‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ author dead

Robert M. Pirsig working on a motorcycle in 1975. Pirsig, whose novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” became a million-selling classic after more than 100 publishers turned it down, died at his home in South Benwick, Maine, on Monday. (William Morrow via AP)

By Hillel Italie / Associated Press

NEW YORK — Robert M. Pirsig, whose novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” became a million-selling classic after more than 100 publishers turned it down, has died.

Pirsig’s publishing house, William Morrow, announced that he died Monday at his home in South Benwick, Maine. He was 88 and had been in failing health.

“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was published in 1974 and was based on a motorcycle trip Pirsig took in the late 1960s with his 12-year-old son, Chris. The book’s path to the best-seller list was long and unlikely. It began as an essay he wrote after he and Chris rode from Minnesota to the Dakotas and grew to a manuscript of hundreds of thousands of words. After the entire industry seemed to shun it, William Morrow took on the book, with editor James Landis writing at the time that he found it “brilliant beyond belief.”

Pirsig’s book ideally suited a generation’s yearning for the open road, a quest for knowledge and skepticism of modern values, while also telling a personal story about a father and son relationship and the author’s struggles with schizophrenia. A world traveler and former philosophy student, Pirsig would blend his life and learning into what he called the Metaphysics of Quality.

“But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality,” he wrote. “But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There’s nothing to talk about. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist.”

The book was praised as a unique and masterful blend of narrative and philosophy and was compared by a New Yorker critic to “Moby Dick.” Pirsig, a native of Minneapolis, also wrote the sequel “Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.”

Pirsig is survived by his wife, Wendy; son, Ted; daughter, Nell Peiken, and son-in-law, Matthew Peiken, along with three grandchildren. Chris was killed by a mugger in 1979 and later editions of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” would include an afterword about him. In 2006, the author told The Guardian that his son had not cared for the book.

“He said, ‘Dad, I had a good time on that trip. It was all false,’” Pirsig explained. “It threw him terribly. There is stuff I can’t talk about still.”

More in Local News

No flashing lights planned for giant Port of Everett cranes

The Port sought public input on making them blue and adding lights or keeping them as they were.

Gun-ammunition bill is suffocated by GOP amendments

It’s Day 40 of 60 of the 2020 session of the Washington Legislature in Olympia.

Edmonds School District leaders plan for another school bond

It won’t be in April, but the district could float another bond proposal in August or November.

Meet the newest Daily Herald reporter, Rachel Riley

In this episode of “Herald Headlines,” Executive Editor Phil O’Connor interviews a new staffer.

Boeing asks that its big state tax break be suspended

The company hopes the move will resolve a trade dispute involving European rival Airbus.

Will Boy Scout bankruptcy sweep abuse cases under the rug?

38 scouting officials in Washington were known to be a danger to kids, including one in Everett.

South Lynnwood Park to get $2.5 million renovation

A new soccer field, covered picnic area and accessibility upgrades are among the improvements.

3 choices: How Swift, light rail should hook up in Shoreline

Do you prefer the 185th street corridor, the Aurora Transit Center or decongestion?

Nation’s first coronavirus patient said to be fully recovered

The Snohomish Health District has released the man from home isolation.

Most Read