Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

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

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...

Title:Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0060589469
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Mass Market Paperback
Number of Pages:540 pages

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

  • Katherine
    May 23, 2007

    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

    and

    .

    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

    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

    and

    .

    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

    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.

  • Clinton
    Jun 22, 2007

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

  • Richard
    Jul 31, 2007

    There are three threads weaving through this book (none of which, as is pointed out, has much to do with either eastern philosophy or with motorcycle maintenance.)

    The first is a straightforward narration by a man riding across the country with his young son and two friends (a married couple). This evocative travelogue is by far the most enjoyable aspect of the novel.

    The second element is a sort of mystery as that man struggles with his memory; it's gradually revealed that he's on the road both t

    There are three threads weaving through this book (none of which, as is pointed out, has much to do with either eastern philosophy or with motorcycle maintenance.)

    The first is a straightforward narration by a man riding across the country with his young son and two friends (a married couple). This evocative travelogue is by far the most enjoyable aspect of the novel.

    The second element is a sort of mystery as that man struggles with his memory; it's gradually revealed that he's on the road both to escape his past and to attempt to remember it.

    The last thread is where the book just falls apart. Through the narrator's dialogue with himself, Pirsig puts forward his ludicrous "philosophy of quality," which essentially holds that "quality," whatever that might be, is somehow the fundamental reality of the universe. If that sounds like nonsense then you understand it perfectly.

    When we find out why the narrator had lost his memory in the first place, the answers don't live up to any expectations we might have been unfortunate enough to have developed.

  • Charlotte
    Sep 13, 2007

    OK, maybe I'm being a little too harsh. I actually enjoyed the idea of the cross-country motorcycle ride, the details about motorcycle mechanics, and especially the portrayal of the narrator's relationship with his son. The son was the best part of the whole book. Unfortunately, there wasn't much space for sonny, because dad was too busy advertising the author's brilliant philisophical insights. Even more unfortunately, the insights weren't brilliant, and consumed hundreds of tedious pages. It o

    OK, maybe I'm being a little too harsh. I actually enjoyed the idea of the cross-country motorcycle ride, the details about motorcycle mechanics, and especially the portrayal of the narrator's relationship with his son. The son was the best part of the whole book. Unfortunately, there wasn't much space for sonny, because dad was too busy advertising the author's brilliant philisophical insights. Even more unfortunately, the insights weren't brilliant, and consumed hundreds of tedious pages. It occured to me to wonder whether the author was trying to make the point that the narrator was a pompous idiot; however, the intent seemed to be for the reader to be blown away by the brilliance of the narrator's philosophical insights, and hence by the brilliance of the author who conceived of the narrator and the philosophical insights. I can't believe I made it through 380 pages of this.

  • Mason Wiebe
    Feb 03, 2008

    I must start by saying that this is one of my favorite books ever. Although it is deep and complicated and takes a lot of focus to read, I feel that there are a lot of great messages here in the author’s search for Quality. This was my second time reading this book, and I liked it more this time.

    Interlaced with stories from an across-the-west motorcycle trip with his son and some friends, Pirsig tells the story of his past in an almost former life before being admitted to a mental institution a

    I must start by saying that this is one of my favorite books ever. Although it is deep and complicated and takes a lot of focus to read, I feel that there are a lot of great messages here in the author’s search for Quality. This was my second time reading this book, and I liked it more this time.

    Interlaced with stories from an across-the-west motorcycle trip with his son and some friends, Pirsig tells the story of his past in an almost former life before being admitted to a mental institution after going crazy in his pursuit of Quality. He often uses the motorcycle as an analogy, as well as climbing mountains. With what many would see as too much depth and detail (but not me), he dissects the ideas of rhetoric, quality, the scientific method, technology and many ideas of the ancient Greek philosophers and tries to take down an entire academic department in the search of a unifying truth/god/connecting force.

    I don’t really feel that there is a lot that I can say to do this book justice in a short review form like this. I’ll just write up a bunch of underlined quotes instead.

    “…physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong. Then you fasten on to whatever thing is uncomfortable and call that the cause. But if the mood is right, then physical discomfort doesn’t mean much.”

    “Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted.”

    “That’s the first normal thing I’ve said in weeks. The rest of the time I’m feigning twentieth-century lunacy just like you are. So as to not draw attention to myself.”

    “Nobody is concerned anymore about tidily conserving space. The land isn’t valuable anymore. We are in a Western town.”

    “But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government , but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

    “If the purpose of scientific method is to select from among a multitude of hypotheses, and if the number of hypotheses grows faster than experimental method can handle, then it is clear that all hypotheses can never be tested. If all hypotheses cannot be tested, then the results of any experiment are inconclusive and the entire scientific method falls short of its goal of establishing proven knowledge.”

    “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.”

    “You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.”

    “But what’s happening is that each year our old flat earth of conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating widespread feelings of topsy-turviness. As a result we’re getting more and more people in irrational areas of thought – occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like – because they feel the inadequacy of classical reason to handle what they know are real experiences.”

    “The trouble is that essays always have to sound like God talking for eternity, and that isn’t the way it ever is. People should see that it’s never anything other than just one person talking from one place in time and space and circumstance. It’s never been anything else, ever, but you can’t get that across in an essay.”

    “The allegory of a physical mountain for the spiritual one that stands between each soul and its goal is an easy and natural one to make. Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships. Some travel into the mountains accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination. Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes. Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it. Once there they become more aware than any of the others that there’s no single or fixed number of routes. There are as many routes as there are individual souls.”

    “He was just stopped. Waiting. For that missing seed crystal of thought that would suddenly solidify everything.”

    “Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster… When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it’s a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That’s never the way.”

    “The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take.”

    “Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.”

    “They have patience, care and attentiveness to what they’re doing, but more than this – there’s a kind of inner peace of mind that isn’t contrived but results from a kind of harmony with the work in which there’s no leader and no follower. The material and the craftsman’s thoughts change together in a progression of smooth, even changes until his mind is at rest at the exact instant the material is right.”

    “Or if he takes whatever dull job he’s stuck with – and they are all, sooner or later, dull – and, just to keep himself amused, starts to look for options of Quality, and secretly pursues these options, just for their own sake, thus making an art out of what he is doing, he’s likely to discover he becomes a much more interesting person and much less of an object to the people around him because his Quality decisions change him too. And not only the job and him, but others, too, because the Quality tends to fan out like waves. The Quality job he didn’t think anyone was going to see is seen, and the person who sees it feels a little better because of it and is likely to pass that feeling on to others, and in that way the Quality tends to keep on going.

    My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all.God, I don’t want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out. These can be left alone for a while. There’s a place for them but they’ve got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved. We’ve had that individual quality in the past, exploited as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it’s just about depleted. Everyone’s just about out if gumption. And I think it’s about time to return the rebuilding of this American resource – individual worth. There are political reactionaries who’ve been saying something close to this for years. I’m not one of them, but to the extent they’re talking about real individual worth and not just an excuse for giving more money to the rich, they’re right. We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption. We really do.”

    “What is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good – need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

  • Christy
    Feb 23, 2008

    Maybe it's unfair to give a poor rating to a book I read in high school. However, I like to think that I was wise beyond my years and knew a phony, self-congratulatory, pretentious buffoon when I saw one. On the other hand, I did wear baggy overalls with Birkenstocks every day back then and wondered why I didn’t have a boyfriend, so clearly I didn’t know everything.

    But as I read through the reviews here, I am confronted by a rush of unpleasant memories about this particular reading experience. T

    Maybe it's unfair to give a poor rating to a book I read in high school. However, I like to think that I was wise beyond my years and knew a phony, self-congratulatory, pretentious buffoon when I saw one. On the other hand, I did wear baggy overalls with Birkenstocks every day back then and wondered why I didn’t have a boyfriend, so clearly I didn’t know everything.

    But as I read through the reviews here, I am confronted by a rush of unpleasant memories about this particular reading experience. The narrator did indeed seem like a dick. And he may have been okay with that, because I got the impression that he’s one of those guys who doesn’t care if he comes off as a dick, because his purpose in life is to Figure It All Out, and disseminate his impressive knowledge to the masses of sheep-like mouth-breathers who wandered into Waldenbooks and picked up a mass-market paperback copy of his masterpiece. Their lives will be changed! The narrator is too busy unraveling the mysteries of the universe to bother with being likable. It’s a sacrifice, but someone has to do it. We should be thanking him!

    And this is just an aside, but part of me always wonders if there is something wrong with me, or if I’m an elitist or delusional because I’ve never read a “life-changing” book. That’s right: a book has never changed me. I read as a kind of re-affirmation of what I think I already know, somewhere deep down. Or I simply read to experience the pleasure of a good story. I’ve put a book down and thought to myself, “Boy, that was a good book. I’m in such a pleasant/ponderous/gloomy mood now. Well done!” But never have I put down a book and thought, “Before I read this, I was wandering around on this thing we call Earth with the wrong ideas about life/people/religion/mechanical engineering, but now I have been enlightened. From this point forward, my life will be different. I will be a better person.” I don’t know. Maybe I just have a bad attitude, or think that I’m smarter than everyone else. Maybe I’m no better than our friend Mr. Pirsig. If you think that may be the case, I suppose you can just ignore this review completely and read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

    But! If you think I’m just like Pirsig, you would want to heed my advice about this book and avoid it, wouldn’t you? Aha! You see, you can’t like us both, otherwise the universe will implode. Or will it? Perhaps it is no more than a conundrum I have devised out of sheer malice and a masturbatory sense of self-importance. Perhaps I am full of shit. You’ll never know for sure.

    You can’t escape this philosophy-ninja’s intellectual trap. Don’t even try.

  • Riku Sayuj
    Aug 31, 2011

    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 l

    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

    - 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

    And 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...

  • Petra Eggs
    Jul 04, 2012

    When I was quite young my brain said to me, after a particularly long and stoned session listening to Pink Floyd and discussing philosophy, 'oh give me a break'. So I said to my brain, 'there's no need to be so rude,' and my brain said, 'no seriously, I can't handle this anymore, really, let me take a break'. So it did and I've been operating on brain-stem alone ever since. I don't know it's made that much difference.

    I wonder if the author's brain was thinking like mine was?

    Certainly when I was

    When I was quite young my brain said to me, after a particularly long and stoned session listening to Pink Floyd and discussing philosophy, 'oh give me a break'. So I said to my brain, 'there's no need to be so rude,' and my brain said, 'no seriously, I can't handle this anymore, really, let me take a break'. So it did and I've been operating on brain-stem alone ever since. I don't know it's made that much difference.

    I wonder if the author's brain was thinking like mine was?

    Certainly when I was reading this book and sort of enjoying it (2 stars-worth), I was also thinking I am just too old to be reading this sort of cod-philosophy, too old and not stoned enough. I read other people's reviews and have to conclude that they all saw something in this book that impressed them as deep and me as deeply populist. Either way, I didn't really enjoy it and it only gets two stars because the writing was ok, the book wasn't arduous to read, some parts of it were interesting and enjoyable.

    I wasn't that keen on the author's exploration of his mental breakdown either. I find when other people tell me the dreams they had last night, or I have to read them in a book I turn off as well. I really don't know why, nor do I know if others also feel this way. When telling last night's major really interesting dream to someone else, I've never said, "Do you find this as boring as I would if it was you telling me?" Actually that's a load of guff, I don't tell other people my dreams because I suspect they would be bored rigid and neither do I tell them about my mental breakdown when I saw three rainbows in the sky and didn't kill myself because I couldn't find a nightie that was suitable. See, boring!

    I kept thinking that Roberts (the author of

    ) and Pirsig would get on really well. They could sit in cafes in foreign parts swapping tales of derring-do, drugs and their fascinating insights whilst waiting for an audience to join them. That's a bit mean-spirited as Pirsig is a great deal more appealing as an author and person than the somewhat sleazy Roberts, but I think you get what I mean. And I will say that it's quite readable, the travel descriptions are very well done, the characters, apart from the hero, are in general interesting but... I still couldn't get into it.

    Anyway, it's a Sunday, much love and an extra star!


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