Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values - Robert M. Pirsig Actually, I am listening to a free MP3 version of this book which was available through The Guardian newspaper web site until Feb. 5th.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is on my short list of the most influential books I've ever read. This is my third read and I am listening to an audio version this time. My wife picked it for the book club and since it's been twenty years since I read it, I am looking forward to it. An audio read is an interesting choice since Pirsig patterned this work after the Chautauqua, a old-time series of oral presentation designed to both educate and entertain.


So I finished it today. How does it stand up after twenty years from my last reading and almost forty years from its first publication? Marvelously well, I think. Although I wonder how an younger audience would accept this work. ZATAOMM's popularity had a lot to do with its timing. Many of us were unimpressed by the American dream of material success yet disillusioned by the 60s hippie dream of "love, peace and flowers." Pirsig writes about finding and defining "quality". Yet to him, quality is a illusive entity not well defined by either the Romantic mind (the artistic) or the Classical mind (the scientific). The author's success in defining quality is only partially successful yet this partial success resonated with my generation.

But ZATAOMM is also a personal journey as Pirsig examines his own past in which he deals with his mental illness and a current journey in which he travels cross country on a motorcycle with his son who is developing similar mental issues. This is what turns this work into something besides a dry intellectual exercise. Pirsig expertly blends his thoughts, his philosophy, and his emotions into this philosophical travelogue so that we can take this information and transfer what we find helpful into our own lives.

I know a number of Philosophy professionals, and armchair experts, who deride this book as trite. I do not pretend to know enough philosophy to give expert judgement although what I know fits comfortably with Pirsig's Chautauqua. More importantly, the author does an excellent job in immersing the reader into his tale and gives us pause to think about the meaning of quality and how that can give us a more worthwhile life for ourselves and those who we care about.