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Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 9, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Forty years ago, Robert M. Pirsig, his son, Chris, and two friends rode their motorcycles from Minneapolis to California on a journey made famous by Pirsig’s best-selling Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). “Pirsig pilgrims” and “Zen riders” have been following the Pirsig trail every since, and now journalist Richardson takes his shot, laptop lashed to Suzuki. His travelogue is dull, mesmerizing, and provocative, just like a long road trip. There’s plenty of motorcycle maintenance, an accounting of what has remained the same on the route and what has changed, and the intriguing discovery of the journey Pirsig’s book has taken, reaching the unlikeliest of readers. Richardson meets folks who appear in Pirsig’s book and their descendants and presents an incisive portrait of the reclusive guru, a difficult man of uncommon intelligence who has weathered mental illness and his son’s murder. Richardson is companionable, but he is no deep thinker. His chronicle lacks historical context and metaphysical understanding, yet, like a well-maintained motorcycle, it carries you forward into shadow and sunlight. --Donna Seaman


Praise for Mark Richardson’s Zen and Now:

Zen and Now serves as a primer for both long-time devotees and newcomers to the Pirsig cult. It is also a harrowing account of the toll that the making of one man’s masterpiece exacted not only on himself but on those around him. . . . The appeal of Pirsig’s message–to make good time ‘with the emphasis on “good” rather than “time,”‘–seems to reverberate still. . . . Zen and Now is a reminder of how much pain it can take to make so many people feel better.” –Eddie Dean, The Wall Street Journal

“Assured and poetic. . . . A sort of Cliff’s Notes version of the dense original, and as much of a biography of Pirsig as Richardson was able to piece together. . . . An enjoyable read. . . . Richardson is quite meticulous in describing the thoughts, sensations, even the superstitions many motorcyclists experience while riding.” –Susan Carpenter, The Los Angeles Times

“Richardson’s strong narrative thread results in a page-turner that does right by the original. Zen and Now is sure to inspire a new generation of riders and readers to pick up Pirsig’s book and take to the open road in search of quality.” –Vince Darcangelo, Rocky Mountain News

“Fans of Pirsig’s cult classic should read Richardson’s book if they want the true story of the author. . . . Richardson digs deep to unearth the motives behind his tormented mentor’s search for quality while embarking on a search of his own. . . . [Zen and Now is] an engrossing tale recounted with a journalist’s attention to fact and an adventurer’s appetite for the enlightening surprise.” —Scott Driscoll, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Most notably for fans of the original, Zen and Now pushes the story forward, through Richardson’s correspondence with the interview-averse Pirsig, his editor, his ex-wife, and a second son, Ted, who has disavowed his relationship with his intense father.” –James Sullivan, The Boston Globe

“A good read. . . . Although Richardson is on the trail of Pirsig, this book is as much about his own status in the universe and who he is as a father and a human being. It is charmingly written, honest to a fault and as unpretentious as Pirsig’s book was the opposite. Zen and Now invites the reader along on several levels; Richardson’s research into Pirsig and his life is impeccable and the book is full of all kinds of interesting little nuggets.” –Ted Laturnus, Toronto Globe and Mail

Zen and Now is a story worth telling, about a journey worth sharing–an entertaining, inspiring, and rewarding read.” –Neil Peart, bestselling author of Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307269701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269706
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,462,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Unlike several of the other Amazon reviewers, when I read "Zen and Now" I found that Richardson understands that "Zen and the Art" was about much more than a motorcycle trip. However, he felt that it would be pointless for a third party to recreate Robert Pirsig's bestseller. What Richardson does do is to fill in many gaps in our understanding of Pirsig himself. In other words, this is literary biography. And, as literary biography, I give this book high marks.

What's new about "Zen and Now"? Until now, how many readers knew that Pirsig had two sons? In Richardson's text we learn about Ted Pirsig, the son (close to Chris Pirsig's age)whom Robert Pirsig never mentions in his writings or interviews. Why is that? And why does his son, Ted, refer to him as his "ex-father"? We also learn about the mother of Ted and Chris, Nancy James, a gracious hostess and creator of a wonderful restaurant in Minneapolis, an active member of the Zen Center on Lake Calhoun. She was the woman in the shadows who looked after Robert when his mental breakdown pushed him close to edge. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" would never have been written if she had not cared for him and held the family together during his breakdown.

In an interview with Richardson, Nancy James presents a legitimate counterpoint to Robert Pirsig's assertion that she and Pirsig's father, Maynard, were cruel to force him into mental health care that destroyed "the genius with the 170 I. Q." If they thought that the author was a danger to himself and others how could they not intervene?

We Westerners, myself included, tend to put Zen Buddhism on a pedestal where it is safe from rational criticism.
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Format: Hardcover
Like Mr. Richardson I'm a huge fan of Pirsig and motorcycling and bought this book when I saw a review of it in the WSJ. I was deeply disappointed. Zen and the Art ... works because of the explorations into various facets of philosophy and identity. It's not really about a motorcycle trip, it's about exploration. Richardson's book explores nothing. There are a few random stabs into his family relationships and past experiences but they are far from profound and seem tacked on. All you learn about the author from this book is that he's whiny and prone to making spurious correlations. He never comes across as understanding Zen and the Art ... You'd think from reading Richardson that having to camp was high on the list of human miseries. That, and having to drive with the sun in your eyes. Real hardships, those.

As a travel narrative writer he fails badly. I had to force myself not the skip the sections where he's describing which way the creek he was driving next to turned or how the water in this creek made a gurgling sound. In Pirsig's book such descriptions served as launching points for something else. Here there's no context for this, it's just bland, the-sky-was-deep-blue type, description. And there's a lot of it.

I did not know much about Pirsig's history or the story surrounding the writing and aftermath of Zen and the Art ... and those parts were interesting and seemingly well-researched. Those parts were less than half the book, unfortunately. I may have expected too much from Zen and Now as writing anything even close to Zen and the Art... is a high bar indeed.
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Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book, in fact it exceeded my expectations. I had been looking for some back story to ZMM that would include more information about the original trip and characters. With this book I found all that I was looking for and it's own story. Which I feel does a good job of adding to the original work. (Not the philosophy portions so much but more the narrative story.)

I have been a fan of ZMM for 13 years and longed to take this trip myself. After reading this book much of the draw from the original has dissipated. It is not that I don't like ZMM anymore. But my view of the original ZMM is less romanticized in my mind. Furthermore the volume of research put into it's creation answers a lot of the questions that lingered in my mind.

The author is a skilled writer and the book flows along well.

If you enjoyed the original you will enjoy this too.



P.S. In the end I might not want to take the same trip as Mark but it makes me want to take my own trip again.
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Format: Hardcover
Mark Richardson warns you from the beginning, this is not a rehash of the seminal book by Robert Pirsig. In fact, it took me a long time to figure out what it is. I am still kind of puzzling over it. It is kind of a travelogue, of Richardson's trip re-tracing Pirsig's route through American west. But it is not a faithful re-tracing. It is a loose history of Pirsig, his family, whom we met before and it is a closer chronological history, but not too closely. It is a visit with the people from the book, but you don't really get to know them that much better, more than the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance book but probably less than what people want.

It is also a personal journey for Richardson, a kind of middle aged reassessment of his life since he'd read ZMM, but not too close, because he kept the reader kind of at arms length and then kind of intimately.

On the one hand, it gives everyone a good followup of what had happened with Pirsig, his son Chris and Ted, his ex-wife Nancy. As well as what had happened to the Deweeses, the Sutherlands, and a few other characters.

It also goes much beyond the end of that book and it moves to Pirsig's life after unwanted fame. The breakup of his marriage, the evolution of his second marriage, the birth of his daughter Nell, and the writing of Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals. That part of the book was very interesting and it was the sort of gossipy and nostalgic story telling that the fans of ZMM want.
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