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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (1974)

by Robert M. Pirsig

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
16,511248232 (3.81)234
A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, this book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions on 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, this classic is a touching and transcendent book of life.--From publisher description.… (more)
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    Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford (prehensel)
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    The Road by Cormac McCarthy (SCPeterson)
    SCPeterson: A man and his son travel very different paths toward self-discovery, confronting ultimate truth and the source of all meaning along the way
  3. 00
    A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (jeff.s.thomson)
  4. 00
    My Mercedes is Not for Sale: From Amsterdam to Ouagadougou...An Auto-Misadventure Across the Sahara by Jeroen van Bergeijk (gonzobrarian)
    gonzobrarian: an inquiry into travel, adventure, and meaning
  5. 01
    Stranger in a Strange Land (Uncut Edition) by Robert A. Heinlein (emf1123)
    emf1123: If you're in your late teens, reading both of these books back to back (stranger in a strange land, zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance) is a good quality mindfuck. I doubt that either have the same influence as one ages, though.
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» See also 234 mentions

English (219)  Italian (7)  Dutch (6)  French (4)  Finnish (4)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (243)
Showing 1-5 of 219 (next | show all)
I’ve heard about this book for years, but never found the prospect of reading it appealing. The hardcover from William Morrow and Company sat on my shelves for years, collecting dust and staving off inferiority complexes against its oft-picked neighbors. What do I know or care of motorcycles? Why do I need to read another book about a practice (Zen) that prides itself on being ineffable? A few Zen koans and some of D. T. Suzuki’s treatises and that’s enough for me to get the gist. Anyway, the title, the unremarkable blackboard binding, the lack of public representation (today), and, well, my own circumscribed thinking kept the book from my mind. Until the recent news of Pirsig’s death.

Read full review here: http://www.chrisviabookreviews.com/2017/09/04/zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-main... ( )
  chrisvia | Apr 29, 2021 |
Pathological and oppressive. I finally understand why dad stares into space all the time and can't take care of me anymore. Read Foucault's Discipline and Punish instead, it's somehow less harrowing. ( )
  .json | Mar 21, 2021 |
I read this in my freshman year of college. I found the first 2/3 of the book wonderful, and the last third a bit redundant. I think I didn't ever quite finish it. ( )
  wickenden | Mar 8, 2021 |
I was kind of dreading starting this, because I had a feeling I wouldn't like it. I was totally wrong - this was absorbing and thought-provoking in a way that a book hasn't been in a long time for me. I don't think I totally parsed everything Pirsig put in here, but I think this is something I am going to return to again (and again?) in the future. The only way I can describe it is how I described it to a friend earlier - as a different lens to see the world through. ( )
  skolastic | Feb 2, 2021 |
Robert Pirsig tells a story of how one man tried to live a life of reason while dealing with everyday physical routines and activities, juxtaposed with a spiritual search for the universal truth to the meaning of life.

That man was the author, Pirsig himself. Born with the exceptionally high IQ of a genius Pirsig traveled a lonely road of isolation, repelling most ordinary people. After a life-long journey of studying chemistry and philosophy, several jobs, marriage and having a son, suffering a nervous breakdown, being institutionalized in a mental facility and receiving electroshock therapy, he writes this compelling autobiographical tale.

It is an adventure of a father and son traveling across the USA on a vintage motorcycle. It did not turn out to be a warm bonding vacation of joyful experiences, fatherly advice, and affectionate camaraderie that you would imagine. Pirsig’s intellectual gift comes with a heavy price; a depth of thought that prohibits him from easy communication with anyone, especially a young boy.

Pirsig does a lot of internal self examination and philosophizing during the hours of riding and shares those thoughts with the reader. His search for the meaning of a quality life leads to reflecting on the ideologies of the philosophical pioneers: Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Kant, and Hume. While some people may find the content dry and almost indecipherable, it is actually intensely fascinating. Not just his views (from the perspective of a genius), but his interpretation of different philosophical theories, his analogies, and descriptions of events.

Pirsig’s quandary - is it more important to state the truth, or just go along with popular opinion for the sake of peace an harmony? Which is more harmful in the long run? We all suffer occasions in life that test our integrity. Pirsig was so determined to live a life of truth that he nearly destroyed himself. And by the way, what is Quality? Do we really need to define it philosophically?

"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" was written in 1974 and the manuscript was turned down by 121 publishers before Pirsig stumbled across William Morrow and Co., who was willing to take the risk on this very unique, powerful story. And here it is 46 years later, 5 million copies have been sold, and I was fortunate enough to discover it listed as No. 73 on the Modern Library list of top 100 books selected by polled readers. ( )
  LadyLo | Jan 11, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 219 (next | show all)
One is tempted to call the book a psychomelodrama, for Pirsig's intentions are as extravagant as his themes. The attempt to triumph over madness, suicide, death in the self, of his son, for our world, by means of the patient exploration of ideas and emotions is certainly an extravagant ambition. That he succeeds in finding a plausible catharsis through such an enterprise seems to me sufficient reward for the author's perseverance, and ample testimony to his honesty and courage.
added by Shortride | editThe New York Times Book Review, Edward Abbey (pay site) (Mar 30, 1975)
 
Whatever it's true philosophical worth, it is intellectual entertainment of the highest order.
 

» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pirsig, Robert M.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bacon, PaulCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jonkers, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Original title
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Epigraph
And what is good, Phaedrus,

And what is not good -

Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
Dedication
for my family
Aan mijn familie
First words
I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning.
Quotations
You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It's easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.
Live in the future, then build what's missing.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Original language
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Canonical DDC/MDS
A narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son, this book becomes a personal and philosophical odyssey into fundamental questions on 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, this classic is a touching and transcendent book of life.--From publisher description.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
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.

In his now classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig brings us a literary chautauqua, a novel that is meant to both entertain and edify. It scores high on both counts. Phaedrus, our narrator, takes a present-tense cross-country motorcycle trip with his son during which the maintenance of the motorcycle becomes an illustration of how we can unify the cold, rational realm of technology with the warm, imaginative realm of artistry. As in Zen, the trick is to become one with the activity, to engage in it fully, to see and appreciate all details--be it hiking in the woods, penning an essay, or tightening the chain on a motorcycle. In his autobiographical first novel, Pirsig wrestles both with the ghost of his past and with the most important philosophical questions of the 20th century--why has technology alienated us from our world? what are the limits of rational analysis? if we can't define the good, how can we live it? Unfortunately, while exploring the defects of our philosophical heritage from Socrates and the Sophists to Hume and Kant, Pirsig inexplicably stops at the middle of the 19th century. With the exception of Poincaré, he ignores the more recent philosophers who have tackled his most urgent questions, thinkers such as Peirce, Nietzsche (to whom Phaedrus bears a passing resemblance), Heidegger, Whitehead, Dewey, Sartre, Wittgenstein, and Kuhn. In the end, the narrator's claims to originality turn out to be overstated, his reasoning questionable, and his understanding of the history of Western thought sketchy. His solution to a synthesis of the rational and creative by elevating Quality to a metaphysical level simply repeats the mistakes of the premodern philosophers. But in contrast to most other philosophers, Pirsig writes a compelling story. And he is a true innovator in his attempt to popularize a reconciliation of Eastern mindfulness and nonrationalism with Western subject/object dualism. The magic of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance turns out to lie not in the answers it gives, but in the questions it raises and the way it raises them. Like a cross between The Razor's Edge and Sophie's World, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance takes us into "the high country of the mind" and opens our eyes to vistas of possibility. --Brian Bruya
Haiku summary
Biker -- deep thinker:

finally finds acceptance

for his peace of mind.

(legallypuzzled)

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