Top critical review
In the words of Sybil Fawlty, "Pretentious, moi?"
on August 4, 2003
As another reviewer has pointed out, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" this book ain't.
The writer's understanding of even basic physics seems very limited (this is evident from how confused his physics based metaphors are), let alone whether he understands anything at all about relativity. If you are tempted to read this book because you think that it will offer a readable introduction to relativity - don't because it won't. The reviewers who have said that the book offers an introduction to relativity must be as confused as the writer is. I have the suspicion that the number of stars given by the reviewer is inversely proportional to the amount of physics which the reviewer understands.
The main flaw of this book however is how contrived it is. In this respect it is deeply disappointing, as the further I got into the book, the deeper was my feeling of hurt at being conned by this writer. Persevering with reading the book is like persevering with cultivating a relationship with an absolute liar and is deeply upsetting in this regard. You feel like reaching out to grab them and implore them, "Just tell the truth." I know nothing about writing, and have not attended graduate school in creative writing as has the author, but surely the first thing that a writer must do is develop his own voice which is an honest voice, and not a phony voice. Most of the incidents relayed in the book appear to be manufactured merely for inclusion in a book about travelling across America with Einstein's brain in the trunk - to be quirky and to boost sales.
The most enjoyable and least phony passages are towards the beginning of the book concerning the author's time spent at graduate school where he met Sara and his trips across country as a teenager and a 23 year old. After this, the mask comes up in front of his face and we step into the realm of "contrived quirkiness," presumably in the interests of sales. Perhaps "zany" sells, and it is probably easier to sell books by fooling the customer than by actually writing something of some enduring value. The many good reviews on this web site seem to me to be a testament to this fact.
All of this is to say nothing about the despicable act which the physician Harvey committed in stealing the brain out of a corpse. To employ my own physics based metaphor, there is a certain wave-particle duality between the dishonesty exhibited by Harvey in his actions (whatever his intentions were) and the actions of getting a magazine contract, then a book contract, then going on the trip (in a car paid for by the publishers) and then pushing the manuscript on those unsuspecting readers out there across America, who are waiting to lap up "zany" (whatever the intentions of the writer were.)
I'm with the school kid who asked the physician Harvey, "What's the point?" Ultimately, an exercise in pretentious and dishonest babbling, and I will be glad to be finished with the book.