The narrative is based on a man and his son doing a cross country trip on a motorcycle in the 1970s. The story focuses on that quiet mind you experience as you make miles on two wheels. While some people’s mind wander while riding, the narrator of this hefty tome starts with an examination of the basic mechanics of motorcycle maintenance but quickly wanders into a philosophical deconstruction of Greek philosophy and its effects on Western thinking.
If you’ve got a background in philosophy it’s fairly easy to follow, if you don’t you’re probably going to be wondering what the hell is going on. Persig likes to wander into complicated philosophical arguments with little warning.
The book is full of some real gems in terms of how we approach basic mechanics as well as life in general, but it can get pretty full of itself as well.
“Is it hard?’
Not if you have the right attitude. It’s having the right attitude that’s hard.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values
To further complicate things the author is battling with his alter-ego as he recovers from electroshock therapy. No, this isn’t an easy read, though it’s worth it if you can get through it. I suspect this is a book many people have purchased but few have finished. It sure looks smart on your bookshelf though.
Last year I read Shopclass as Soulcraft, which I’d recommend as a much more accessible read if you’re interested in getting philosophical through the lens of motorbiking.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a classic, and it has attained a kind of cult status in philosophy and motorcycle literature. I’d recommend reading Crawford before you take a run at Persig. Reading a review of Western philosophy wouldn’t hurt either.