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

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

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by Robert M. Pirsig

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One of the most important and influential books written in the past half-century, Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerful, moving, and penetrating examination of how we live . . . and a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Here is the book that transformed a generation: an unforgettable narration of a summer

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One of the most important and influential books written in the past half-century, Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a powerful, moving, and penetrating examination of how we live . . . and a breathtaking meditation on how to live better. Here is the book that transformed a generation: an unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America's Northwest, undertaken by a father and his young son. A story of love and fear — of growth, discovery, and acceptance — that becomes a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life's fundamental questions, this uniquely exhilarating modern classic is both touching and transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence . . . and the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.

Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
“The book is inspired, original. . . . The analogies with Moby-Dick are patent.”
“An unforgettable trip.”
Baltimore Sun
“It is filled with beauty. . .a finely made whole that seems to emanate from a very special grace.”
The Village Voice
“A miracle . . . sparkles like an electric dream.”
New York Times
“Profoundly important...full of insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas.”
Time Magazine
"An unforgettable trip."
From the Publisher
"Profoundly important ... intellectual entertainment of the highest order."— The New York Times

"Brave wanderings, high adventures, extraordinary risks ... A horn of plenty."— Los Angeles Times

Library Journal
Having a difficult-to-impress 11-year-old boy as a traveling companion might hamper any man’s ability to see goodness, but it was because of his son’s deteriorating mental health that Pirsig urgently needed to repair and maintain his own outlook. Their motorcycle ride from Minnesota to California, with talkative companions, was a deeply personal philosophical journey. (SLJ 10/74)

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
An Inquiry into Values

By Robert Pirsig
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2008

Robert Pirsig
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061673733

Chapter OneI can see by my watch without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning. The wind, even at sixty miles an hour, is warm and humid. When it's this hot and muggy at eight-thirty, I'm wondering what it's going to be like in the afternoon.

In the wind are pungent odors from the marshes by the road. We are in an area of the Central Plains filled with thousands of duck hunting sloughs, heading northwest from Minneapolis toward the Dakotas. This highway is an old concrete two-laner that hasn't had much traffic since a four-laner went in parallel to it several years ago. When we pass a marsh the air suddenly becomes cooler. Then, when we are past, it suddenly warms up again.

I'm happy to be riding back into this country. It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that. Tensions disappear along old roads like this. We bump along the beat-up concrete between the cattails and stretches of meadow and then more cattails and marsh grass. Here and there is a stretch of open water and if you look closely you can see wild ducks at the edge of the cattails. And turtles. . . . There's a red-winged blackbird.

I whack Chris's knee and point to it, "What!" he hollers.


He says something I don't hear. "What?" I hollerback. He grabs the back of my helmet and hollers up, "I've seen lots of those, Dad!"

"Oh!" I holler back. Then I nod. At age eleven you don't get very impressed with red-winged blackbirds.

You have to get older for that. For me this is all mixed with memories that he doesn't have. Cold mornings long ago when the marsh grass had turned brown and cattails were waving in the northwest wind. The pungent smell then was from muck stirred up by hip boots while we were getting in position for the sun to come up and the duck season to open. Or winters when the sloughs were frozen over and dead and I could walk across the ice and snow between the dead cat-tails and see nothing but grey skies and dead things and cold. The blackbirds were gone then. But now in July they're back and everything is at its alivest and every foot of these sloughs is humming and cricking and buzzing and chirping, a whole community of millions of living things living out their lives in a kind of benign continuum.

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.

Chris and I are traveling to Montana with some friends riding up ahead, and maybe headed farther than that. Plans are deliberately indefinite, more to travel than to arrive anywhere. We are just vacationing. Secondary roads are preferred. Paved county roads are the best, state highways are next. Freeways are the worst. We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on "good" rather than "time" and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes. Twisting hilly roads are long in terms of seconds but are much more enjoyable on a cycle where you bank into turns and don't get swung from side to side in any compartment. Roads with little traffic are more enjoyable, as well as safer. Roads free of drive-ins and billboards are better, roads where groves and meadows and orchards and lawns come almost to the shoulder, where kids wave to you when you ride by, where people look from their porches to see who it is, where when you stop to ask directions or information the answer tends to be longer than you want rather than short, where people ask where you're from and how long you've been riding.It was some years ago that my wife and I and our friends first began to catch on to these roads. We took them once in a while for variety or for a shortcut to another main highway, and each time the scenery was grand and we left the road with a feeling of relaxation and enjoyment. We did this time after time before realizing what should have been obvious: these roads are truly different from the main ones. The whole pace of life and personality of the people who live along them are different. They're not going anywhere.


Excerpted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Copyright © 2008 by Robert Pirsig. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 245 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with everyone else: the details are extensive. That, in my opinion, is where the greater understanding lies. If you're looking for a quick, easy read, this isn't it. Read it like a conversation with an old friend, or like you're listening to a grandparent tell a story about their twenties. The seemingly mundane details make the book that much better if you stop and actually pay attention to them.
NormW More than 1 year ago
I read this many years ago when I was in High School when it came out. It touched me in many ways from traveling with a motorcycle cross country to understanding how God is beyond definition in words. I had memorized Goethe's Der Erlkönig month's before finding this book and many more "coincidences" that led to such a strong epiphany that I had wanted to travel West to meet Pirsig. Unfortunately that never happened. This is powerful read that may confuse some or help congeal different thoughts into meaning or a path to meaning. To the reader that said defining "Quality" is a waste of time, that's actually the point... The sound of one hand clapping... It's meaningful nonsense because you are trying to define something inside your current world, with your current lexicon, and not stretching to a new paradigm, which is a non action and just "letting it in". There are things in our world we can not define although we can glimpse them every now and then. Some things we can not quantify such as a pet's intelligence, gravity, love, deja vu, quantum entanglement... Yet this is all part of our real universe. The other day I threw a ball perfectly to another person and it happened without forethought of the trajectory calculus involved. It was just there and real.
Joe Fauntleroy More than 1 year ago
This book had a profound effect on the way that I saw the world after reading it in highschool. It has had an effect on everything that I have done in the 15 years since. The book provokes the reader to ask questions about what we value in our lives and why without turning into some Dr Phil rhetoric about feelings. The story of the author and his son is compelling on its own and a perfect back drop for his inquiry into quality. I highly recomend it to anyone that hasnt read it before.
whats_a_pen_name_for More than 1 year ago
Reading the novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was overall an enjoyable experience. The novel is about the narrator's journey on his motorcycle with his son. The narrator describes everything he sees in detail throughout his trip, which does get quite boring and repetitive. Although the description of his journey may be boring, it gives the reader a feeling of truly being in the mind of the narrator. You feel as if what you're reading is a part of your own thought. One second you're just observing terrain, and the next second a thought emerges, which leads you to another thought and another thought. In his thoughts, the narrator begins to take apart what you know as truth, and concepts and ideas you would never think to question. He makes you wonder if everything you've ever know to be real is just a figment of your imagination. Because I've never studied or read philosophy, I found these topics new and exciting. The idea that the concepts of science are actually modern day ghost that we have come to believe in open my eyes to the idea that everything is only in the mind. The idea of ghosts seems silly to us now, but when the narrator explains it you really begin to understand that everything we believe in is as realistic as a ghost. Everything we believe in is only in our mind, whether its ghosts or science. As the narrator takes you through his thought process you begin to make connections, and you feel that you're studying philosophy yourself. The narrator also goes into Buddhist ideals. He talks about how everyone needs peace of mind to accomplish anything. He also says that before you can fix any exterior problems, like the fixing of a motorcycle, you must work on yourself first. You must resolve all your inner problems and then move on to your external problems one by one. If you have internal problems they will reflect onto your external problems and you will accomplish nothing. Although the philosophy is entertaining, certain parts are unclear and confusing. At some points you're unsure of whether the narrator has just contradicted himself, or if you have just missed something he has stated. The narrator's thoughts also get frustrating at times. After a long explanation of thought, the narrator sometimes refuted his own argument and had to start a new argument from scratch. Although it is frustrating, this only adds to the feeling that the novel is a trail of your own thoughts. As a person who is new to the concepts of philosophy, I feel that someone who has studied philosophy would not find this book as interesting as I had. Although the philosophical concepts may not be as thorough as a philosopher might like, it is interesting to see how one man evaluates his surroundings, and to see what conclusions he makes through his observations. The novel allows you to see many ways of looking at and evaluating life. The novel makes you think about things you would have never realized could even be questioned. Overall the novel was fun to read because you feel as if you're trying to figure out these rhetorical and logical flaws as the narrator does in his novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished re-reading this gem of a book. When I first read it, some 22 years ago, it spoke to so much of what I was grappling with and had no words for as I came to grips with a culture and society that seemed at best disinterested, and at times, hostile to any notion of authentic self-expression and communication. In the intervening years, through the participation in a rigorous discipline, I have come to have a deep regard and appreciation for the language and distinctions he creates, which are as fresh and powerful now as they were then. What Pirsig shares with us, his readers, is an extraordinary journey to the heart of our humanity, played out in multiple layers. I cannot recommend this book too highly. For me, it is one for all ages.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Many great reviews have been written here and have said most of what I want to say and agree with. I only wanted to add that this book is an incredible take on modern metaphysics. I see it as one person's search for universal truth, the search for meaning beyond dichotomous concepts such as 'good' and 'bad', hence the long and fascinating journey into what 'Quality' really means. Pirsig attempts to convey something beyond a simple view of the world, just as many before him have, such as Lao Tzu in the 'Tao Te Ching' or other books on Eastern Philosophy. This book is definitely for thinkers and will give you plenty to process. Another fascinating book, which is more a book that you absorb than think about and which really allows a practical understanding of something beyond 'good/bad' and 'right/wrong' is Ariel and Shya Kane's 'Working on Yourself Doesn't Work'. Whether or not you liked Pirsig's book, if you have an interest in understanding life and its meaning for you, the Kanes do a brilliant and beautiful job of making life easy and truly understanding 'Quality'. I think Robert Pirsig would even like them and their book. 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' offers a conceptual framework of how one might search for meaning and 'Working on Yourself Doesn't Work' is like the How-To Manual for getting meaning and satisfaction out of life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book introduced me to the idea of quality as a goal when I was a small boy. I found this book in a lemon and orange orchard in Ventura, CA as a 9 year old. I read the book until the cover fell off. Besides being a great way to introduce logical thought (because of the way the idea is presented) it is simply a good read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in the early 80s - and have re-read it several times... it made me step away from myself and really look at what my life was. I have read many books, but this one is on top of my list. It will take you to a different level of understanding and introduce you to what the meaning of life really is. It is an existential view of reality. This book should be read by all.
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saradippity More than 1 year ago
DO NOT READ THE INTRO! Not only did the author provide spoilers for his own freaking book, he also spoils Turn of the Screw, which is both loaded on to my mp3 player to listen to this month AND I had it found in one of my classic collections of novels and had it all ready to read on my Nook just in case I preferred that format. It's October, a good ghost story would be awesome, and this book ruined BOTH. I can't believe the coincidence, obviously the fates have it out for me and are laughing at me somewhere. What author puts spoilers in the intro of his own book? Seriously? Now I have to wait a few years to read it, hopefully I'll remember to not read the intro but forget what he said.
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Life altering in a quiet way.
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The book is fantastic. The kids posting- looks like 5th graders are on vacation from school. Go to bed children.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The camp book author is william durbin
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