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Reviews of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

Review by anarchy (2003-07-18)
There are two ways of reading this book. The first is sitting next to a dirty motorcycle with a naughty twang in the engine - looking for a schematic diagram that will help you diagnose what is wrong with it. The second is sitting next to a dirty motorcycle with a naughty twang in the engine - looking for nirvana.

The second approach is more likely to be rewarded. And the first will probably work out too.

The book is as much a book on philosophy, theology and a study in logic - as it is a book about a man, a child and a horrible past. The book is comfortable depicting the power of thought as it is about exploring the relationship between a madman and his wife.

That is why "a" review of the books is not possible. And I will not attempt to do it too.


Phaedrus is a man with a past and a present. The existence of a future is unknown. Phaedrus was a professor. He was brilliant as a professor. His students loved him, and thought he was insane. But phadrus was not happy. And his unhappiness led him to strange pursuits - of ghosts, truth and logic. Somewhere in his pursuits he lost track of where he started, what he set out do to, and who he was. It was only the intervention of courts and the sanitarium that saved him from himself.

The present is with the motorcycle and the chautaqua. The present is when the author starts on a road journey with his friends and on a mind journey with us. The present makes its way across the American landscape. In the present we find the vast plains, the cold mountains and the bed-and-breakfasts of the modern America. In the present we also find glimses of the past. In the present we find that the past is making a desperate attempt to catch up.

So what is the future, is it the present, or is it the past?

The Chautaqua:

Is a place of the mind. Is a playpen of ideas and concepts. Is a place where stories are told and memories revisited. A chautaqua is a place to share as much as it is a place to explore.

The author is on a motorcycle ride across the Americas. With his son and his friend-couple. And on this ride, with its long silences, he invites us to joing his exploration.

In the book, the chautaqua discusses a very fundamental part of the modern world - logic. Starting from the time of the greeks, logic has formed the corner stone of modern western thought. But the western thought is dissatisfied with itself. The western lifestyle is not happy with itself. And when a whole civilization is unable to cope up with technology, when a whole civilization is unable to match the pace it is generating, when a whole civilization is developing behaviour patters that border on irrationality, we have problems. And we have fundamental problems. The technophobic attitude of the author's friends leads him on a search of the root of the problems. And in this search he discovers that the search itself is meaningless, as is everything else.

And the author is not happy. And the past of the civilization is catching up with him. So it his own past. His son is with him, whose safety is paramount, the current goal. The past however has other goals. His son has other goals. Where the chautaqua lead, what does it reveal? The answer to this question is so profound, that it is bound to change your life.

Assuming you are able to complete the book. The book is a tough read, but worth every hour you put into it. Read it to see a unique perspective of life and your world.

Review by Jorapello (2003-07-04)
Pretty good, really; an interesting book. Pirsig certainly babbles a lot, but he has a lot of brilliant concepts that really come through in his writing. Definitely worthy of a read, even if you are not into motorcycle maintenance. .

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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