, to avoid veering into the roadside ditch of relativism - don't really carry the day (those who have read some of my other reviews will know I don't see a big problem with the roadside ditch). Pirsig's arguments get more strident and technical, but no more compelling, as Phaedrus's personality begins to reassert itself, and as the book enters its last quarter we get into fairly intricate analysis and critique of Plato's dialogues. These have been more lightly dispatched by the likes of Popper and Feyerabend, and Pirsig's alternative (refusing as it does to define its central tenet) lacks any real utility that I could make out. For all this the book never outstays its welcome: Pirsig is canny enough to interleave the philophical musings with the beauty of the American wilderness and an alarming descent towards the psychiatrically unknown. In its erudition, imagination and breath of coverage Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance deserves a place, perhaps further down the rostrum, amongst Philosophy's notably "left field" classics such as Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Paul Feyerabend's Against Method, and even Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The years have passed: my brother-in-law's eldest son is now currently reading engineering at University. I think I had better return the favour and send him a copy.more
This classic combines fiction and philosophy. Even though it is dated it is still relevant. The story line a little drawn out but kept me guessing right to the end. That said I would only recommend this book to those who may have an interest in philosophy. For me it makes me want to learn more about philosophy.more
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is an interesting look at the things learned by going mad, in that profound insight often comes from outside of our cultural norms, and that is the journey of our narrator - from deep within to deeply without of the bounds of our societal norms.There's as much in here to ridicule as to take to heart, however. I feel that there is far too much emphasis on "feelings" and "emotions" in the thrust of the decision making pushing the philosophy forward, and I fear that much of the lessons of this book have been missed by most of the population because of this. The thrust of the discussion is on "Quality", a term Pirsig holds as undefinable yet readily apparent. This "Quality" seems at times to be a sense of fitness to purpose, while at other times it seems to be about aesthetics as much as function. It is not, as he takes pains to explain, in aesthetics alone as things built to look nice but serve no purpose bug the hell out of him. He uses the example of a plaster fireplace in the wall of a dwelling as the epitome of non-quality - somethings designed to give the impression of advanced functionality in a purely illusionary sense.The book is a valuable read, but I would suggest that people read further into philosophy once done. Further conceptualization within the "great conversation" helps to evaluate Pirsig's philosophy outside of the last cresting of the baby boomer's striving for a different world before they sold "quality" up the river for material "fulfillment" instead.more
What would you do if you woke up in a hospital with no memory of what brought you there? What if you learned that you had become a new person because the old one had been annihilated by a court order and a series of electroshock treatments? Well, Robert Pirsig took a long motorcycle journey with his 11-year-old son Chris and wrote a book about it.ZMM can be read on that basic level or it can be read as a mystical journey through the memory of madness with the fear of its return. Robert meets the ghost of his former self Phaedrus and tries to understand where his tormented thoughts were leading him. Phaedrus was obsessed with “Quality” which is loosely a “characteristic of thought that is recognized by a nonthinking process.” If you enjoy mindbending concepts (as I do), then be prepared for a ride deep into philosophical ideas grounded in the everyday world. It’s a world where motorcycle maintenance is a metaphor about connections to life through close observation (awareness) and purposeful action.When I first read this book in the mid-70s, my gut reaction in the slang of the day was “far out.” After another journey with Pirsig I find that he’s still “out there,” however, his ideas make more sense to me now. What didn’t make sense was this paradox. Unity was a major theme of the book yet the closeness of riding across seven states on a motorcycle wasn’t enough to bring father and son together. You have to read to the very end of the book to see how this was achieved.Another confusion for me is how to classify this book. It could easily be considered an autobiography, abstract fiction, or a collection of essays…perhaps all three. No matter how it is categorized, it made me ponder once again the possibility of achieving harmony in the dailiness of life. We can recognize Quality if we are “quiet enough to see and hear and feel the real universe, not just one’s own stale opinions about it.”more
Easy to read while at the same time stimulating and challenging. I read it 30+ years ago and re-read it recently as a prelude to reading Lila. I recalled it as stimulating but not as a challenge to one's whole way of interpreting experience. I still don't grok Pirsig's use of the word Quality to mean, it seems, what I mean by 'god' or 'the ground of being'. It doesn't help me to use that word in that way so I haven't really come to terms with him on that. Maybe after I google "Metaphysics of Quality" I'll get some help with that.This book, with Lila, is certainly a novel way of attempting to turn 2500 years of philosophy sideways.more
I enjoyed the storytelling part of this book quite a bit. The father's relationship with his son was complex, and their relationship with their journey was varied and interesting. However, the author uses a heavy handed style of teaching the reader I hated enough to make me put down the book. He would describe a scene they experienced, then would go back through the motorcycle metaphor..again and again and again. I get it, our lives are the motorcycle and we don't understand them or strive to be more in control of them. I don't care, stop talking about it, I really don't care.more
Admittedly over my head. A dense read. The parts I got were insightful, and the fact that it was non-fiction was very interesting.more
This was one of my favorite books at university.more
Blah, Blah, Blah.Who has time for this stuff?more
Gave me a whole new perspective on the value and meaning of quality in life. Very insightful but kind of sad. Overall good book.more
My husband who died in 2005 probably read this book. I wish I knew. However, he made "the" motorcycle trip across the US in 1966, putting together the Triumph (or was it a BMW) together in our basement. This all rings true.I would recommend t his to anyone about to take a trip and wanting to record impressions. It is such a wonderful example of a travel diary.more
ZAMM narrates a trip to the west coast and discusses Quality in thought & statement. The book is inexplicably self-referential on so many levels. I've read it several times since it was published and recently listened to the audio disk which is extremely well read by Michael Kramer.more
The story is about a judgmental arrogant man who is aghast at those who don’t think and value what he does. How dare anyone see the world at any angle other than the one he see it at? Had I been on this road trip I would have gone my own way within one day seeing how he treats his son who is punished for being sick.more
One of the few books I keep going back to read again....underlining passages. I, too, have looked at people passing by in their cars and wonder why most of them never smile.more
This one is now in my top 10 most important books ever.I suppose for one who is a classical thinker this book may seem trite. However, I relate very much to the attitudes towards technology that Pirsig describes as romantic. And contrary to what some reviewers said I did not find his tone condescending or elitist. If I had I probably wouldn't have finished it. Instead I was sucked in and found my perspective slowly being altered. And if I can remember to keep some of these concepts in mind then maybe my machines won't betray me. And then perhaps my life will have been changed by this book.more
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