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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance [Mass Market Paperback]

Robert Pirsig
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (323 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1 1984
The extraordinary story of a man's quest for truth. It will change the way you think and feel about your life.

"The cycle you're working on is a cycle called 'yourself.'"

"The study of the art of motorcycle maintainence is really a study of the art of rationality itself. Working on a motorcycle, working well, caring, is to become part of a process, to achieve an inner peace of mind. The motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon." -- Robert M. Pirsig

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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.


"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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First Sentence
I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the leftgrip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real nugget of perspective on life! Jan. 7 2007
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
It's taken me more than twenty years to get around to reading this gem of a book. It was always something I'd plan to read but never got around to doing it. Pirsig offers us insights into why we exist and how we can share that existence with others. The story involves Pirsig doing a cross-country motorcycle trek through the western USA with his son, Chris. While this might come across as just another desperate attempt of a parent to bond with a child before he becomes a teen, the journey is much more. Acting as a philosopher-traveler, Pirsig uses a lot of life's little circumstances to draw his son's attention to the bigger purpose in life: knowing why you exist through making sense of and resolving problems. This quest is as much about feeling liberated to ask the questions as it is to be at peace in knowing that there are no simple answers but just a lot more questions. The mountains of Montana is a great setting for Pirsig to work some of the major issues of life. Take the opportunity to read his biography. Truly an interesting personality, who chose to work out his issues in a thought-provoking style. A background in philosophy is not a must. Great read!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Zen and the Art of Me Sept. 6 2012
By Scoopriches TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I have experienced this story twice. And both times they effected me.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a journey written by Robert M. Pirsig. It was released in 1974 after facing rejection from over 100 publishers. And now it a cultural milestone and modern philosophical classic that have spawned a sequel and multiple guidebooks. My first discovery of this book was over 20 years ago and it still resides in me. The adventure never really ended.

The Chautauqua, as the author calls it, of this story is a simple motorcycle trip across America. He and his son are trying to sort out the father's issues. And there are many. Being a lifelong philosopher, Pirsig has spent insurmountable time pondering the question of Quality. What is Quality? How do you define it? His family and his life take a backseat to this quest, causing disruptions to his psyche. A nervous breakdown and time in a mental institution follow, coupled with slight memory loss. Now, on this motorcycle trip with his younger son Chris, he is desperately trying to recover his lost past and reconnect with his child. It does not go well.

Veering between three strands, all parts of the story accelerate to a scary ending. You will fear for them both in the last chapter.

One part of the tapestry is the motorcycle trip itself. Where they go and with whom. The places they visit and the people they meet. All contribute to Pirsig's musings on Quality. You feel this is simply the backdrop, a collage with which to hang the other threads on. This person reminds Pirsig of this idea, so now he will expound on it. Whether the events of ride are completely accurate is left for the reader to decide.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Look ma, no hands. Nov. 11 2007
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Great book. Not what you're thinking it's about. Love it. If I were to draw a timeline of philosophy with two markers, one marker would be the works of Plato and Aristotle, which placed Truth at the top of the heap (a proposition which forms the basis of western scientific thinking); the other marker would be Pirsig's work, which places Good at the top and Truth second. Pirsig had an insight into the Quality Relationship. Just as an eye cannot see itself, the Quality Relationship is very difficult to see because it is the means by which seeing (in the intellectual sense) takes place. Even the purest scientific truth passes into the mind of its discoverer on a rail established by the Quality Relationship. The implication is that all truth is personal and subjective, even widely accepted scientific truths. That acceptance exists in the minds of many individuals, each of whom is motivated to receive the information and judge it against scientific criteria. The motivation rests on the Quality Relationship, and that is strictly a personal value judgement of whatever the mind choses to examine. Since individuals possess the Quality Relationship, this philosophy places individuals above science (modern society seems to need some of that view). Pirsig's second work, Lila, examines what it means for larger social entities such as governments to possess their own Quality Relationships. The book is also the exquisitely told personal story of Pirsig's efforts to recover this insight after losing the memory of it to shock treatment. A beautiful book in all respects
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3.0 out of 5 stars Cultural history June 14 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book seemed to float just under the main stream culture in my parents generation. I have seen it on book shelves from time to time but never picked it up. Thanks to "Zen and Now" I did. I'm glad I read it, I do not think it is as "deep" as people would have you believe but do to its historical context in modern culture its worth a look.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Jan. 15 2014
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a gift for a friend of mine. I have had this book for about 30 years and never tire of it.
Any thing that can make you feel this way about life must be good. It is a must read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Deep July 30 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Just a great read of two stories that merge together at the end. It is so much deeper than motorcycle maintenance.

I recommend this to anyone.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible is an understatement.
I bought this book hoping for a good story provoking some deep thought at a tolerable pace. What I got was pages upon pages of the authors ramblings, often times pretentious while... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Chad
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read
This isn't quite what I expected but I still enjoyed it. It is a novel crossed with a lot of psychology chatter that was occasionally over my head. Read more
Published 15 months ago by p00psicle
5.0 out of 5 stars profoundly life changing
I am dismayed at many of the reviews posted...I really do not understand!
As a college student some twenty years ago and having stumbled across this book..it changed my life. Read more
Published on Oct. 8 2011 by JetsonJoe
2.0 out of 5 stars Hard to get into
I read about 70 pages and found it just too hard to get into. I enjoyed some parts and then got lost with the rest. Going to take a break from it and maybe try it again later.
Published on Nov. 2 2010 by Moebuddy
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull, Schizophrenic, and Irrelevant
This is easily one of the worst books I have ever read.

1) It is incredibly dull. Having read thousands of books in my lifetime, I must say this could be the dullest... Read more
Published on March 15 2010 by Radek Dobias
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring
I remember reading this book when it first came out, but don't recall what I thought of it back then. Frankly, I'm amazed that I ploughed through this book when I was so young. Read more
Published on June 29 2009 by Shepherdess Extraordinaire
4.0 out of 5 stars zen
I read a borrowed copy years ago and thought back on it many times it is a delight when your memory of the thoughts provoked by a good book are the same years later.
Published on May 5 2009 by Grant Sorochan
4.0 out of 5 stars for the philosophically inclined
This book is for the philosophically inclined, and somehow I never quite got into it. I found myself enjoying the events in the book (especially the traveling), rather than the... Read more
Published on Dec 2 2007 by Paul J. Fitzgerald
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