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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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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 373 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam New Age Books (March 1, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553277472
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553277470
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 4.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (938 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

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.

Customer Reviews

I read this book the first time over twenty years ago when I was in college.
Chevota
This book just blew me away.......it is one of those books you buy on a whim thinking hey maybe its good but once you get into it you can't put it down.
Trapper Dave
Though "Lila" takes a narrative approach that's a bit less readable than "Zen and...", it gives a more comprehensive view of Pirsig's philosophy.
Gary R. Larson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

663 of 689 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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375 of 420 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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110 of 122 people found the following review helpful By Michael Green on December 18, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Part road novel, part philosophy, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ("ZMM") met with huge critical and commercial success when first published in 1974. Narrator and son ride from Minneapolis to San Francisco; meanwhile, both are haunted by the narrator's past insanity, brought about by his "chasing the ghost of rationality". A series of philosophical monologues addresses questions both mundane - how to fix a motorcycle - and metaphysical.
Today ZMM retains a sizeable following, although criticism of it is very polarised: Pirsig's fervent self-assurance when dealing with philosophical questions converts some readers into "followers" and tends to exasperate everyone else. Mostly structured as a "solution" rather than an "inquiry", as the title claims, ZMM's philosophy is too often accepted without question, and it is frequently and regrettably true that the more positive the review, the more philosophically naïve the reviewer. Nonetheless, this should not disallow ZMM from being considered on its own merits.
ZMM is not an introductory philosophy text, more a "once-in-a-lifetime" philosophical statement; the comparison has already been made with Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher, Bach", and Hofstadter's description - "a statement of my religion" - could well describe ZMM, too. When one considers the motivation required to sustain Pirsig's long and solitary struggle in writing and publishing ZMM, the rhetorical fervour of his arguments becomes more understandable. Those who attack Pirsig as pompous or narcissistic fail to appreciate the degree of self-belief needed to complete such a highly individualistic work. So, we can certainly admire him for trying - but is ZMM any good?
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