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Before reviewing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, let me mention that most people will either love or hate the book. Few will be indifferent.
Those who will love the book will include those who enjoy philosophy, especially those who are well read in that subject; people who ride and maintain their own motorcycles; readers who are interested in psychology, particularly in terms of the mass hypnosis of social concepts; individuals who are curious about the line we draw between sanity and insanity; and people who want to think about how to deal with troubling personal situations, especially as a parent. As someone who has all of these interests and perspectives, the book fit my needs very well.
Those who will dislike the book are people who like lots of action in their novels, dislike the subjects described above, and who want easy reading. This book is very thick with concepts, ideas, metaphors, and layering which reward careful reading and thought. Most text books are considerably easier to read and understand. Few modern novels are any more difficult to read from an intellectual and emotional perspective.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has several story lines that intertwine to create a synthesis of thought and experience:
- a father and young son take a motorcycle trip from the Midwest to California
- the father has an internal dialogue with himself about what he observes about the people around him and their engagement with life and technology
- the father attempts to reconstruct the ideas and perspective he had before being treated as a mental patient (which treatment destroyed and distorted his memory and personality)
- the father looks at the great philosophers of western and eastern civilization and attempts to integrate their thoughts into an aesthetic built around our ability to know quality when we see and experience it
- the father deals with the incipient signs of mental instability in his son and himself.
The book is almost impossible to characterize, but let me try anyway. Perhaps the closest book to this one is Hermann Hesse's Siddharta. At the same time, there is also a strong flavor of Zen and the Art of Archery. On the Road by Jack Kerouac covers some of the same intellectual and emotional territory. John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men considers some of the same questions of personal perspective. In terms of challenging the constrictions of society, there is also an element of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit here.
What is most remarkable about the book is the way that it pinpoints the spiritual vacuum in the pursuit of more and shinier personal items. Unlike many books from this time, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance upholds a concept of nobility and worth connected to pursuing material progress in ways that reflect eliminating low quality and replacing it with high quality. Think of this as being like the joy of craftsmanship, compared to the dullness of the assembly line. By setting high standards, expanding those standards, sharing those standards with others, and inspiring people to experience life more fully, we can move forward spiritually as well as intellectually. The motorcycle maintenance details connect these abstractions back to the practical issues of every day, as we roll along across country with the author and his son dealing with the realities of keeping our bike running where the repair and parts options are very limited.
The book's afterward is particularly interesting, in which Mr. Pirsig opines about why this book has had such great and lasting appeal and tells you what happened after the book ends.
Ultimately, I felt uplifted by the high respect that Mr. Pirsig has for his readers. He takes us very seriously, thinks we are intelligent, and pays us the compliment of believing that we can learn to fundamentally change all of our perspectives and experiences.
After you finish this book (if you decide to read it), I suggest that you think about where you disengaged from the challenges, tasks, and people around you. Then, pick out one area and get deeply involved. As you master that one, take on another. And so on. Soon, you will have new and greater respect for yourself . . . and more rewarding relationships.
Get your hands dirty!
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on 17 October 2004
A father taking his son on a motorcycling trip begins a discourse - he calls it a 'chautauka' - on the nature of 'quality' - that is, human values. What is good and what is bad? How do we know the difference? He examines the two ways that human beings look at the world - the Classical and the Romantic. The Classical divides the motorcycle (for instance) into its components. The Romantic only sees the complete and finished motorcycle. These two ways of looking at reality are both typically human, but are entirely incompatible. We gradually learn, though, that within the motorcyclist's journey there is a deeper journey. He has also come to look for Phaedrus - the character he used to be as a young post graduate student. As the story and the discourse unfold on different levels, we discover that 'Phaedrus' became obsessed with the idea of reconciling these two sets of values - a quest that took him deep into philosophy and eventually to such strange paths that he stepped outside the 'Church of Reason' and was considered insane. After treatment in a mental institution, his Phaedrus personality was removed, leaving him with only the relics of what he used to be and know, like archaeological ruins in a field. The journey, on a third level, is not only to rediscover Phaedrus but also to piece together from these 'ruins' the conclusions he came to. Finally he presents us with an entirely new 'third' way of looking at reality. Whether you accept his conclusions or not (the moral philosopher Mary Midgley gives the idea very short shrift)this book is a brilliant achievment - sad, funny, wise, moving, uplifting, enlightening - it works on many different levels. It is certainly the book I would want to take with me on a desert island.
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on 13 September 2011
Many years ago a chap, who I am glad to report is now my brother-in-law, was prescribed this book as a Stage 1 Engineering pre-read. He took one look at the cover and gave it to me, at that point a pubescent teenager grappling with the existential difficulties of the world which suddenly were presenting themselves (I'm still grappling with them now, come to think of it).

"Here," he said, "you might have more use for this than me". He probably meant it as a joke.

Well, I had a go - I would guess this was about 1983 - and I still recall Robert M Pirsig's vivid account of the bright, hot sweep of the prairies from the saddle of motorcycle, his ruminations on how to tell if your tappets need realigning, and him rabbiting on about travelling circuses called "chautauquas" and this mysterious Phaedrus character.

I can't have got the whole way through because, as the journey arcs across the midwest to San Francisco, the personal story becomes more intense and the philosophy far more technical than a hormonally confused 13 year old could reasonably have stayed with.

Recently I've found a copy and re-read it. Pirsig's fascination with the orient feels a little dated (if not glib) but it's still a clever, original and thought-provoking book, though mostly for the narrative structure rather than the philosophical content. As we read on we are presented with uncomfortable chapters in Pirsig's history. We find that Phaedrus is in fact an earlier rendition of Pirsig himself; a child genius and a tenured academic at an early age who, spurred by his own existential search for "quality", drove himself mad. He had a psychotic episode and was only brought out of it with electro-shock therapy. As we meet him, the rehabilitated Pirsig has left academia, writes technical manuals for IBM (a low-stress job if ever there were one) and has just embarked on a pan-American motorcycle tour with his son, Chris, whom he fears also may have psychiatric issues, and another couple whom he doesn't seem much to like.

It is not explained why they are riding across America, other than as a vacation (and as a vacation it sounds super: I've wanted to do the same ever since) yet, as he leaves the other couple behind, it becomes clear that Pirsig is wantonly stirring up some old ghosts as he goes, riding directly into the dark heart of Phaedrus' old life and Chris is his unwitting, and increasingly unwilling, accomplice.

Along the way Pirsig engages in these Chautauquas, expounding a theory of "quality" which, it emerges, is assembled from his fragmented recollections of Phaedrus' own homespun epistemology, once obliterated by the shock treatment but now slowly being uncovered and pieced together as he ventures westward. This is, of course, precisely the philosophy that engulfed and eventually sent Phaedrus insane, so this, with its obvious parallels to pioneering ventures into the wild west, is a powerful literary device.

This narrative structure remains fresh; Pirsig's - or perhaps Phaedrus' - philosophy feels a little more shopworn: some of the ground he covers has been fought over bitterly in the subsequent forty years, and while Pirsig's complaints about analytical and Platonic realism ring true, his attempts to cure them with an appeal to a pre-intellectual, undefinable, "quality" - a valiant attempt, I think, to avoid veering into the roadside ditch of relativism - don't really carry the day (those who have read some of my other reviews will know I don't see a big problem with the roadside ditch). Pirsig's arguments get more strident and technical, but no more compelling, as Phaedrus's personality begins to reassert itself, and as the book enters its last quarter we get into fairly intricate analysis and critique of Plato's dialogues. These have been more lightly dispatched by the likes of Popper and Feyerabend, and Pirsig's alternative (refusing as it does to define its central tenet) lacks any real utility that I could make out.

For all this the book never outstays its welcome: Pirsig is canny enough to interleave the philophical musings with the beauty of the American wilderness and an alarming descent towards the psychiatrically unknown.

In its erudition, imagination and breath of coverage Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance deserves a place, perhaps further down the rostrum, amongst Philosophy's notably "left field" classics such as Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Paul Feyerabend's Against Method, and even Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

The years have passed: my brother-in-law's eldest son is now currently reading engineering at University. I think I had better return the favour and send him a copy.

Olly Buxton
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on 5 June 2002
A father-and-son tour across the States, deep philosophical ponderings and a tale of personal tragedy combine to form one of the most wonderful true-story books I've ever read.
Throughout most of its length, the book drops fleeting hints of the grief of the Author's past, a terrifying insight into a broken family and a broken mind. But be warned - the warm, bucolic paragraphs of pine forests and fresh air interspersed with the longer tracts of profound philosophical insight will cause you to lower your guard - leaving you exposed and utterly gripped towards the end as the Author reveals the tragic truth to his son...
I can't believe how some snobby reviews belittle this book - maybe its because Phaedrus, the central character, often speaks of attacking the self-opinionated intellectuals of the philosophical establishment. In any case, if you are not a narrow-minded professor who thinks he knows it all, and you are interested in a realtively easy-to-read yet utterly profound and original work, then you will not be dissapointed. If you can handle the heart wrenchingly sad afternotes, get the 25th anniversary edition, its worth every penny. This book is just beautiful but be prepared for tears
Reviewers note: The overuse of the word 'Quality' in this book may irk some readers, especially in this day and age now that the word has aquired a negative stigma due to it being hijacked by the various 'quality' standards bodies throughout the world. Read 'quality' to mean 'the metaphysical properties of goodness' or even sometimes as 'the meaning of life' - on no account does Pirsig mean 'the measure of having been produced according to consistent but irrelevant procedures', nor even 'how well something performs according to its purpose.' I labour on this final point about the word 'Quality' because it has become ubiquitous, spread across the covers of so many second rate business books - so please don't groan and think 'not another book about Quality!' as the modern, perverse meaning of the word is *utterly* not what this gorgeous work is all about.
I will read and re-read this book and give it to my kids when their older. All I can say in summary is, please buy it.
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on 2 January 2007
A quick scan of the online reviews available for this book will quickly show you that it provokes strong reactions in those that read it - there aren't many 3* ratings here! While at first glance these ratings might appear to be indications of the inate quality of the book itself, they would better be thought of as indications of the quality of the experience that each reader had when interacting with the book.

Each reader will bring something of themself to the book, and so the quality of this experience will be influenced both by the book and also by the reader. When you look at it like this, it is obvious that how much you like this book will depend on yourself as much as on the book itself. However, since people's reactions to it seem generally to tend towards the extremes, it seems probable that you too will either have a great, or a terrible experience.

In order to help you make an informed judgement on this, a few observations, in which I will attempt to approach as near to objectivity as possible:

- It is not a 'hippy bible', as one earlier contributer suggested. It is a book about philosophy which blends discussions about the nature of peoples interactions with the world around them with a story of a road trip taken by a father and son.

- It is entirely rational. There's no new-age mysticism, no real discussion of sprituality - rather a critique on how you look at things and interact with them.

- It is fairly intellectual, but necessarily so. The author has a very clear, conversational style of writing, and the ideas he attempts to express are not difficult, but nonetheless the reader is required to think during the reading process.

I suggest that you read this book. It has certainly influenced my thinking on the world, probably more than any other single book I've read. However, if you really hate it as much as the contributor 'blowski', I certainly would suggest that you stop reading before you get two thirds of the way through. No point in getting as mad as he did about it.
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Before reviewing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, let me mention that most people will either love or hate the book. Few will be indifferent.
Those who will love the book will include those who enjoy philosophy, especially those who are well read in that subject; people who ride and maintain their own motorcycles; readers who are interested in psychology, particularly in terms of the mass hypnosis of social concepts; individuals who are curious about the line we draw between sanity and insanity; and people who want to think about how to deal with troubling personal situations, especially as a parent. As someone who has all of these interests and perspectives, the book fit my needs very well.
Those who will dislike the book are people who like lots of action in their novels, dislike the subjects described above, and who want easy reading. This book is very thick with concepts, ideas, metaphors, and layering which reward careful reading and thought. Most text books are considerably easier to read and understand. Few modern novels are any more difficult to read from an intellectual and emotional perspective.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has several story lines that intertwine to create a synthesis of thought and experience:
- a father and young son take a motorcycle trip from the Midwest to California
- the father has an internal dialogue with himself about what he observes about the people around him and their engagement with life and technology
- the father attempts to reconstruct the ideas and perspective he had before being treated as a mental patient (which treatment destroyed and distorted his memory and personality)
- the father looks at the great philosophers of western and eastern civilization and attempts to integrate their thoughts into an aesthetic built around our ability to know quality when we see and experience it
- the father deals with the incipient signs of mental instability in his son and himself.
The book is almost impossible to characterize, but let me try anyway. Perhaps the closest book to this one is Hermann Hesse's Siddharta. At the same time, there is also a strong flavor of Zen and the Art of Archery. On the Road by Jack Kerouac covers some of the same intellectual and emotional territory. John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men considers some of the same questions of personal perspective. In terms of challenging the constrictions of society, there is also an element of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit here.
What is most remarkable about the book is the way that it pinpoints the spiritual vacuum in the pursuit of more and shinier personal items. Unlike many books from this time, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance upholds a concept of nobility and worth connected to pursuing material progress in ways that reflect eliminating low quality and replacing it with high quality. Think of this as being like the joy of craftsmanship, compared to the dullness of the assembly line. By setting high standards, expanding those standards, sharing those standards with others, and inspiring people to experience life more fully, we can move forward spiritually as well as intellectually. The motorcycle maintenance details connect these abstractions back to the practical issues of every day, as we roll along across country with the author and his son dealing with the realities of keeping our bike running where the repair and parts options are very limited.
The book's afterward is particularly interesting, in which Mr. Pirsig opines about why this book has had such great and lasting appeal and tells you what happened after the book ends.
Ultimately, I felt uplifted by the high respect that Mr. Pirsig has for his readers. He takes us very seriously, thinks we are intelligent, and pays us the compliment of believing that we can learn to fundamentally change all of our perspectives and experiences.
After you finish this book (if you decide to read it), I suggest that you think about where you disengaged from the challenges, tasks, and people around you. Then, pick out one area and get deeply involved. As you master that one, take on another. And so on. Soon, you will have new and greater respect for yourself . . . and more rewarding relationships.
Get your hands dirty!
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on 28 February 2015
Even now, 40 years after it was first published, this book has relevance to contemporary readers and society as a whole. In fact, it may have more relevance now than ever more due to the increasing value placed on surface appearances and ideals of beauty. This book informs us that it is what lies beneath that is important.

The book starts with more of the story and less philosophy, the balance slowly changing during its course, which is perfect, the journey taken by the reader being one of slowly being immersed in profound observations. There is so much food for thought and a great many insights.

This is an invaluable book when it comes to questioning and observing humanity, its ideals and the society it has created. Profound and eye-opening, this is a must read for anyone on a journey of personal discovery and enlightenment.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 August 2012
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" was a set book on a compulsory philosophy course I had to do at university (30-odd years ago!!) I remember starting to read it and thinking, "Hmm... this philosophy stuff might be fun after all."

In a nutshell, it's a kind of philosophical/spiritual Odyssey, describing (outwardly) a trip across the US on a motorbike, but also charting the writer's much more interesting inner journey. And between those narrative sections there are vast chunks of philosophical speculation and snippets of the history of philosophy.

It's a lot more interesting than I'm probably making it sound!!

When I saw that it was available as a dramatised version, I was amazed. I just didn't see how it could possibly work. But in fact it works very well. I listened to these disks on a long car journey, and they kept me entertained every mile of the way.

However, in order to do this, they had to chop out almost all of the philosophical sections and just tell the narrative parts of the story. It makes for an entertaining drama, but part of me wonders if the result can truly be called 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.' It might have been more accurate to have given it another name entirely and added the sub-heading 'based on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.'

Still, I enjoyed it, and recommend it. But if you listen to this and THEN turn to the book, you may find the book heavier going than you were expecting.
0Comment|2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Before reviewing Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, let me mention that most people will either love or hate the book. Few will be indifferent.
Those who will love the book will include those who enjoy philosophy, especially those who are well read in that subject; people who ride and maintain their own motorcycles; readers who are interested in psychology, particularly in terms of the mass hypnosis of social concepts; individuals who are curious about the line we draw between sanity and insanity; and people who want to think about how to deal with troubling personal situations, especially as a parent. As someone who has all of these interests and perspectives, the book fit my needs very well.
Those who will dislike the book are people who like lots of action in their novels, dislike the subjects described above, and who want easy reading. This book is very thick with concepts, ideas, metaphors, and layering which reward careful reading and thought. Most text books are considerably easier to read and understand. Few modern novels are any more difficult to read from an intellectual and emotional perspective.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has several story lines that intertwine to create a synthesis of thought and experience:
- a father and young son take a motorcycle trip from the Midwest to California
- the father has an internal dialogue with himself about what he observes about the people around him and their engagement with life and technology
- the father attempts to reconstruct the ideas and perspective he had before being treated as a mental patient (which treatment destroyed and distorted his memory and personality)
- the father looks at the great philosophers of western and eastern civilization and attempts to integrate their thoughts into an aesthetic built around our ability to know quality when we see and experience it
- the father deals with the incipient signs of mental instability in his son and himself.
The book is almost impossible to characterize, but let me try anyway. Perhaps the closest book to this one is Hermann Hesse's Siddharta. At the same time, there is also a strong flavor of Zen and the Art of Archery. On the Road by Jack Kerouac covers some of the same intellectual and emotional territory. John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men considers some of the same questions of personal perspective. In terms of challenging the constrictions of society, there is also an element of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit here.
What is most remarkable about the book is the way that it pinpoints the spiritual vacuum in the pursuit of more and shinier personal items. Unlike many books from this time, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance upholds a concept of nobility and worth connected to pursuing material progress in ways that reflect eliminating low quality and replacing it with high quality. Think of this as being like the joy of craftsmanship, compared to the dullness of the assembly line. By setting high standards, expanding those standards, sharing those standards with others, and inspiring people to experience life more fully, we can move forward spiritually as well as intellectually. The motorcycle maintenance details connect these abstractions back to the practical issues of every day, as we roll along across country with the author and his son dealing with the realities of keeping our bike running where the repair and parts options are very limited.
The book's afterward is particularly interesting, in which Mr. Pirsig opines about why this book has had such great and lasting appeal and tells you what happened after the book ends.
Ultimately, I felt uplifted by the high respect that Mr. Pirsig has for his readers. He takes us very seriously, thinks we are intelligent, and pays us the compliment of believing that we can learn to fundamentally change all of our perspectives and experiences.
After you finish this book (if you decide to read it), I suggest that you think about where you disengaged from the challenges, tasks, and people around you. Then, pick out one area and get deeply involved. As you master that one, take on another. And so on. Soon, you will have new and greater respect for yourself . . . and more rewarding relationships.
Get your hands dirty!
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on 20 June 2014
A true story by R M Pirsig, he rides a motorcycle coast to coast across America with his young son on the back.
Pirsig was a university lecturer who had a mental breakdown and was committed to a mental institution where he received ECT treatment, eventually he realizes that if he is ever going to be released from the nutty farm he would have to tell the white coats what they wanted to hear (not the truth). Afterwards he resumes a relatively normal life, split from his wife he picks up his son and goes on a road-trip across America, telling stories of people they met, the places they stayed and the mechanical troubles he's had. Being quite mechanical he effects most of his own repairs but when he can't he gives very vivid descriptions of the types people who do for him, from the prim and proper (everything has a place and a place for everything) to the people who use the chaos of the gravity filing system, he describes them all not as wrong or right but as artists in there own right.
I found this book to be thoroughly good read, its more about people than machines and is a lot easier read than his next book Lila.
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