Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig
This is not an easy review for this is not an easy book. One thing I think I’m sure of is that it’s not about Zen or motorcycle maintenance.
On the surface the book is the story of the author and his son with some friends travelling across America. However this provides the environment for the author to share and explore a range of questions and issues including rationality, attitudes to technology, philosophies of life and the meaning of quality. What the book does is create the opportunity and invite the reader to explore these questions and others that they are stimulated to identify themselves. It’s a book that provokes and requires the reader to think. In a sense the book becomes and is what the reader makes of it.
What I made of it, and what makes the book exciting for me, is this approach through the vehicle of a novel of creating an environment in which the reader is teased into thinking through a range of extremely challenging philosophical questions. Many readers unwilling to engage in this process may see little in this book of value viewing it as being over complex and lacking in immediate gratification of a standard novel. Others looking not for questions but answers will be disappointed that the book has not the rigour they are looking for and provides no solutions.
However for those who want their thinking stimulated and their understanding challenged this is a demanding but very rewarding read that will probable warrant being reread several times.
I realise that the above says little about what the book is. I take comfort by quoting a passage from the book that I think releases me from having to describe what it is and invite you to find out what it becomes for you.
“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.”
All I can say is that whilst this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s the kind of book that just might change the way you see yourself, your world and your future. If you decide to read the book I recommend the 25th anniversary edition as this has some additional explanatory information by the author and also an interesting exchange of correspondence between the author and publisher which gives an insight into the creative process.
I should first credit a then colleague Dave Price who I recall was the first to mention this book to me, but it took over 20 years and the prompting of a friend I met at the Quality Congress in Harrogate, Shyam Kumar Gujadhur, for me to get around to reading it in its 25 anniversary form.
December 8 2003