Before it sold five million copies in 23 languages, Robert Pirsig’s book, “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was rejected by more than a hundred publishers. To paraphrase those famous lyrics – If they could see it now. But why after almost four decades in the marketplace does this book still fascinate so many? At a glance it’s just a book about a man and his son on a motor cycle trip from Minnesota to Montana. So maybe readers connect with the thrill of riding a motor cycle. People are fascinated with motor cycles. Back a few years ago, Harley Davidson raked in revenues of $1.67 billion in a single quarter. As noted in “Zen,” riding a motor cycle is different from riding in a car. There are no barriers between the rider and all that’s a round him. There are no DVDs playing movies, and talking to the rider next to you is practically impossible with the wind whistling by. It’s a thrilling and raw experience.
But “Zen,” is more than that. As the title says, it’s also an “Inquiry into Values.” While some readers would have preferred it to be just a travelogue, the book is thought to be the most widely read philosophy tome of all time. In parts it discusses the connections between man and machine. And perhaps in the age of ever increasing technology this connection is more important than ever. In some passages, the author concludes that embracing technology, which in 1974 was an entirely different animal, can bring you a sense of fulfillment that is as authentic as say, climbing a mountain. Before writing the book, Pirsig had taught “Quality” at Montana State College. But the college had not defined quality for him so it is thought that “Zen,” was an effort to define that. In some circles it is said that this is the book that launched today’s “Quality” movement. Other themes in the book include father/son relationships, mental illness and more. So perhaps the appeal of this work is its universality. Anyone who reads it can find a connection.