There are some good reviews already about why this is a bad book, I'll add my vote to that column. It being such a best selling book and supposedly about zen (see title, Zen and the Art...) I came into the book excited. It started out interesting but became tedious.
He goes on and on about motercycle maintenence as if his goal was to bore the reader (which he succeeds quite admirably at). The way he talks also grows old fast, very self concious which he might be doing to show he has psychological problems, but it doesn't work. It reminds me of the way a high schooler would talk who is perhaps a little clever, but certainly not up to the task of writing a book. It's a little like the book "A Work of Hearbreaking Genius" which sucked even more than this book.
There are some interesting thoughts in the book but it's overwhelmed by the trash. If a friend of mine enjoyed this book I'd lose respect for him.
A couple of years ago, an editor (whom I had hired to help give my book "A Reason for Living" a final polish before publication) wrote to me a heartening letter of appreciation, the last part of which steered me very propitiously onto "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," by Robert M. Pirsig. The half autobiographical, half philosophical nature of my book apparently reminded him of Mr. Pirsig's work. Now that I have read this remarkable work, I see the connection, both at the level of style and content, and confessedly delight in it. There is hope after all for a book that daringly challenges mainstream literary categories or straddles two of them by blending a personal epic with extensive philosophical insights.
What above all took a firm hold on my attention is the author's perspective of the nature of reality; that is, our human reality, which is the only one to which we have access. His entire discourse about Quality - as the very core of our lives that bridges the divide between art and science - is definitely on target, smack in the middle. It scores all the more points with me as I myself buck at every materialistic worldview that is blind to its spiritual foundation.
By spiritual foundation I mean the human spirit behind every human endeavor, including scientific ones. In fact, reality as we know it is nothing but a spiritual reality, again in the sense that it is all happening between our two ears in the form of sensations and thoughts, and that it is suffused with feelings and value judgments that constitute the heart of the matter. Furthermore, strictly speaking, reality as we know it is nothing but the spiritual reality peculiar to each of us as individuals. The assumption that part of it (the part that concerns other people and things, distinguishable from ourselves) refers to a reality that exists independently of us is precisely that, an assumption, and a metaphysical one to boot, if also reasonable. A less reasonable assumption would be that other people and things, distinguishable from ourselves, are an illusion, a dream or a nightmare depending on how we look at it - a mere extension of ourselves that proceeds from some mysterious principle that inheres in our spirits.
Needless to say, the assumption that the world reasonably distinguished from ourselves can be limited to our perception of it or can amount to a "material" aggregate of microscopic things is not only metaphysical in the extreme; it is laughably fantastical or at least indefensibly presumptuous and narrow. Indeed, the idea that something can be exclusively "material," when our reality is exclusively spiritual, is bordering on the insane for it is devoid of a rational basis. I would go so far as to say that our scientific culture, chockablock of "material" descriptions that are supposed to reveal the alpha and omega of the universe, is fit for the loony bin (this point is particularly ironic because it is also made by Mr. Pirsig, who spent considerable time at the asylum, as though it were him whose mind was derailed). The word "material" simply refers to the world of appearances, and any person endowed with common sense knows that appearances are superficial and can be deceiving, or that people - us included - and things far exceed them. Quite frankly, so-called primitive cultures that indulged in a na?ve form of animism were certainly closer to the truth than those among scientists who are so intellectually blinkered that they believe there is nothing more to the world than meets the eye.
Yes, as the author of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" eloquently and vehemently points out, it is high time that we wake up from our materialistic slumber and acknowledge the true essence of humanity - and in all likelihood of the universe as a whole: the spirit, driven by feelings and value judgments. Not that we should plunge headlong in the opposite extreme and adopt an anthropomorphic worldview, but that we should remain open to the part of the world that is beyond appearances, beyond the so-called matter, and cannot be experienced but only imagined. Scientists are doomed to stay miserably off the mark, however efficient their material descriptions and predictions may be, until they agree to be poets as well.