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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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Straddling the middle of the road... Nov. 17 2003
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
A lot of people have noted that this book inspires love-it-or-hate-it reactions. I'm not sure whether I'm an exception to the rule or somehow just in both camps at once. There were some parts of this book which I found fascinating and wonderful. There were other parts which I found interminable and uninspiring.
Am I sorry I read the book? No, I think that in sum it was a worthwhile experience. Would I rush to read it again? No, I wouldn't, and I would offer only a qualified recommendation to anyone who asked if they should read this book. I would tell them that if they were willing to be patient and were willing to allot a significant chunk of time to the book then they would almost certainly get something out of it and they would have enhanced, in some small way, their general cultural literacy.
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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 10 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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5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book and think May 30 2004
This book opens:
And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good--
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
If you are one of those that can keep your eyes open through this book then it will likely touch your mind and your life for years to come.
I first read this work as a high school student in an AP English class where we studied it, discussed it, disected it and taught it to one another. This book taught me how to think. And it taught me I can understand anything if it's written clearly enough and if I'm willing to put some thought into it.
Everything in this book interconnects...the characters involved, the setting, the philosophy--decoding the connections (such as wind and heights to phaedrus' appearance) is half the fun.
Reading it again after 15 years I find that some of my basic assumptions about the world and life stem from this book. I remember some of Pirsig's babies such as "stuckness" and "gumption" and they are thoughts I've loved to play with over the years. Other ideas--such as the split between eastern and western cultures and various philosophers--have perhaps subtily played with ME through the years. I enjoyed discovering this during my latest re-read.
It is so worth the effort to read about Pirsig's views on mechanization, the front windshield being compared to a TV screen, teaching english and so many other things. If you like to think (and why wouldn't you?) you will love this book.
That being said,I do feel that Pirsig's logic is flawed. And I enjoyed every step of figuring out why I believe the way I do. This book is a fascinating study into the personality of a proud intellectual grappling with subjectivity.
I say, read this book and think.
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By Isaac
... and, maybe, will never end.
This book caught me in this time of my life when I was "trapped in a crossroads": Too many options, too few means to take the right decision. I was searching for my own ultimate, ideal, perfect "quality"; the perfect road, the perfect direction. Gradually I started to feel more and more trapped, spending all of my time thinking about the "ideal solution" so that no time was left to actually IMPLEMENT it.
This is a whole deal of frustration. And then, a good friend of mine told me "you know what? You remind me very much of Phaedrus". I went "Who?", and this is how I got to know the book that is arguably the best book I have ever read.
I was amazed with each and every page in that book. Phaedrus' life-story, as described on these long, thoughtful chapters of wisdom, reminded me very much of myself. Same debates; same doubts; same choices; same fears. Same everything.
So is there a perfect truth? Absolute truth? Utopia? "The Perfect Quality"? The perfect road? The perfect path of life?
Before I read that book, I had a hunch that I know the answer. After I've read it, I realized that I was right. And that feeling was amazing; grab this book, read it, and I bet you'll feel the same way.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Life Altering March 14 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book is truly amazing. It opens doors to questions that one never asks. For the days I spent reading this book I was lost in a daze of questions and thoughts which caused me to rethink everything I'd learned.
Pirsig takes the reader through a beautiful chautauqa that concerns itself with the question of truth and quality. Pirsig takes the reader on an adventure as he goes on a motorcycle trip with his son across the states. As he develops the ideas of his former self, Phaedrus, (before he was treated for mental illness) he faces an internal struggle between his true self and the new identity he has been forced to adopt. Beautifully written, the book mixes Pirsig's philosophical queries with the story of his journey and leads the reader to amazing epiphanies and insights. The story makes you realize how learning has forced students to imitate what is taught, rather than using their own thoughts to come up with original material.
A fascinating book, it seems to be one that everyone loves and many find life altering. Definetly a book to read again and again and again.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Cultural history
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. Read more
Published 3 months ago by J. Ray Chretien
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 7 months ago by Chad
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must
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. Read more
Published 8 months ago by bill taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Deep
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.
Published 13 months ago by Stewart Adams
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 17 months ago by p00psicle
5.0 out of 5 stars Zen and the Art of Me
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. Read more
Published on Sept. 6 2012 by Scoopriches
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
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