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Phaedrus #1

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

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Robert M. Pirsig's Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is an examination of how we live, a meditation on how to live better set around the narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America's Northwest, undertaken by a father & his young son.

540 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published April 1, 1974

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About the author

Robert M. Pirsig

20 books1,311 followers
Robert Maynard Pirsig was an American writer and philosopher, mainly known as the author of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, (1974), which has sold millions of copies around the world.

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5 stars
72,035 (31%)
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3 stars
51,187 (22%)
2 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,323 reviews
Profile Image for Clinton.
10 reviews11 followers
April 18, 2009
I feel like Robert M. Pirsig has wronged me personally.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
May 6, 2015
When I was quite young my brain said to me, after a particularly long and stoned session listening to Pink Floyd and discussing philosophy, 'oh give me a break'. So I said to my brain, 'there's no need to be so rude,' and my brain said, 'no seriously, I can't handle this anymore, really, let me take a break'. So it did and I've been operating on brain-stem alone ever since. I don't know it's made that much difference.

I wonder if the author's brain was thinking like mine was?

Certainly when I was reading this book and sort of enjoying it (2 stars-worth), I was also thinking I am just too old to be reading this sort of cod-philosophy, too old and not stoned enough. I read other people's reviews and have to conclude that they all saw something in this book that impressed them as deep and me as deeply populist. Either way, I didn't really enjoy it and it only gets two stars because the writing was ok, the book wasn't arduous to read, some parts of it were interesting and enjoyable.

I wasn't that keen on the author's exploration of his mental breakdown either. I find when other people tell me the dreams they had last night, or I have to read them in a book I turn off as well. I really don't know why, nor do I know if others also feel this way. When telling last night's major really interesting dream to someone else, I've never said, "Do you find this as boring as I would if it was you telling me?" Actually that's a load of guff, I don't tell other people my dreams because I suspect they would be bored rigid and neither do I tell them about my mental breakdown when I saw three rainbows in the sky and didn't kill myself because I couldn't find a nightie that was suitable. See, boring!

I kept thinking that Roberts (the author of Shantaram) and Pirsig would get on really well. They could sit in cafes in foreign parts swapping tales of derring-do, drugs and their fascinating insights whilst waiting for an audience to join them. That's a bit mean-spirited as Pirsig is a great deal more appealing as an author and person than the somewhat sleazy Roberts, but I think you get what I mean. And I will say that it's quite readable, the travel descriptions are very well done, the characters, apart from the hero, are in general interesting but... I still couldn't get into it.

Anyway, it's a Sunday, much love and an extra star!
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,635 followers
November 24, 2019
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: "I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning."

I have read Zen probably four or five times. The clinical precision of the author is apparent in all the detail here ("left grip", "eight-thirty"). The self-reference of the author looking at his own watch will become a leitmotif as the entire book is about the author looking deep into his own soul (so deep in fact that the real author became temporarily insane between finishing Zen and starting the sequel Lila.) The author is definitely a morning kind of a guy, already rolling down the highway early in the morning. The fact that he looks without taking his hand off the grip, gives us a very cinematic presentation of this otherwise banal scene. Also, the mundane nature of riding a motorcycle and looking at a watch and finding the even important enough to write about centres us on the cycle itself and foreshadows the many allusions and allegories that will come between philosophy and cycling.

There is an extended analogy between the state of mind of Pirsig as he tunes and tweaks his motorcycle and his concept of quality as the leading edge of a train in time. I always found it helpful to recall and think about.

The relationship between Pirsig and his son is a focal point of this book and poignant without faltering towards the pathetic. There was a very great tragedy in Pirsig's life when his son was killed some years later, and naturally, Pirsig's already feeble mental state was shattered again. This book takes place during the son's adolescence and it is striking to see how these two communicate and how Pirsig is eventually able to connect with him.

This book is a great introduction to philosophy, particularly Zen Buddhism and I get something more out of it each time I read it. Truly a masterpiece. I highly recommend also reading his follow-up book to this called Lila.

Zen for me remains a go to book for solace and reflection. I deeply mourn the passage of Pirsig as a misunderstood and under-estimated thinker and writer. R.I.P.
Profile Image for Richard.
40 reviews119 followers
August 20, 2007
There are three threads weaving through this book (none of which, as is pointed out, has much to do with either eastern philosophy or with motorcycle maintenance.)

The first is a straightforward narration by a man riding across the country with his young son and two friends (a married couple). This evocative travelogue is by far the most enjoyable aspect of the novel.

The second element is a sort of mystery as that man struggles with his memory; it's gradually revealed that he's on the road both to escape his past and to attempt to remember it.

The last thread is where the book just falls apart. Through the narrator's dialogue with himself, Pirsig puts forward his ludicrous "philosophy of quality," which essentially holds that "quality," whatever that might be, is somehow the fundamental reality of the universe. If that sounds like nonsense then you understand it perfectly.

When we find out why the narrator had lost his memory in the first place, the answers don't live up to any expectations we might have been unfortunate enough to have developed.
Profile Image for Mason Wiebe.
51 reviews33 followers
March 21, 2008
I must start by saying that this is one of my favorite books ever. Although it is deep and complicated and takes a lot of focus to read, I feel that there are a lot of great messages here in the author’s search for Quality. This was my second time reading this book, and I liked it more this time.
Interlaced with stories from an across-the-west motorcycle trip with his son and some friends, Pirsig tells the story of his past in an almost former life before being admitted to a mental institution after going crazy in his pursuit of Quality. He often uses the motorcycle as an analogy, as well as climbing mountains. With what many would see as too much depth and detail (but not me), he dissects the ideas of rhetoric, quality, the scientific method, technology and many ideas of the ancient Greek philosophers and tries to take down an entire academic department in the search of a unifying truth/god/connecting force.
I don’t really feel that there is a lot that I can say to do this book justice in a short review form like this. I’ll just write up a bunch of underlined quotes instead.

“…physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong. Then you fasten on to whatever thing is uncomfortable and call that the cause. But if the mood is right, then physical discomfort doesn’t mean much.”

“Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted.”

“That’s the first normal thing I’ve said in weeks. The rest of the time I’m feigning twentieth-century lunacy just like you are. So as to not draw attention to myself.”

“Nobody is concerned anymore about tidily conserving space. The land isn’t valuable anymore. We are in a Western town.”

“But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government , but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

“If the purpose of scientific method is to select from among a multitude of hypotheses, and if the number of hypotheses grows faster than experimental method can handle, then it is clear that all hypotheses can never be tested. If all hypotheses cannot be tested, then the results of any experiment are inconclusive and the entire scientific method falls short of its goal of establishing proven knowledge.”

“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.”

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.”

“But what’s happening is that each year our old flat earth of conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating widespread feelings of topsy-turviness. As a result we’re getting more and more people in irrational areas of thought – occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like – because they feel the inadequacy of classical reason to handle what they know are real experiences.”

“The trouble is that essays always have to sound like God talking for eternity, and that isn’t the way it ever is. People should see that it’s never anything other than just one person talking from one place in time and space and circumstance. It’s never been anything else, ever, but you can’t get that across in an essay.”

“The allegory of a physical mountain for the spiritual one that stands between each soul and its goal is an easy and natural one to make. Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships. Some travel into the mountains accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination. Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes. Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it. Once there they become more aware than any of the others that there’s no single or fixed number of routes. There are as many routes as there are individual souls.”

“He was just stopped. Waiting. For that missing seed crystal of thought that would suddenly solidify everything.”

“Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster… When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it’s a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That’s never the way.”

“The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take.”

“Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.”

“They have patience, care and attentiveness to what they’re doing, but more than this – there’s a kind of inner peace of mind that isn’t contrived but results from a kind of harmony with the work in which there’s no leader and no follower. The material and the craftsman’s thoughts change together in a progression of smooth, even changes until his mind is at rest at the exact instant the material is right.”

“Or if he takes whatever dull job he’s stuck with – and they are all, sooner or later, dull – and, just to keep himself amused, starts to look for options of Quality, and secretly pursues these options, just for their own sake, thus making an art out of what he is doing, he’s likely to discover he becomes a much more interesting person and much less of an object to the people around him because his Quality decisions change him too. And not only the job and him, but others, too, because the Quality tends to fan out like waves. The Quality job he didn’t think anyone was going to see is seen, and the person who sees it feels a little better because of it and is likely to pass that feeling on to others, and in that way the Quality tends to keep on going.
My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all.God, I don’t want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out. These can be left alone for a while. There’s a place for them but they’ve got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved. We’ve had that individual quality in the past, exploited as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it’s just about depleted. Everyone’s just about out if gumption. And I think it’s about time to return the rebuilding of this American resource – individual worth. There are political reactionaries who’ve been saying something close to this for years. I’m not one of them, but to the extent they’re talking about real individual worth and not just an excuse for giving more money to the rich, they’re right. We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption. We really do.”

“What is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good – need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”
Profile Image for Charlotte.
162 reviews11 followers
August 10, 2008
OK, maybe I'm being a little too harsh. I actually enjoyed the idea of the cross-country motorcycle ride, the details about motorcycle mechanics, and especially the portrayal of the narrator's relationship with his son. The son was the best part of the whole book. Unfortunately, there wasn't much space for sonny, because dad was too busy advertising the author's brilliant philisophical insights. Even more unfortunately, the insights weren't brilliant, and consumed hundreds of tedious pages. It occured to me to wonder whether the author was trying to make the point that the narrator was a pompous idiot; however, the intent seemed to be for the reader to be blown away by the brilliance of the narrator's philosophical insights, and hence by the brilliance of the author who conceived of the narrator and the philosophical insights. I can't believe I made it through 380 pages of this.
Profile Image for Natasha.
175 reviews35 followers
January 4, 2015
I just re-read this book and HAD to annotate it because it sent my head swimming. I'd studied quite a lot of philosophy since I read it a year and a half ago and so the philosophies didn't go over my head this time.

First, I must say if you find the narrator off-putting, rest assured that the protagonist is NOT the narrator. The narrator is the nemesis who has eclipsed the protagonist; the story reveals their struggle. The introduction of my edition hints at this, but apparently some people haven't gotten that as I've read comments of several people complaining about the narrator.

Robert Pirsig’s genius in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is to insert classical forms of thought into the backdrop of a cross-country motorcycle trip. He piques our interest by waxing philosophical in an effort to get to the root of the ghost story haunting him. He succeeds in creating the quintessential philosophy book of the 20th Century.

It turns out that the motorcycle is a symbol of the soul.

A brief summary of Pirsig’s “chautauquas” follows, but bear in mind that this list is informational, whereas his book is spirited and transformational. (Chautauqua means “talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.” p. 15)

There are two ways of experiencing a motorcycle:
1. Romantically—riding a cycle down a mountain road, invigorated by the wind rushing past
2. Classically—familiarizing yourself with the working parts of the machine, developing a feel for how tight to secure the bolts.

Romantic experience is “in the moment.”

Classical experience connects the past to the future, allowing us to build on previous knowledge:
1. Systems of Components and Functions—physical working parts which we come to know either:
a. Empirically—knowledge gained by the senses
b. a priori—knowledge gained intuitively (known without prior experience)
2. Concepts—Ideas with the potential to be realized (the thought precedes the creation of the physical object).
a. Inductive ideas start with observing specific examples and end with a general conclusion.
b. Deductive ideas start with general knowledge used to predict specific observations.
Connecting the Romantic to the Classical is Quality. To care about something will increase its quality.

Pirsig creates an analogy comparing knowledge to a railroad train that is always going somewhere:
• Classic Knowledge is the engine and the cars.
• Romantic reality adds the dimension of time—it is the cutting edge of the experience, the moment in time.
• Traditional knowledge is the body of classic knowledge plus the history of where the train has been.
• Quality is the track—the “preintellectual reality” or “the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place” (p. 247). What carries the train forward is a sense of what is good. It is understood intuitively and enhanced by skill and experience.
• If your train gets stuck, understand two things:
o Being stuck eventually produces real understanding as you look for the solution in your train of knowledge. (A classical experience)
o Don’t be afraid to stop and analyze—you can see in patterns not only the physical object but the idea or function of the object. Eventually you will be able to break through barriers.

Creative energy is “gumption” or enthusiasm (enthousiasmos means literally “filled with theos” or God—appropriate since God is the inspiration of creativity).
Gumption Traps (“An examination of affective, cognitive and psychomotor blocks in the perception of Quality” p. 305) :
1. External (Setbacks)
2. Internal (Hangups)
a. Inability to learn new facts—slow down and decide if the things you thought were important are really important or if the things you thought were insignificant are more important than you thought.
b. Ego (falsely inflated self-image)—let your work struggles teach you to be quiet and modest.
c. Anxiety (opposite of Ego; you’re afraid you won’t get it right so you freeze up or don’t try)—“work out your anxieties on paper” (p. 315) Read about the topic, organize your thoughts on paper; remember even the best make plenty of mistakes.
d. Boredom—take a break, rest, or clean out your space.
e. Impatience (results from an “underestimation of the amount of time the job will take” p. 317)—allow yourself plenty of time to finish the job, break the job down into smaller goals.

Quality is understood in Western Culture as arête/excellence.
Quality is understood in Eastern Culture as dharma/”duty to self”.

Early cultures used Rhetoric to teach Quality in terms of virtue, but after some time the technique of rhetoric was corrupted by the Sophists as ethical relativism. (pp. 376-77) Socrates took issue with the Sophists and established dialogues—or the Dialectic (discussions through which the Truth can be arrived at). Excellence became subordinate to Truth. Rhetoric fell from its supreme position of Excellence (Quality) to teaching mannerisms and forms of writing and speaking.

Quality, Pirsig discovers, is "the Tao, the great central generating force of all religions, Oriental and Occidental, past and present, all knowledge, everything." (p. 254)
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,076 followers
August 1, 2020
Brilliant! Pirsig might be something of an American Montaigne, producing readable philosophy with a minimum of abtractions. That’s a gift. After undergoing electro-convulsive therapy 28 times, Pirsig, in this book, gives his formerly insane self a doppelgänger-like alter-ego, Phaedrus, and bravely tries to piece together that formerly insane self’s thought in order to learn from it. This alone is fascinating. At the same time Pirsig is reviewing aspects of eastern and western philosophical thought.

I need books that make philosophy comprehensible. All too often I find the great geniuses incoherent amid their heaped abstractions. Another recent philosophy-decrypting book I found helpful was Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails, in which the author lays bare the foundations of phenomenology and existentialism. Another was Walter Kaufman’s Nietsche: Philosopher Psychologist Antichrist. But while those books are, in the first case, explications of two related schools of philosophy, and in the second, of a particular philosopher’s thought and how it was abused by fascists, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a forensic reconstruction of a philosophy which sent its author to the nut house.

In that respect alone, the book represents an astonishing act of bravery in the face of unimaginable suffering. Quality is explained as part of a trinity not equivalent to mind and matter, but anterior to it. Quality is the proto-reality that exists before our minds can hitch analogues to sensed perceptions. I didn’t quite understand it at first either. Probably because these were the arguments that led Phaedrus to 28 electro-convulsive therapies and a long hospitalization. He “...felt something let go” and was overwhelmed with a “whole new flood of philosophical associations.” He pulls out his copy of the Tao Te Ching and there it is, his idea of Quality, as revealed by the mystic Lao Tzu 2,400 years ago. Insanity.

But then slowly, under the patient questioning of the recovered post-treatment Pirsig, the argument begins to coalesce. We are then introduced to Jules Henri Poincaré and learn of the crisis in the exact sciences of his day. Poincaré goes on to discover the subjectivity of systems, his point of departure being Euclid’s troublesome Fifth Postulate. Poincaré determines that it is facts which are infinite and it is up to the human mind to select subliminal factual harmonies—the mathematicians’s beautiful proof, for example—which rises to consciousness seemingly unbidden in the form of eureka moments. Thereby, says Poincaré, are systems devised and they are legion. In coming to this conclusion, it turns out, Poincaré long ago built a back channel to the idea of Quality Phaedrus would develop.

The difference between a good mechanic and a bad mechanic, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality. He has to care! This is an ability about which formal traditional scientific method has nothing to say. It’s long past time to take a closer look at this qualitative preselection of facts which has seemed so scrupulously ignored by those who make so much of these facts after they are “observed.” I think that it will be found that a formal acknowledgment of the role of Quality in the scientific process doesn’t destroy the empirical vision at all. It expands it, strengthens it and brings it far closer to actual scientific practice. (p.288)

I have neglected to mention the alternative narrative with which all this woolgathering is contrasted—Moby-Dick-style—and that is the cross country motorcycle trip the author takes through Montana and Idaho and Oregon and California with his son, Chris. That storyline ties in with the philosophy in a subtle mutually supporting way that’s a joy to read.

I enjoyed the attack on Aristotle, whom I’ve always found unreadable. But how Pirsig can make sitting through doctoral seminars so riveting is something to be pondered. It helps, I suppose, if one's teachers are complete assholes, as they are here. The haymaker Phaedrus delivers to the glass jaw of the Great Books curriculum at the University of Chicago is enormous fun to read about. Phaedrus attends a course on rhetoric there that is—by Pirsig's later definition—insane. Pirsig claims that everything not on the metaphorical train of Quality is by definition insanity. That’s why he can’t leave the train, no one can. I look forward to reading this one again. A Great Book in itself perhaps. Recommended with alacrity.
Profile Image for Julie G.
895 reviews2,923 followers
August 3, 2022
I worked in a bookstore for two years of my youth, and, though I have many memories of my time in that store, I don't remember too many of our customers.

I remember one, though. He was kind of a weird dude, just a few years older than I was, with a certain intensity and a really deep voice. He shopped regularly in our store, typically in the sci-fi section, and one day, as I was taking inventory at the register, he picked up ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE and said, “Oh, a must-read.”

I looked at it, and I'm sure I was thinking “Really?” but I said something instead, like “Why?”

He looked down at it with affection and said something like, “I've already read it a few times. It's brilliant. Make sure you read it at some point in your life.”

Well, “at some point” during this 1970s reading project of mine, I had a flashback of this conversation, and, because I'm trying to embrace more non-fiction these days, I added it.

Grumble. . . grumble. . . grumble.

Look, I feel for this author, Robert Pirsig. At one point in his life, he had a complete psychotic breakdown and was treated for paranoid schizophrenia and received electroconvulsive therapy. Apparently he struggled to keep those wolves at bay for the rest of his life.

He has my compassion, but the thing is. . . I might have a complete psychotic breakdown if I keep reading this.

This book deserves to be read by someone far wiser and far more mechanical than I am.

I thought it was a metaphor, this motorcycle maintenance thing. Seriously. I didn't realize that the book would involve actual motorcycle maintenance.

God, help me.

I mean. . . even a shirtless Viggo Mortensen might bore me if he turned to me and asked me to adjust his “tappet” and whatnot. I'd be like, “Dude, I'll be inside the air conditioned diner, looking for alcohol.”

(I take it back, Viggo, I take it back!!)

And what's with this Robert Pirsig, talking to the grown-ass woman, Sylvia, on their road trip, like she's a 12-year-old? She's like a freaking college professor and he keeps telling her when to look at the scenery and when to rest. Ugh! She's not your child, she's a grown woman. Shut up!

There's some fabulous philosophical reflections here, and some great one-liners, but I've hit the halfway mark, and I must be done.

I'm grouchy now and I'm reminded of all of the loud motorcycles that woke me up on my beach “vacation” last week. Shut up!
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,192 reviews1,817 followers
July 11, 2023

Mi piacerebbe usare il tempo che ho a disposizione per parlare di alcune cose che mi sono venute in mente. Il più delle volte abbiamo tanta fretta che le occasioni per parlare sono ben poche.

Tempo a disposizione Pirsing ne aveva abbastanza: in moto, col figlio undicenne seduto dietro, dal Minnesota attraversando Dakota, Wisconsin, Montana, fino alla California, fino all’oceano Pacifico, scegliendo le back street, le strade secondarie. E quindi, senza fretta, godendo e assaporando l’andare.

Sulla carta ‘sto libro si presentava come una manna per me che ho cominciato a guidare, sia due ruote che quattro ruote, a dodici anni. Ed ero così fortunato da avere un fratello maggiore munito di Ducati Scrambler che doveva lasciare a casa durante i lunghi mesi di collegio veneziano: e quindi a dodici anni ho iniziato a guidare una Ducati e tuttora mi muovo principalmente su due ruote con motore.

Peccato che invece di godersi davvero il viaggio, o di fermarsi a far manutenzione della moto, e magari parlarmi di cilindri e pistoni, Pirsing, che di professione oltre lo scrittore fa soprattutto il filosofo, dibatta a lungo di Socrate, Platone, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Einstein, Lao Tzu, che a me piacevano molto al liceo, ma dopo non ho più voluto saperne.

Come se non bastasse, Pirsig avvolge tutto nel buddismo zen. Di male in peggio.
E quindi queste parti del libro non le ho godute affatto, gran voglia di saltarle, di passare a quelle sul suono del motore, il senso di una piega, l’aria in faccia, che sono poche, purtroppo, davvero poche. Abbondano e vincono quelle dedicate alla teoria della Qualità, quelle riempite di metafisica.

E la colpa è tutta di John e Sylvia, i due amici di Pirsig che viaggiavano con padre e figlio: due motociclette in viaggio per 80/100 pagine. Una meraviglia. Poi la coppia di amici, John e Sylvya, si fermano a casa di altri amici, restano lì, e son solo Pirsig e il figlio a ripartire. E da quel punto, forse perché sente la mancanza della coppia d’amici, forse perché la conversazione dell’undicenne era poco stimolante – ma in moto si tace, mica si chiacchiera – Pirsig si mette a fare il filosofo e sbrodolare di filosofia e peggio ancora di zen, e così mi ha perso. O io ho perso lui.

Col seguito uscito ventisette anni dopo non ho voluto ritentare: anche perché da quel che ho capito nel secondo la moto è scomparsa, anche solo come scusa. Ma è rimasta la filosofia. Tanta (Lila: un’indagine sulla morale).
Mi chiedo se i diari di viaggio del malefico Dibba nazionale si siano ispirati a questo tomo mattoncino.

Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
656 reviews7,101 followers
January 19, 2014
Plato's Phaedrus said, "And what is written well and what is written badly...need we ask Lysias or any other poet or orator who ever wrote or will write either a political or other work, in meter or out of meter, poet or prose writer, to teach us this?"

Modern Phaedrus said, “And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good—
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”

I keep re-reading passages from Zen and the Art and Tao of Pooh and Siddhartha and try to make sense in the context of everyday life (which is where I firmly believe any philosophical questions need to be answered - If it is not applicable in your kitchen, it is not real philosophy) and quite strangely the answers seem to come from tying in the learning from these metaphysical and spiritual works with a book like The Story of Stuff - neither a great book nor a literary achievement or a leap in thinking - but it helped me understand the real meaning of the word 'materialism' when I read it in parallel with these other books. I will try to give an expanded review soon as a blog post at my blog

And Then? "I am Phædrus, that is who I am, and they are going to destroy me for speaking the Truth."

You can sort of tell these things...

Profile Image for Guillermo  .
80 reviews79 followers
July 25, 2013
Fuck! I hate this. I give up. I can't anymore. The last page I actually read was 217, so I didn't officially "finish" this book, but it will go into my finished pile. I need all the help I can get. My goal was 50 books this year, and Im 8 books behind. I will count this book as read no matter what you say.

You know when you start a roadtrip and everything is awesome and a breath of fresh air in the beginning, but then you're at each other's throats towards the middle? That's what this book was. It started off slow and boring. Like a lazy canoe trip through the Everglades. It was a nice change of pace from the bombastic stuff I was reading, but then you bash into a wall. The boring stuff is interlaced with more boring stuff. I know I sound like a monkey now. I know I sound uneducated as shit, but those philosophy lessons embedded into the narrative were soo boring. The book is a great example of the archethypical "journey story" that turns sucky. At first, you're jiving with everything, you get into some cool conversations, but after a few days, ... everyone stinks. Everyone is tired and have bags under their eyes. The vaginas smell like old tuna and the penises smell like rotting bacon (I made that up I never smelled crusty penis). Everything sucks. Thats what this booj turned into. Plus, the author is a douchebag. He's boring me. I'm supposed to believe he was formerly known as Phaedrus, and he thought himself into insanity on the quest of finding out the meaning of quality and rationality? Im not exaggerating that. Early in the book he describes how he got electro fucking shock therapy for this.

Really!! You fucking drove yourself literally insane thinking about that??? You really thought yourself into that black a hole? Fucking get a life! Who does that?

At that moment, my credibility for the author (who is thinly veiled as the protagonist in this stupid story) flew out the window. You have a kid dude!! Get it together. It doesn't help that he's such an asshole to that kid. All in the name of making him grow up to be a great man. Really? Fucking feed that kid, and dont make him climb a stupid mountain because of your own ridiculous ambition.

Maybe this book does a 180 degree turn in the final half and becomes really evocative AND entertaining, but I just dont care anymore. I hate giving books this low a rating. Its evidence that I wasted my time.

No more. There are too many awesome books out there I should spend my finite time on.
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
1,029 reviews17.7k followers
September 2, 2023
If, like Robert Pirsig and me, you've found on your rude awakening from the Sleep of Innocence down many a subtle corridor of life's nightmare "to an overwhelming conclusion," that living is not at all what it once seemed, this Incredible Handbook will be Required Reading for you.

I just can't put it any more simply!

But I’ll try again, by fleshing in some of the details… you see, Robert took his young son on a cross-country trek many years ago.

Heavily influenced by America’s restless Beat Generation, Robert was - of course - very mechanically-minded and practical, but he sensed deep down that Modern America is LOST.

And, as he and his son motored in their trek out West, Paul Simon was singing:

And a moon rose over an open field -
I'm lost, I said. I'm empty and aching and I don't know why -
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike -
They've ALL come to look for America!

So, in an important segue from his prized motorbike and its constantly watchful maintenance, he strives to arrive at the ROOT of his generation’s anxiety over our current drift into meaninglessness.

He delves into much fecund source material for his musings, ancient and modern, and then - as if we’re there in his head, watching his thoughts arise and vanish like so many clouds in the sky - it HITS him!


Wow. So true.

But this one pivotal thought for him - as Auden said so wisely - “opens a lane to the Land of the Dead.”

Yes, dark thoughts indeed. And they will have severe repercussions for both him and his young son.

Writing this book, in fact, politely roto-tilled the marrow of his soul - and, as Auden this time more incautiously muttered (and later rescinded), will “harrow the House of The Dead."

And if these Undead Souls haunt you forever after reading it, don't blame those who warned you.

For your Quest for Peace will henceforth be like a wrestling match with an Angel, as with Jacob, onward to your long ever-afterwards disabled sojourn on our weary planet.

Fight or Flight - and we MUST choose to Fight.

For we must not be cowed, as Pirsig - alas! - seems to have been.

But WAS his Spirit in fact conquered?


It was merely SLEEPING in its legacy to his son, who then musta vowed to NEVER rest until, Youthful Bodhisvatta that he then became, he had saved all beings from a similar confusion over life's meaning.

He was at that time studying Zen meditation at the SF Zen Centre.

You've GOT to bite off MUCH more of life than you can chew, Robert seems to have said to him in His brain.

And when you have chewed and digested it, Roar like a Lion -

As you gratefully await your own peaceful destiny, joining the running stream of humanity -

And then, if you truly Value your fellow sojourners only for themselves - in the Spirit of Love - you will be Freed At Last from Samsara’s Tinselly Valuelessness…

“Gone, gone, gone BEYOND,” as the great Sutra says - into pure Eternity.
Profile Image for Zora.
11 reviews19 followers
May 21, 2007
I learned from this book that you can sell a billion copies of a book that no one should ever waste three minutes reading. This is just another neo-philosophy book disguised as a novel. I'm almost convinced that the only reason people buy this book is so that their pseudo-intellectual (read: pompous scumbag) friends will accept them into the hippie circle. Although I know about twenty people who claim to have read this book, I have yet to meet a single person who actually knows what it's about. This book is a bigger hoax than the bible. So I have written, and so, therefore, must it be.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
148 reviews131 followers
August 13, 2007
This book is extremely good and also important. It's a treatise on metaphysics as well as a compelling story which the author says is autobiographical. It's exactly right about the scientific method, and the way we go about discovering truth as a society and as individuals. The analogy of working on motorcycles is a good one. In my life it's been programming computers and figuring out how to get industrial machinery to work, but the same process works for all of the above.

The thing I find most excellent in this book is that it points out the step where the mystery comes in, i.e. coming up with new hypotheses, the long sought "aha" that comes when you're working on a hard problem. Science has no method for how you get that. You just play with the problem, turn it over in your mind, try things, strive to understand, and then the answer sometimes appears in your head. It's a complete mystery. There are stories in the history of science, about Kekule who figured out the ring structure of Benzene from a dream about a snake swallowing its tail, about Einstein at age 13 picturing what it would be like to ride the crest of a light wave, and on and on. This book showed me that buried in the heart of science is something generative and alive that defies scientific explanation, simply because it's outside the system.

"The truth knocks on your door, and you say 'Go away! I'm looking for the truth!' so it goes away." That's such an exact description of how our preconceived ideas often keep us from finding the truth. (The truth in this context is completely knowable once we've found it. I mean if the motorcycle runs afterwards, then we've solved the problem. That's why I love applied science and engineering.)

The other great idea that I use all the time from this book is that the very cutting edge, the place where the tire tread hits the pavement, is always messy and confusing and just a place of floundering around in uncertainty. He makes the analogy of a train, with all the cars full of facts that we know, and the engine, where new track is being laid, is not contained in any of the cars. It's always murky up there, and never neat and well-defined. So that unpleasant feeling of uncertainty, of confusion, of floundering around, it's the VERY THING that we should cultivate in order to discover the truth. I tell myself that when I'm in that situation, that I should revel in this feeling instead of dreading it. (And, in fact, I mostly get paid because I can stick through that feeling to the payoff, the "aha" part. The most important thing I learned in college is that something utterly confusing and befuddling can come clear if I will invest the effort to play around with it and figure it out. So I get to do that all the time now. =))

What I have found in the years of figuring out why programs or machines don't work, and fixing them, is that really very little in life and the universe is well-understood. We have this large mental construct of scientific understanding, and it's indeed impressive. We can cure typhoid now and build bridges that stay up (conscious irony). But even in the areas that we would like to think are very well known, and neat and clear, there is so much that isn't understood. Otherwise, why would these questions come up continually? Why doesn't this program work? Why is my pulper feed system not working the way we expected? Why did my motorcycle engine run so badly in the mountains? What made this bridge suddenly collapse during rush hour?

This book explores all of those ideas and sheds a lot of light on them. I understand the universe far better because of having read this book. That's why I gave it 5 stars, a rating I reserve for books that changed who I am or how I see the world.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,618 reviews987 followers
May 11, 2023
Maybe I am just not spiritual enough to appreciate Pirsig's critically acclaimed best selling cult classic? A fictional account centred on a philosophical look at the idea of quality, a motorcycle journey and the nature of the main character. 3 out of 12, One Star read.

2013 read
Profile Image for Jill Baber.
40 reviews1 follower
January 19, 2015
I hated this book. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated it. I'm sad no stars is not actually a rating. This is my least favorite book ever. And I've done a lot of reading.

The problem is that it is written by some guy who apparently thinks he is God's gift to philosophy. And if you don't agree with him, well, you're clearly an idiot. This is not a constructive discussion about ideas, this is a presentation of why Pirsig is right, which, because this is a discussion on philosophy, is debatable. (Except, as far as Pirsig is concerned, it isn't.)

I actually kind of enjoyed the story about the main character's family, especially his son Chris. The problem is that the story is interrupted by many, many pages of what I only can describe as pretentious psychobabble. I can see how this book would be an enjoyable, ego-inflating journey for someone with the exact same views as Pirsig. How very nice for you. But if you are looking for a philosophical discussion with arguments beyond something like "I'm right because I said so," this isn't it.
Profile Image for Becca .
629 reviews42 followers
November 29, 2008
Okay, I confess I haven't finished it yet. But I'm finding it so irksome I don't know if I'll be able to get all the way through it. Here's what I wrote on my bookmark 50 pages in:
"the author's logic is self-contained, entirely self-referential and so his argument is self-sustaining! He can set up armies of logical strawmen and have them elaborately duke it out in massive rhetorical battles taking place entirely without any grounding in reality.
He has the manic ADDH intelligence of the kind that experiences UFO abductions, never finishes his degree, judges everyone as hopelessly inferior from behind the counter of the sporting goods store. Self-satisfied and superior with a fake Indian name he took on from the time he made deep eye-contact with a timber wolf. The kind of guy who never made it all the way back from 'Nam."

So that was 100 pages ago and I've had to change my evaluation a little. He went to Korea, not Vietnam.

He's driving me NUTS! It's one false premise and false conclusion after another-- astonishing leaps of logic (e.g. the more I do experiments, the more ideas for future experiments I have, therefore science only leads to more questions, therefore scientific pursuit is meaningless since the purpose of science is to know everything, and if I always have more questions, I'll never know everything. AAARGH!)

He's an irritating narrator: his female companions ooh and aah at his speechifying. "Gee, Bob, how do you think of this stuff!" while bringing him steaks. His male companions are awed and impressed with his technical knowledge and mystical skills. He wasn't kicked out of school for "laziness and immaturity" as the official reason went-- it was because his ideas were so RADICAL the whole university system would have come toppling down!

The only expert he cites is Phaedrus....who turns out to be himself! Before a nervous breakdown! He talks about discovering the beautiful power of Phaedrus' logic and writing. And it's himself, all along. Very annoying.

Ugh. I just want to say to him, yes, you're very smart. Yes, technology and art are a false dichotomy. But no, saying that does not turn the world inside out and make your the smartest person in the universe.
Profile Image for Daniel Bastian.
86 reviews148 followers
June 11, 2021
I'm convinced this is one of those books that somehow made it onto the high school syllabus and just sort of stuck around, with no one ever examining its right to be there. This then created the unwarranted impression that Pirsig's text is a 'classic' or something approaching significance. I say this with only slight reservation, but I don't think there is any kind of genius, misunderstood or otherwise, to be found in this bloviated acid trip. Pirsig warns in the author's note not to expect an accurate commentary on Zen Buddhism or motorcycle maintenance. What he neglects to mention is that you won't learn much of anything else, either.

With a title like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised when I wound up with a soupy slog through a tortuous jungle smeared over with the purest bird guano. Which is to say the book revels in being tedious, in laying out tedium on an operating table and dissecting it into its little tedious parts. By itself this isn't a dealbreaker, but if what's being conveyed tediously (in this case the intricacies of motorcycle anatomy as a launching pad for the unification of Occident-Orient philosophies) isn't worth the intellectual expenditure, something has gone wrong. And with this one, something went very, very wrong.

The semi-autobiographical book sets out under cover of a novel—a cross-country father-and-son bike trip—before quickly devolving into an effluvium of Pirsig's disordered thoughts. I seriously doubt any foresight went into this novel; thoughts are scattered so vagrantly across the pages that you increasingly expect the all-pervading synthesis that must surely await you at the end. Expect to be disappointed. Not even Pirsig, apparently, could clean this mess up into a functional philosophical treatise. It's as if a stream of thoughts came to him in the shower and, not sure what to make of them, jotted them down in slapdash fashion, hoping someone would come along later and piece it all together into an integrative, paradigm-shifting, status quo-shattering whole. I, for one, don't wish to be that person.

What you should expect instead are prolonged servings of motorcycle-speak and mechanic lingo and quasi-intellectual discussion of the term 'Quality'—what it is, what it isn't, what it means, how it works, why it matters. Most of his "Chautauquas", as he calls them, begin with, "Now I want to discuss...", such as: "I want to talk now about Phaedrus' exploration into the meaning of the term Quality, an exploration of which he saw as a route through the mountains of the spirit." (p. 168). The mystical undertones irked me here and there, but not as much as his bait-and-switch of pretending to tell a story that is really just an open-ended, self-indulgent, coma-inducing lecture.

I should say at this point that I am a huge fan of philosophy. Much of philosophy is interesting, intangibly so, and indispensable to every conscious adult. (You can't have science without philosophy, for example.) Some of it can even be life-changing and revelatory. But you wouldn't know it if this book is your first and only data point on the discipline. It's books like this which give philosophy a bad name and turn people away from the subject.

Anyone looking to get their feet wet is better off reading Kant, Camus, Sartre, Nietzche, Hume, Buber, Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marcus Aurelius, Dogen, Mencius, Spinoza, De Chardin, or Thomas Merton, or digging around for Plato and Aristotle online.

Worse, it's not even well-written. I cannot recall a single lyrically memorable passage in the entire book. The dialogue sections, apart from being wooden, stodgy, and vacant of life, are completely disposable as mere segues cutting up the oration. And the way Pirsig uses the stuffy, hidebound university professor to validate his supposedly earth-shaking ideas is childishly bogus. Perhaps Pirsig has an axe to grind, or perhaps his opinion of himself is higher than it should be.

Closing Thoughts

In the afterword to the 10th anniversary edition, Pirsig reveals that his book was turned down by 121 different publishing houses (a record according to Guinness). I'm not saying this shouldn't have been published, but I am saying I understand why it almost wasn't. Pirsig aspired to pierce the boundaries of philosophy itself, to unify the dualism blanketing modern academia. Instead of achieving this quixotic but admirable target, he ends up mostly with disjointed, turgid ramblings that veer occasionally into the territories of pseudoscience and New Agey mysticism. The novelistic tropes sprinkled in are there simply to make his quasi-arcane discourses more palatable to the reading public.

It's my opinion that ZAMM is well-known among pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to have discovered something profound in it. But we must be honest in recognizing that not all philosophy is profound. Some of it is deeply insightful and life-affirming, while some portion of it is poofy and, yes, low on quality. Period piece or not, this is just bad philosophy.


As an addendum to this review after reading other reactions and takeaways, it does seem that one’s impression of this book is shaped largely by the time of your life that you read it. Art is by its very nature subjective, and I think this rings especially true in the case of ZAMM. A person whose life is in disarray and looking for order may be put off by the scattered thoughts expressed here, while a different person may have the opposite experience and find Pirsig’s chaotic effusions cathartic.

I’m aware that many consider ZAMM an insightful novel and even profound intellectual entertainment. Some have gone as far as dubbing it a well-crafted piece of fiction. I do not share these sentiments, but I can respect them.

The narrator (father) seemed like a ‘reflective’ man, attempting to sort out his personal and professional struggle and trying to understand the nature of ‘quality’ and how it can be captured, described, or illuminated. Some readers found this struggle fascinating and thought-provoking. I found it poorly communicated, not just on a conceptual level but on a literary level as well.

The use of ‘motorcycle’ is supposed to be the analogy of the romantic (form) and the classical (function). According to the narrator, there are two ways of experiencing a motorcycle: romantically and classically. The romantic experience of a motorcycle involves riding it down a mountain road, going past a soft meadow or prairie, and being completely absorbed by the wind rushing past.

The classical or functional experience of a motorcycle is to understand the inner mechanism of the machine—how the various different mechanical parts work together in harmony, how to tighten a bolt or fix any maintenance problems. Being romantic is to experience living in the present state, whereas being rational or classical is to connect the past to the future and thus continue to accumulate the collective wisdom and knowledge down through the generations.

Through this analogy we are supposed to appreciate both the emotional and logical modes of our life experience, and obtain a sense of how the two interact and reinforce one another. Indeed, the narrator’s romantic experience of his motorcycle was not merely informed but enlarged and uplifted by his classical knowledge of it. That true enlightenment comes from an organic melding of the two flavors is a notion I can certainly understand has broad appeal. However, I think there have been far better treatments of this concept (Sophie’s World comes to mind, a book that maintained a genuine sense of curiosity throughout but avoided making any grandiose claims). Most unfortunate from where I stand, though, is that I simply found the book particularly unpleasing, banal, and thoroughly unremarkable.

Note: This review is republished from my official website.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,255 followers
June 26, 2012
The author went insane and nearly took me with him! After years of putting this one off, I finally recently read it and was floored by how it was almost nothing like what I expected: motorcycle talk and philosophy. I did not expect the contemplations of a depressing, crazy person. But that's no reason to hate on a book, and I don't hate Zen..., I'm just not in love with it. I was close to giving it only 3 stars mainly for its inability to move. I mean, for a roadtrip book it certainly seems to languish in the doldrums far too often. I gave it the extra star because I have a soft spot for philosophy in the form of rational evaluations and minute dissections of the mind, which this has in spades. The writing itself is good. In fact at times I thought I was reading very well-written fictional characters. The author's son's whiney desperation irritated, but for the right reasons, because it felt so real. My recommendation is to read this if you like philosophical contemplations, but don't read it if you're only interested in the motorcycle aspect.
Profile Image for Wendy.
22 reviews10 followers
May 23, 2007
According to family lore, my brother gave this book to my father when he - my brother - was in college. When my father read it, it apparently made a very deep impression on him, 'cuz he turned around and bought 4 copies and gave one to each of his children.

I refused to read it for years because...well...because my father gave it to me. Sometime after college though, I picked it up and read it for the first time and, for the next 5 years, I read it once a year every June. Clearly, it made a very deep impression on me, too. Come to think of it, I should probably read it again this year...

I love the narrative of the father/son motorcycle trip across the plains. I LOVE the sub-narrative about Zen and Quality and Values. And I love the theme of integration - how it all comes together in the end.

Plus, it shed a little light onto my father's psyche and experience. He named his last sailboat "Chautauqua," for Pete's sake.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews46 followers
November 15, 2017
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: سوم ماه نوامبر سال 1990 میلادی
عنوان: ذن و فن نگاهداشت موتورسیکلت؛ عنوان روی جلد: ذن و فن نگاهداشت موتوسیکلت؛ نویسنده: رابرت پیرسیک؛ مترجم: اسدالله طاهری؛ تهران، شباویز، 1366؛ در 530 ص؛ شابک: 9645511542؛ موضوع: ذن - قرن 20 م
خاطرات سفر هفده روزه ی نویسنده از مینه سوتا به کالیفرنیا با موتورسیکلت است؛ پیرسیگ در خلال سفرنامه، دیدگاه های فلسفی خویش را شرح می‌دهد و به توضیح بُعد «کیفیت» می‌پردازد. عنوان کتاب نوعی بازی با عنوان مقاله ای ست با عنوان « ذن و فن کمانگیری » که نویسنده‌ ای آلمانی به نام «اویگن هریگن» پس از مطالعه ی فلسفه و فرهنگ بودائی ژاپنی، در سال1936 میلادی چاپ کرده بود. پیرسیگ در ابتدای کتاب خویش اظهار می‌دارد که: کتابش برخلاف عنوانش، حاوی اطلاعات دقیقی در مورد فرهنگ ذن بودایی یا موتورسیلکت ها نیست. ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Aaron.
37 reviews4 followers
January 19, 2009
This book is one of those books that I want to rate way higher than 3, but I don't think I'd quite give it a 4. I always have this problem with Netflix too! By reading the random reviews posted about this book, many of them are extremely negative, focusing on the "arrogance" of the narrator or his "absurd" search for quality.

I think if you go into this 400 page novel with the expectation that it will be a light read about a motorcycle trip out West with a couple philosophical insights, you'll probably end up with a similar negative review. However, if you go into this book with an open mind, and are willing to look at the world through the eyes of a man deeply entrenched in philosophical meanderings to the point of insanity then you will be rewarded with a new way to look at things.

Pirsig takes an 18-day motorcycle journey that he made with his son in 1968 and turns it into an autobiographical journey not only about this trip, but into his mind. Pirsig spent time in a mental hospital before this trip, and much of this book is the story of his trip entwined with the story of the "insane" Pirsig. Along with the story of his mental past, Pirsig attempts to break down many types of philosophy and explain the concept that drove him into the mental hospital. This concept is the concept that Quality is the only true reality. It is a very abstract concept and that's why there is so much mundane philosophical background information endlessly filling up the pages. However, I feel that once I finally conquered this book, I came away with some very powerful messages and unique perspectives about the world we live in and the way we live our lives. I recommend this to everyone looking for a thinker, but be sure you give yourself plenty of time to absorb everything this novel encompasses.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
July 6, 2019
“The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

Robert M. Pirsig’s brilliant 1974 novel about a father and son motorcycle ride across the west, from Minnesota to California is also a journey for the reader. We examine this “fictionalized autobiography” in terms of relationships, unreliable narrators, delusions, mental illness, and ultimately about trueness with one’s self.

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.”

This is also about quality and what that means. Pirsig’s meandering quest for quality, and / or Tau, or Buddhism, is central to his narrative and is a focus for his thoughts on truth.

“You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

The book explores the narrator’s relationship with his son, as well as his contacts with other people, but this is also about his reconciliation with his own past and how he can be the man he is now while understanding who he was and how he came to be where he is.

This is one of, if not the, best-selling philosophy books of all time and was a treasure, if not an easy book, to read.

“Sometimes it's a little better to travel than to arrive”

Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
552 reviews165 followers
February 24, 2021
"What’s new?" is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question, "What is best?," a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.

I don't give a damn about motorcycles, but I do care about learning how to live. "If only I could analyze all the angles and really master my life!" part of me cries. "But it's got to be lived, in the end," another part replies. You can't master it before living it.

Tension. What I want and what I have are not the same. Where to find a happy balance? How to do this thing we call Life right?

"We're living in topsy-turvy times and I think that what causes the topsy-turvy feeling is inadequacy of old forms of thought to deal with new experiences."

The idea that living strictly rationally, according solely to the dictates of Reason, leads to a dead-end is appealing and Prisig's system of thought, which he calls the Metaphysics of Quality and which doubles as both a conception of reality and a values system, offers an antidote to consumer burnout and the inadequacies of a developed world. You need Reason and rational thinking to operate, but you don't want to lose sight of the Romantic frame of mind. He presents his arguments so methodically (and so rationally) that it becomes a lulling sort of mantra, almost. The point is not to examine motorcycling, of course. That's only a convenient means of illustration. The point is to examine character, and how it's expressed through our actions or manifested in our lives. Substitute motorcycles for whatever subculture you like and the lessons might be the same. These ideas are old, but Pirsig shares them here with a commanding earnestness that makes them seem alive again. He is quiet, thoughtful, meditative. But also dry, sometimes starkly spartan. And the book grows meandering, loses focus for long stretches at a time. Perhaps this is intended to provide illustration through example, but it's not something I appreciated.

3.5 stars. Maybe a 5 for a certain crowd, at a certain time of life. It gave me some food for thought, some interesting considerations to mull over, but in the end I don't think I can call it life-changing.
Profile Image for Trevor.
46 reviews1 follower
June 27, 2007
I started reading this book because i'd heard from a number of people, including comedian Tim Allen, that it was good. In fact i read an entire Tim Allen book ("I'm Not Really Here") which was kind of about his experience reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence. Tim Allen, although not exactly a respectable philosopher (maybe not even just respectable), had some of Robert Pirsig's philosophy without all his inane bullshit. At least Tim Allen's book was funny.

Admittedly, i enjoyed the book in the beginning. I could tell that the plot was going nowhere specific, but i like books like that. In fact i wrote one. But as i pressed on, page after page, chapter after chapter, i became first bored with it, then irritated. There are essentially three parts to this book, all of which are intertwined at irregular intervals:

1. The philosophy stuff. I really like this aspect of the book; all the time he spends talking about Phaedrus and Phaedrus's experiences was mostly fascinating to me. Phaedrus is the real star of the story and the only character i really liked.

2. The motorcycle maintainence stuff. Despite the fact that i had no idea what most of it meant, it's factual and to the point, and somehow intersted me just by the way it was written. At some point i even thought about buying a motorcycle, just from inspiration by this book.

3. The main story. It's a story about the narrator (Pirsig himself) and his son, Chris, on a motorcycle journey across the country with some friends. Chris is 11 or 12 and mostly just annoying, but the interactions between Pirsig and his son just make me think that Pirsig is a bad father. He always seems angry at Chris for no particular reason and Chris seems to cry a lot due to it. I wonder what Chris thought when he read this book. And it's no wonder to me that the guy's wife left him shortly after it was published (Wikipedia: [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_P...]).

The main thing that i think the book suffers from is the way he abruptly switches between the topics. I've no problem with a rapidly shifting story, if the transitions work. Here, Pirsig would get me going enthusiastically through a Phaedrus segment, and right at the climax...dump me back into him and Chris doing something boring. Then we'd trudge along through that for a while, and suddenly he'd see something that reminded him of Phaedrus, and we'd come to another Phaedrus segment which was not a continuation of the previous.

I gave up on the book shortly after the halfway point where Phaedrus began repeating everything over and over and going absolutely nowhere. Sure, i'd like to see what ultimately got him committed to an asylum, but i don't feel like reading any more of this repetitive and bland crap to get there. Ok, you can't put a definition on "quality," i get it, move on to something else. I feel like what Pirsig is saying to me is, "I've got a point...but i'll never tell you what it is!" and i hate being taunted. Especially while reading. If this were a movie, chances are i'd tough it out and wait for it to finish just because i know it'll be done soon. But reading, although often more enjoyable, is more time consuming and nobody can deny that. And after wasting weeks of my life reading Robert Jordan's "The Shadow Rising," i've learned my lesson. Life is too short to waste on crappy books. There's lots of good stuff out there, i'mma go get it.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,175 followers
August 14, 2021
I'm well aware I'm probably going to send the cat among the pigeons here. One star, indeed. Just to show that I felt quite deceived after having read this cult book. I had expected so much, but instead it gave me the cold shoulder.
For starters, Pirsig's writing style is very rudimentary and dry. The final chapter for instance is the kind of writing you only expect from a college boy or girl. I must acknowledge that his technique of using a motorcyling journey to ease the heaviness of the philosophical parts, works quite well, but I haven't the slightest interest in motorcycles.

Now, as to the philosophy behind the book. Pirsig offers a critical view on the western way of coping with reality (the divide between object and subject, the rational method to dissect reality, etc). Nothing really new, here. Plato and Aristotle are his culprits and the Greek sofists (of whom we know practically nothing) are his heroes, which is a very strange reading of the classics. Pirsig (or better, the mysterious alter ego Phaedrus) introduces a third way of coping with reality, next to the classical and romantic way, by focussing on the notion of "Quality". Unfortunately, he does not succeed in making clear what he means by this. He refers to "excellence", "thoughtfulness", and "accuracy", all very ambiguous notions. Apparantly, he opens up to the eastern way of coping with reality. The word "Zen" in the title of the book seems to confirm that, but in reality, there's is only one short piece in the book, with a citation of Lao Tse.

The best element to substantiate my critical remarks, is to look at the way Pirsig in the novel relates to his own son. Throughout the whole journey the 11 year old Chris is sitting behind him on the motorcycle. But Pirsig treats him in a demeaning and disdaining way, really horrible, not quite the way you would expect from someone who values 'Quality' so much. That opened my eyes: Pirsig's view only relates to things, both concrete (motorcycles) and abstract (the universe, life, philosophy). Now, if there's one thing I've learned in my personal quest, it's that life isn't about knowledge (in the broad sense of the word), but about relating to other people, interacting, bonding, caring, listening, loving... That's the only thing that really counts. But I have the impression Mr. Pirsig remains blind to this essential aspect of life. Instead, we are offered a much too long introduction (500 pages) into the presumed unique philosophy of a certain Phaedrus (Pirsig's former, genial self, before his insanity period and electroshock-therapy), an at times arrogantly formulated quest, without any suspense. So, I'm puzzled why so many people admire this book. My bad?
47 reviews12 followers
July 5, 2007
Well, this book is not for everyone, and I have certainly heard people say that they found it overblown, pretentious, pointless, etc. but I loved it and found that what I read and my life experiences as I read it formed a didactic and interesting dialectic with the content of the book.

The book itself interstices Pirsig's account of a motorcycle road trip with his son and some friends with the story of his personal and professional struggles developing his philosophy of "the metaphysics of quality". There is also some history of philosophy, although this is to provide an exposition for Pirsig's arguments, so he cherry-picks the stories and interpretations that he tells. This is fine because it is not meant to be a primer on classical or any other kind of philosophy; I don't really have an extensive philosophy background but the little I did know helped I think.

Not that they have anything to do with the book, but I have a couple of stories about it. I figure that most people who have any interest in this type of book are already pretty familiar with it, so I won't say too much about it other than that I couldn't put it down and I wholeheartedly recommend it. While I don't agree with Pirsig's entire viewpoint, most of it rang true and even that which didn't was still an excellent impetus for introspection.

I got a copy at a used bookstore (I'm pretty sure it was this one) on a trip up to San Francisco with my girlfriend and a mutual friend. At first I had been browsing, and had found a cool coffee table book on phrenology which the lady at the counter chatted with me for a little bit. Encouraged by the chatting, I asked her if they had a book I had been looking for, The Secret Teaching of All Ages by Manly P. Hall, which is an encyclopedic reference about the occult, masonry, astrology, etc. (although it is reprinted in paperback, the original book had lots of charts, illustrations, etc that would not fit in the smaller paperback format and had to be abridged, so I was looking for the original, which I am told is something of a collector's item in certain circles).

At this point, the warmth drains from her face. There is an ominous, beginning-of-a-movie-like silence, and she informs me, "No. I don't sell that book. I'm a Christian." When I ask for further clarification, she says that the book contains "a secret spell to undo the universe" and that she didn't want any part in helping anyone undo the universe, so she would not sell the book even if she had it.

Well, things got kind of awkward at this point, and while trying to avoid eye contact with her, I saw a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in a stack of books waiting to be shelved, and tried to help myself. My friend Ian H had told me it was really good and I figured I'd check it out. She swatted my hand away and sent someone to get me a copy off the shelf. She told me that it was by far the most popular title that they sold.

I didn't get around to reading the book until almost a year later, when me and Vinny were on our rail trip to and through Hokkaido. The book got really water damaged during our ill-fated hike up and down Rishi-fuji-zan right around when I was reading Pirsig's mountain climbing allegory. A lot of the stuff about how when "you can't move forward, you move sideways" and etc. resonated with my at times aimless wanderings over the past couple of years.

So, in summation, you'll really like this book, unless you instead think it's interminable, rambling, and obtuse like this review.
Profile Image for Daniel Clausen.
Author 11 books467 followers
October 3, 2017

I'm not sure where I stand on the philosophy in the book. In the early phases, I thought that perhaps I was responding negatively to the philosophy meditations because the book was a bit behind in the times (over 40 years old now). But then, as I went deeper into the author's Chautauquas, I understood the philosophy as part and parcel of a narrative that is not quite a narrative -- artifacts from a devastated psyche and the routine of a dad who is worried about his son. And then, I realized that this might be something more. More than philosophy, more than travel narrative -- it might be a new kind of practical reflective writing.

Little slips occur in the narrative that makes it less a pretentious philosophy lesson and more of what the work really is -- groping in the dark; a desperate attempt to understand something. It almost seems like the book was written as one long exploratory essay during a bike trip, not something that was written after the fact or tirelessly sifted from eight or nine drafts. The first draftness of the book is refreshing!

As a work of philosophy, the book would probably not be first rate. As travel writing, perhaps a bit less. But as something completely different, as a Chautauqua, it is in a league of its own. As an exploratory bit of writing on a bike trip across the country, it has more weight than a mere philosophical writing. The philosophy, too, demonstrates that there is a character at the center who thinks deeply, indeed where the very act of thinking might be a villain, a barrier, something to overcome.

At times, I wondered why the author didn't write more about his son. Why not write passionately about the other people on the trip? Why did the author dwell so much on Phaedrus, this other self that had been destroyed? Of course, that question is important for his son's sake -- understanding his own madness might get him closer to understanding what's happening with his son. But then you realize that there is something with the act of philosophy itself that might be wrong. That the author must embrace another "quality" or risk being destroyed.

Certainly, this is a book I can't really judge until I've read it one more time. But the point is, at least on a first reading, that this is a book I can't wait to read for a second time!

And what should authors learn from this book? Perhaps this: the Chautauqua is clearly a new genre (though it has antecedents in Walden). If you're tired of losing at a game that others built (a genre or discipline), then perhaps it's time to create your own game.
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