Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance

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An Inquiry into Values

By Robert M. Pirsig

At first glance this book seems to have nothing to do with magic. The fact that it purports to be about Zen might suggest that it could be related to magic or at least the philosophy of magic, but even that would be misleading. The Author's Note at the beginning says that "it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It is not very factual on motorcycles either". However, the subject matter of this book, even if not strictly Zen, is central to a true understanding of magical philosophy, because true magical philosophy is all about values.

The problem, of course, like a great many other significant writings, is that to say what the book is about would take away its essence when it is read. The book is basically about a man and his son on a motorcycle touring holiday across America. But to understand the author's point you need to go on the journey with him. If you know where you are going before setting out then you may not understand where you arrive. All this is a flowery way of saying that it would be spoilt by giving away the end, but in this case giving away anything would spoil it. The journey is full of parallels, some of which on first reading it fifteen years ago, went right over this reviewer's head. Certainly it stands a revisit if you haven't read it for a while.

What can be said is that it is an examination of modern thinking and some of the implications of the way we think. It also tackles one of the great debates of Twenty First Century paganism; the clash of scientific thinking verses new age feeling.

What is interesting is that this book was first published in 1974, which means that he must have been writing it a couple of years before, and the journey on which it is based took place around the turn of the Seventies. So this is slap bang at the peak of the Sixties revolution. More than thirty years later the ideas he explores are still current. The technology he describes might have changed a little but we are still struggling to come to terms with the same social issues. In fact those issues, if anything, have become more urgent.

Pirsig, himself, if he is still alive, must now be in his seventies. One wonders what his thoughts on the modern world of the Twenty First Century would be? If you are out there, Robert, we would love to hear from you.


Pirsig, Robert, M.; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Vintage, London, 1989, 416 pages.

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