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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values Mass Market Paperback – March 1, 1984

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Profoundly important... full of insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas... It is intellectual entertainment of the highest order." -- The New York Times

"It lodges in the mind as few recent novels have... The book is inspired, original... As the mountains gentle toward the sea--with father and child locked in a ghostly grip--the narrative tact, the perfect economy of effect defy criticism... The analogies with Moby Dick are patent. Robert Pirsig invites the prodigious comparison... What more can one say?" -- The New Yorker

"It's a miracle.. sparkles like an electric dream. Freshness, originality... that seduces you into loving motorcycles, as tender in their pistons as the petals in the Buddah's dawn lotus." -- The Village Voice
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 373 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam New Age Books (October 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553277472
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553277470
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,250 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,579 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert M. Pirsig was born in 1928 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He holds degrees in chemistry, philosophy, and journalism and also studied Oriental philosophy at Benares Hindu University in India. He is the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

175 of 177 people found the following review helpful By Jesse M. TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 6, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
I might be a little late on this train, because I heard about this book almost 40 years after it came out. I was interested in it based on the title. I don’t particularly associate Zen and motorcycle maintenance, but Robert Pirsig certainly made it work. This tale is a classic one, and it will undoubtedly live on long after I’m gone. I’m glad I got to read even though it came 40 years later. I think the teachings are poignant and profound, and the framework of the entire narrative—a father-son motorcycle trip—is absolutely perfect. If you ever want to know what questions to ask about your own existence, then I feel like this is a must-read.

In my search for a better understanding of myself, I also came across 21 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy This book doesn’t offer the same Zen-like, calming musings that you’ll find in Pirsig’s book. But, authors Alvin Huang and Chris D’Cruz certainly possess some kind of understanding of how the human mind works. If you want to be happy, you simply have to let some things go. There’s no getting around it. Being a perfectionist is something that will never lead to happiness. I was a perfectionist. I wanted everyone to like me, and I wanted everything I did to be absolutely perfect. In some ways, that’s a benefit I think you have to let go of the fact that everything you do could be perfect. It’s just no feasible.

I think if you’re looking for a relaxing read, then Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the perfect book for you. It certainly a book that will force you to think critically, laugh, and make profound discoveries about yourself and the nature of human life. Add 21 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy to give yourself a well-rounded library as well.
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827 of 859 people found the following review helpful By Gary R. Larson on November 2, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm compelled to write this review after browsing the others, because something has to be said about book that isn't being pointed out for someone who is interested in the book for the first time.

At this point, this book can be found on the front table in your local bookstore. Other philosophy books can be found in the philosophy section either collecting dust, or being perused by someone intensely interested in philosophy who is well versed in debates that have gone on for centuries.

I have listened to the author, Robert Pirsig, being interviewed, and it seems that he did, in fact, intend for this book and its premise of "Quality" to be the great, all encompassing philosophy, presented in a straightforward, readable manner. However, despite Pirsig's intention, that is not quite why this book has become so famous.

This book is famous because it fills a perfect niche in that it introduces some very complicated philosophical questions in a form that the common reader will find interesting. Pirsig is attempting to create a practical philosophy and sets the book against the background of actual experience to make the questions he ponders real for the reader.

With that in mind, if you are not clamoring for a debate with someone else who is knowledgable on the ins and outs of Kierkegaard and Spinoza and are simply looking for a readable book that makes a real attempt of answering the big questions in life, this book is for you.

What I find interesting, and somewhat disturbing, is that many choose to deride this book because it doesn't agree with their notions of philosopy, but fail to grasp that the people who are most likely to read this book won't even be at the table to understand their objections to it unless they read it.
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408 of 461 people found the following review helpful By Walter V. Cicha on May 2, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In my (1/e)*100 years on this planet, during which I devoured at least ten times as many books, I have read only two more than once - "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is one of them. In this monumental 1974 work, Robert Pirsig has achieved what few others have managed before him and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody else has accomplished since: a perfect unification of philosophy, adventure and mystery. His "Chautauqua," or traveling tale, takes the reader on a profound tour of ancient Greek philosophy, the steppes of Montana, and even a little bit of Zen Buddhism, with endless surprises and much original if not truly inspired thought along the way. Through his self-portrayal by means of the unforgettable and eerily enigmatic character Phaedrus, Mr. Pirsig shares his far-reaching search for the meaning of life, and himself. His fundamental concern is with the following seemingly simple but in effect infinitely complex question: "How can one distinguish "good" from "bad?" The question is posed and addressed in many different forms throughout the book, and in the process the concepts of truth, value and quality are dissected, reassembled, and again dissected and reassembled many times. Mr. Pirsig has an uncanny sense of timing, and he never allows the heavier passages to labor on too long. This is avoided by craftily interspersing his philosophical discourse amongst very down-to-earth and charming observations made during a motorcycle trip that takes the narrator and his seemingly troubled son Chris from the American Prairies to the Pacific, and forms the prevalent background for the entire "Chautauqua." "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is a totally unique creation.Read more ›
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