Book: Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance


This is a modern classic. To be honest I only found out it was written 40 odd years ago when I got to the end. It is a brilliantly written piece by Robert Pirsig that tells the story of a father and son on a journey across America. The story is a front for a deeper underlying discussion of philosophy. This is in no way an easy read. It has taken me two years to get through it as I’ve dipped in and out. The final third of the book is a lot better than the the first two as the whole thing comes together and starts to make sense.

The basic principle is that as a society we have lost our way to academic teaching and there is a lack of “quality” in most peoples lives. The word quality is repeated throughout the book and I think the underlying lesson is that we could all strive for something greater in what we do. To create something that is the best possible result of our efforts is an art no matter what our vocation.

For an affiliate marketer this kind of cuts deep as a lot of what we do, running short term campaigns and arbitraging advertising systems, is a long way disconnected from what the author talks about. At one point in the book the father and son stop at a welders to fix the guard on the bike. The author talks in detail about the quality of the workmanship that the old man puts in to his “art” and then charges $1.

While there is an elegant simplicity that I strive for when creating complex systems or writing code. Very little of what I do on a day to day basis is striving to produce something of quality. And that is the lesson we could probably all learn something from.

The book is a great read if you can get through the first half. It’s the kind of thing I could read again five times and take something new away each time. A lot of the philosophical discussion was over my head at times and I was learning some new words on almost every page. The brilliance of it is that if the author hadn’t wrapped the philosophical lesson within the story of the journey this book would have been completely inaccessible. The story draws you in and from there curiosity builds enough to at least try to understand some of what the author is trying to get across. Not a book for the beach but certainly one that if you read it carefully and with enough determination you will get something out of. I read another review which mentioned you will either lover or hate this book and that is true as well. I’m sure a lot of people have read the first 100 pages and never gone back to it.

The final takeaway from this book is one that I don’t think the author intended. There lies a very thin line between genius and insanity and better to leave greater and more troubled minds to walk it.


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