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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

17 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

Not Only for Buddhists and Mechanics

The first of Robert Maynard Pirsig's two books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is neither primarily focused on zen nor motorcycle maintenance but is a nonfiction account of the author's search for truth. More symbolic of the manifestation of Pirsig's philoso...
The first of Robert Maynard Pirsig's two books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is neither primarily focused on zen nor motorcycle maintenance but is a nonfiction account of the author's search for truth. More symbolic of the manifestation of Pirsig's philosophies, the concepts of zen and motorcycles are used to demonstrate the author's theories so that the reader can better visualize his ideas. Serving as the book's main organizational device, the motorcycle trip lasts for seventeen days beginning in Minnesota and ending in California. This quest motif seems to be representative of the author's larger search for truth, for identity, and for quality. Interspersed throughout the story of the author's journey through the mountains are what he likes to call Chautauquas: philosophical thoughts pertaining to life, human nature, humanity's relationship with technology, and the ever-elusive concept of quality, which is the book's main focus. The philosophical aspects make the book worth your time and somehow more sophisticated. The narrative aspects provides interest and gives you a break from all the deep concepts presented. The autobiographical aspects cause a relationship between the author and yourself to form. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance can be a perplexing book and a struggle to get through. In the beginning of the book, before you've adjusted to this unusual style of the author, you can't help but wonder as what this book's purpose is, be confused at this structure which you had never seen before, and even question the sanity of the author. Then, as a reader you become accustomed to Pirsig's writing style. You begin to look at things differently, where you don't look so much as to what the words are but what they mean. And after becoming accustomed to his unusual style, you learn to appreciate it. His use of narrative structure makes it seem as if the author is just now experiencing all of these thoughts and discovering all of these truths. Pirsig portrays himself to be in the act of philosophizing, in the act of his experiential struggles, not simply telling the reader afterward when the action is finished and the thought has ceased. As a reader, you feel as if you are experiencing these revelations in concurrence with him. Pirsig invites you to step into the next level of thinking but still allows you to formulate your own personal viewpoints and opinions. He doesn't write above the level of the average person, yet manages to not oversimplify things as if he's addressing ignorance. Before reading this book, I perceived the concepts which he discusses to be way above my level, perhaps because they simply are too complex for me or perhaps because I lack the patience to really sit down and examine them. Somehow, Pirsig made these topics more understandable. However, this is not to be confused with effortless. He does not make the topics easy and simple, but he makes them more accessible to an ordinary person like myself. He allows you to have the opportunity to look at and dissect these things, to relate them to your own thoughts and life, to have its own profound impact on you. There is still much confusion, times of frustration, endless hours of thinking about these concepts that just go around and around in your mind. There is still all of this, but there is no confusion as to what these topics are, just the marvelous confusion of what these topics mean. Personally, my perception of the theme was that changing your concept of the world and of life can change the world and life itself. Looking at things from a different point of view, a point of view not tainted by sociey's perception of right and wrong and normal, a point of view not tarnished by structure and routine, a point of view completely new and fresh, can do wonders. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the type of book that stays with you long after you've finished reading it.

posted by Anonymous on January 13, 2003

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Takes time to warm up to

Right from the start I could tell Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was going to be one of those books with excessive detail that would sometimes be unnecesary. I knew I would need much diligence in reading this book. One of the major themes of the story is find...
Right from the start I could tell Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was going to be one of those books with excessive detail that would sometimes be unnecesary. I knew I would need much diligence in reading this book. One of the major themes of the story is finding a sense of indentity. The narrator struggles with this and finds himself at opposition with Phaedrus, his other personality. Phaedrus is very detached, detailed and stubborn and finds it his desire to seek the truth. The novel is divided into four parts in which the story unfolds. It is the story of a forty year old father and his eleven year old son who take a motorcycle trip from Minnesota through the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and California. They are accompanied for some time by the narrator's friends, a married couple, John and Sylvia Sutherland. Throughout the trip, the narrator feels that it is the perfect time to give these lectures he calls Chautauquas in which he explains such an overwhelming amount of philosophical ideas and analyzes those ideas,. By giving these Chautauquas, the narrator provides us with more and an understanding of how Phaedrus thought and what he thought about. The topics he chooses to talk about are: technology, classical versus romantic understanding, quality, deductive versus inductive logic,caring and attitude, 'gumption', and of course motorcycle maintenance. John and Sylvia are the narrator's victims in his talk about technology. He explains how the effect of technology makes one feel "alienated" and "a stranger in your own land" and how John and Slylvia hate technology and so try to run away from it. The narrator talks about quality but is never able to define it and just states that to achieve quality one must have clarity of mind and the right attitide. He also explains that gumption is encouragement and he provides not only gumption traps but the solutions to those traps. Of course these are very simple explanations of the many topics he has in-depth analyses of. Also, the narrator tends to be in the middle of his Chautauqua and suddenly cuts off to talk about the current motorcycle trip he and his son are taking that the story is supposed to be about. Aside from this inconsistency, he goes into great detail when he analyzes each subject and the book gets a bit confusing to understand and to follow. The flow of the book was not very well planned.One example of unnecesary detail found in the novel as I explained before is in chapter four where the author makes an extensive list of valuable items that should be taken on a motorcycle trip. In doing so he takes up the first half of the chapter giving information that does not directly have to do with what the plot of the story is about. I would not consider this as a book meant to be read by anyone below the college level. The book's 400 pages are packed with complex information that needs a lot of time to fully grasp and appreciate.

posted by 9425749 on August 18, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2013

    LastHope

    She watches StormShadow

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2013

    Frostleaf

    Bowls her mat over into peace res one.:o

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2013

    Phantompaw

    The camp book author is william durbin

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2013

    Lilacgrace

    Pads to peace

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2013

    To below

    Theres no warrior names in those results.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2013

    WARRIOR NAMES-- DIRECTIONS

    Second result female, third result male :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    Zen

    Excellent in parts, incoherent in others, keeps the reader thinking.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2013

    Zen

    Okay. Kisses her.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2013

    **** A Literary Staple

    I read this many, many years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. In a few ways it reminds me of C.P. Snows talk, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. My wife is reading it now. She's the only English prof I know who has never read this book. Ask me again in a month, and I'll give you her take on it.

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  • Posted May 18, 2013

    A classic

    I've never read this book in a contiguous manner. I usually start it, get distracted by something else, then pick it up again. Other readers said it as well, the writer does ramble a bit. However, it is still well worth to read it. And it does age well, the second reading was even better than the first.

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  • Posted January 18, 2013

    A good read

    This book is still relevant today-alomost 40 years after it was published. The philosophical aspects are intertwined with the story-and at times a bit too much. The forward and afterwords give new insight and sadness to the story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2012

    this sucks

    Crap

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2012

    Definitely worth the read...will stick with you for years

    A clearly written theoretical thesis woven within a novel - more evidently so than 'atlas shrugged' or the like. The most beneficial way to read is to stop intermittently to allow your own thoughts to cultivate; as the author says of climbing a mountain, it is the journey that is the end in and of itself, not a means to an end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2012

    Sad and disturbed

    The twisted ramblings of a disturbed man barely clinging to sanity and preaching his thoughts for all to endure. And he wants you all to join his world. I could feel his sickness festering within the words. If that is a place you wish to visit, safe journey. But I know how Mr. Pirsig's journey ended, and like this book it wasn't worth the trip.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2012

    This is an excellent book that I've read several times. I loaned

    This is an excellent book that I've read several times. I loaned my copy out (no return) and was thrilled to see it available on my nook. I can't wait to open it again. I find something new every time I read it.

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  • Posted May 8, 2012

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a very good book th

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a very good book that makes you look at things with a very different perspective. The determination that is shown through the book is phenomenal, and it really is almost a spiritual experience. A motorcycle road trip does not seem like the most philosophical journey that one would take, but it actually opens a whole new world for the narrator and the audience. It takes something as ancient as Buddhism and outs it in a very nice perspective for contemporary readers. The motorcycle maintenance is not the kind that bores you or makes you put the book down. It is simply used as a metaphor for philosophical concepts. I highly recommend this book to someone that is looking to expand their horizons.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2012

    Classic

    Definitely a good read and even re-read. Lots of notes to be shared as I read through the book. Ladies do not be turned off by the title, it is far more intellectual than having to do with motorcycles or engines.

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  • Posted August 18, 2011

    An original approach to unconventional thought

    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, an ingenious inquiry into the values of today's society asks innovative philosophical questions that make this novel a modern day classic. Pirsig's enthusiasm for digging deeper into the every-day train of thought constantly results in the reader uncovering new perspectives on subjects such as the definition of quality, the divide between man and technology, the idea of universal truth, and most importantly the repression infflicted by society on original or avant-garde thought. The author artfully supplies the reader with a considerable amount of profound ideas by skillfully weaving his lectures, or "chautaquas" into the story of the narrator's motorcycle journey with his son across the country. This technique provides the much needed relief that a reader thirsts for after having to avidly follow each of the numerous and intricate steps Pirsig takes in every inquiry. It is the reader's job to pay great attention to each and every detail, because it is the only manner to fully comprehend the author's final results and conclusions. Another brilliant technique the author uses to engage his audience is the use of motorcycles, particularly their maintenance, as a solid analogy to guide his abstract ideas. Persig is able to create correlations between his cycle and explanations such as the assembly of an argument to the assembly of a motorcycle. Ultimately, Persig is able to make this machine a perfect tool for reflecting the attitudes and relationships with humans and themselves, and humans with technology.
    Admittedly, Pirsig's novel appeals to a peculiar audience, which is that of people with a passion for knowledge and a willingness to look at things under a perhaps unconventional light. Unless the reader has an unadulterated eagerness to learn and an open mind, the novel may at times feel dull, and the reader may be tempted just to skip over the difficult and stressing philosophical questions, and continue on with the story of the main character and his son, which paired with Pirsig's inquiries, enriches the text, but alone stands without much meaning.
    Personally, I found that this book had aspects that called out to me more than others, and those that did truly fascinated me! My ability to engage myself in the book took copious patience, but once I finally discovered the patterns and rhythms of Pirsig's story line, I was able to grasp his fundamental messages and investigate their relevance to my own existence. I believe my fascination stemmed primarily from the novelty of Persig's statements. I realized that the extent of my philosophical understanding was extremely superficial, and was shocked at my inability to ask questions as simple as, "What is quality?" or see the clear-as-day effects of societal norms, and how they have contorted basic principals, primarily those of education.
    Socially, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has commenced a revolution. In a time where technology seems like such an opposing force, Persig is able to point to society's flaws, and paint a picture of an ideallistic world encompassing the seemingly irreconcilable romantic and classic schools of thought with a simple machine: the motorcycle.

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  • Posted August 18, 2011

    Don't read this while on the road.

    I brought this book with me to read it while road tripping through the mountains of Puerto Rico. While this setting is different from the American Midwest, the boredom is not. As such, it frustrated me greatly that my one of my escapes from meditating on the random birds and trees that passed me by in real life was to read about a man meditating about the birds and trees that passed him in an partly autobiographical novel. Persig truly succeeds as an author in his ability to describe the boredom of being on the open road. To break from that monotonous cycle, I tried to just focus my attention on the parts where Persig discusses logic, reasoning, zen, and most importantly, quality. I must note this diversion because the book really can be separated into two parts: a story about a father and son trying to connect as well as a discussion on the journey to uncover the ultimate truths of life. I did not enjoy the story. I barely cared about the characters and nothing gets resolved in the end if you really analyze the whole thing. But alas, even I, who loves philosophy and have even electively taken logic and reasoning courses, grew bored with the sections where Persig discusses philosophy. Perhaps the central problem with the book is Persig's long winded writing. I like getting to the point while Persig enjoys dragging out each and every idea, whether it describes a lake that passes the motorcyclists or it argues a philosophy. Additionally, the analogy of motorcycle maintenance feels forced. I actually grew anxious after literally the hundredth time bolts and screws were used as an analogy. And trust me, it really was the hundredth. On the other hand, reading this book may have subconsciously worked. Even writing this review, I find myself questioning how I am supposed to determine the quality of this book. Why? Because many of the ideas persig wrote about have stuck . What makes a good author? Does a good book communicate the authors own thoughts? I mean, the entire book really made me feel like I was locked in a room that was known as Persig's mind. Furthermore, there were many passages within the book that actually do help with every day thinking. The section where Persig discusses his cures for boredom ironically helped me finish the book. As a whole, I would definitely never read this book again. I really did grow impatient while Persig would "get at it slowly". Maybe I'm just young and impatient. Maybe half of the book could have easily been edited out and all of the memorable and best information would have remained intact anyway. But I would certainly not recommend this book for any small children, not because it is graphic, but because it takes a certain enthusiasm that only exists for the most fervent fans of highly descriptive narration. Some people love that; I am not one of those people. On the contrary, finishing this book is not only rewarding because it can stand as a challenge of will, but it is also filled with ideas that stick. If there is one thing that you take away from this review, however, is that you should never take this book to try and escape from traveling.

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  • Posted August 18, 2011

    Pirsig wanders deeply into the depths of life

    After finishing Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I highly recommend it to those who are interested in the deep analysis of the infinite aspects of life. Pirsig demonstrates his unusual, but gifted talent for classifying and sub-dividing people and their behavior. The author also completely alters the manner in which the majority of society views some components of life. For example, he notes that Quality is the source of, essentially, everything and that, contrary to common belief, Quality creates subject-object relationships. Personally, I enjoyed this view on Quality as it required me to analyze deeper than to what I am accustomed. Pirsig ventures extraordinarily deep into the concept of Quality, always capitalizing the "Q" in order to illustrate its God-like significance. Pirsig even relates Quality to the ancient Greek Philosophers and explains how they affected the existence of Quality in different societies. He demonstrates how Plato mistakenly solidifies the concept, making Quality a truth, diminishing its superiority. He explains how Aristotle worsened Plato's fault, causing Quality to cease existing as people's reality. Of course, by reading the novel, these analyses contain more clarity as Pirsig investigates these topics more in depth. Although his examination into Quality is quite fascinating, his commentary on the existence of truth is the part of the novel I find most interesting. Pirsig mentions that the many truths of this world are ghosts, no different than those seen in a haunted house. He elaborates by explaining that Isaac Newton invented the law of gravity just as someone millions of years ago invented the idea of a ghost. The only difference is that in contemporary times Newton is supported by science. But what is science other than a composition of several ghosts? Pirsig's inquiry sinks even deeper as he opines that the facts and truths that exist are purely based upon the myths established in ancient times. He explains that over the years, the truths of each generation have been built upon several times, but the base of these facts is myth. For this reason, the author claims, when one embarks on a journey to find the meaning of existence, if one ventures deep enough, he will discover that every fact he has come to learn has been based upon fiction! A revelation so breathtaking it can only lead to insanity. The final aspect that makes Pirsig's masterpiece so revolutionary is the supplementary storyline that accompanies the extreme analysis of Quality, life, and human behavior. That is, the development of a relationship between father and son. While on a motorcycle journey with his son, the protagonist of the story, the Narrator, must overcome his early-life struggles in order to achieve serenity and live happily with his son. Throughout the novel, the father-son relationship and the investigation into Quality appear to be two completely different story lines, incapable of being brought together. However, we ultimately see that it was precisely this analysis by the Narrator that allowed him to confront his early life and, therefore, overcome it, strengthening his relationship with his son. The uniting of these two story lines combined with his ability to constantly explain the importance of Zen illustrate Pirsig's onject of brilliance called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

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