Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Book Review – An exhaustive guide to values

2 minute read

Hello there! This week i have taken a detour from the kinds of books i usually read, and went with Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a best-selling book written in 1974 by Robert Pirsig, which i have seen repeatedly recommended in these “# books every entrepreneur must read” list on the Internet. The title definitely calls for attention, but don’t let it fool you: this book isn’t about motorcycles or zen buddhism. What its about, then? Lets figure out!


Fun-fact: this book was rejected by 121 publishers before selling 5 million copies worldwide.

In the first chapter of the book, you’re presented to the setting: a trip the author made with his son, Cris, and his friends John and Sylvia. After a few remarks of the author about his companions, we learn that John and Sylvia are fundamentally romanticists, in the way that they somewhat feel scared by all the new technology, even going as far as outright refusing to repair their motorcycles themselves, an attitude that triggers one of the main discussions of the book: the different visions that different people hold, which the book calls “romantic” as opposed to “classical” world view.

Robert then takes us into his many phylosophical inquiries. One of my personal favorites speaks about the separation of what man does from what man makes. In his story, he speaks about mechanics that are there simply because thats what they could achieve, not because they enjoy the craft, what ends up causing him serious trouble. For me, this was one of the main highlights of the book: i have worked with way too many people that seemed to have zero interest in their professions outside of their working hours, and this always baffled me.

The book intercalates travel stories with phylosophy. In the picture, Cris, John, and Sylvia.

The book intercalates travel stories with phylosophy. In the picture, Cris, John, and Sylvia.

A few chapters into the book, we’re presented in a concise manner to many concepts by great minds, like Hume or Kant. Not only that, the book also takes the time to analyze rationality itself, that is, the ways in which ocidental thought has been making discoveries and improving people lives. Curiously, i often recalled many aspects i’ve read in books like The Lean Startup (gotta review that one someday) while reading about the scientific method. By reading it, it became rather clear that “validated learning”, the technique proposed by Eric Ries, is nothing but a very specific and practical approach to science itself.

Putting aside all of the phylosophy, if you’re anything like me, you’ll love the feeling this book gives that you’re really travelling with these guys. In its rich descriptions of the scenery, you’ll find yourself wandering through mountains, parks, deserts, remote cities and a lot more. And you’re definitely in good company: in many occasions, i got myself thinking about what i would do if i could talk to the author, either to agree or disagree with the so-called Chautauqua, the name Robert uses to label his inquiries.

The author, Robert, with his son, Cris, on the titular motorcycle.

The author, Robert, with his son, Cris, on the titular motorcycle.

All in all, its definitely a delightful, thoughtful read, but i wouldn’t say it is an easy one (even more so if you aren’t familiar with phylosophy in general). Even though after reading this book i couldn’t have any ideas and metrics for improving my business, my points of view have most certainly changed. And this is what this book is all about: demonstrate that rationality and zen-like emotivism can coexist.

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