Audible book review: Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

By | June 27, 2016

The book sold 5 million copies worldwide. It was originally rejected by 121 publishers, more than any other bestselling book, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Oh my fucking gawd what’s wrong with this guy.

You end up saying that quite a lot while reading this book, but only in the first half. By the second one, you realise it’s the story of a man who actually went insane, told by the split personality of the same dude, and then you go “Oooohhhh..” and it all makes sense.

I do not consider myself to be and admirer of philosophy. I have never even made an attempt to get to know any of the giants of this field, Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Kant, Dostoevsky and whoever else there might be. I always thought of philosophical books to be a lot of talk done in the most incomprehensible way possible, with the sole purpose of making the reader feel confused, and more importantly, inferior.

This one is different.

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig is by far the hardest book I’ve ever come across. Mystic, repetitive, and far too seriously deep for what I took as basically a leisure read, this is not for the faint of mind, or those who are easily bored.

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance is neither about Zen, nor about motorcycle maintenance, and not even about motorcycles in general. Zen and motorcycles make roughly 10% of the content, rest it’s just the ramblings of an unhinged mind, taken so completely by the pursuit of a single goal, it literally drives him insane.

And what a beautiful story that is.

Published in 1974, the premise of this book is the 17-day motorcycle journey taken by Pirsig and his son Chris in 1968, with the first 9 of those days done in the company of Sylvia and John Sutherland. The route followed was broadly from East to West, and then down South to the sea, culminating in San Francisco. During this journey, Prisig slowly remembers a part of him that died long ago, killed in a mental hospital by electrical shocks to the head, and in remembering this man, finds out what it was that got him in there to begin with.

Pirsig talks about technology a lot in this book, and how some people are afraid of it, and what shapes that outlook of theirs. For a reader in 2016, his book has more meaning than he originally intended to. Pirsig questions the basis for the sheer hatred for technology that a lot of people have, not on a superficial level, but on a visceral one. People love riding motorcycles, but at the first sign of mechanical trouble, they raise their hands and run away, crying and shouting into the distance.

In today’s world however, this problem is far more perverse, far more widespread. It’s scale is such that man no longer has time to think the kind of thoughts that made this book in the first place.

If you’re face isn’t buried into your mobile, it’s buried into the computer, or if you are just too bored, into the TV, sometimes in all three at once. It’s only when you stare at a wall for days, walk the mountains without any connection to humanity, and let your thoughts be devoured by just one single entity, does work like this appear. Needless to say, those days are long gone, just a memory that’ll soon become a myth.

One of the biggest reason why this audio book had such a big impact on me was the narration. Michael Kramer is an award-winning narrator, and it shows through every second of the book. I would have preferred to read this kind of book as a physical one, mostly because that makes it easier to go back to things that are referenced in the future, but I really doubt I would’ve been able to pull through the book if I was reading it by myself.

I think the biggest value of philosophical work is that it has different meaning for different people. The more reviews you read about this book, the more you realize how many different angles people have read it from, and what different worlds of thoughts it opened up for them. In some sense, that is quite weird, given how precise, verbose, and exact the language and expression Prisig has used. Even though the entire text seems to be dedicated to not define Quality, it has such depth and expanse that leaves no aspect of the human experience untouched.

There’s nothing I can say that’ll give you an idea of how much I enjoyed his words. One thing that might help is that for the first time in my life, I want to read a book a second time. I’m quite certain this is one of those books that people talk about all the time, the one that becomes more and more beautiful over and over again as you read it, and I can’t recommend it enough to anybody who just wants to listen to the words of a man uncorrupted by society, common sense, or reason.

  • Aniruddha Hombali

    Pretty accurately summed up…. it took me a number of tries to finish that book. But in the end it does certainly hold more relevance today than it did when it was published. Great book I agree

    • Akhil Kalsh

      It sure is 🙂

      • Aniruddha Hombali

        After reading your blog, I was inspired to take up riding again. I just cam back from a two day ride around my area. That just bust the frustration that was piling up inside me. Thanks for keeping such a great journal. I hope to share my story some time.

        • Akhil Kalsh

          🙂

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  • Swapnil Chopade

    Try this…
    One More Day Everywhere : Road to Global Understanding By Glen Heggstad.

    • Akhil Kalsh

      Shall do. Thanks.

  • twizy


    Part one starts at 5:04:00

    I hope this is not piracy 🙂

    • Akhil Kalsh

      I think this is only half the book, apart from being piracy 😛

      • twizy

        oh… my bad… 😛
        got to use one of the torrent links given in comment section of youtube page…