Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance author dies aged 88

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Robert M Pirsig, author of million-selling classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has died aged 88 at his home in South Benwick, Maine. 

Pirsig’s publishing house, William Morrow & Co, released a statement that Pirsig’s wife, Wendy, had confirmed his death “after a period of failing health”.

Having written one of the most influential books in motorcycling, Pirsig will be forever remembered for his 1974 philosophical novel. 


Loosely autobiographical, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was based on a motorcycling adventure with his son, Chris, across western America in 1968.

Reliving this phenomenal father-son journey from Minnesota to the Dakotas, with flashbacks of the author’s struggles with schizophrenia, Pirsig said the protagonist “set out to resolved the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road”.

Originally the book started off as an essay, was rejected by over a hundred publishers and was set to never amount to “book-worthy” standards. Pirsig however continued to grow a manscript of thousands of words, in an almost ode to motorcycling. 

Born in Minneapolis, a world traveller and former philosophy graduate, Pirsig went on to write, what William Morrow editor James Landis described as “brilliant beyond belief”. 

Praised by many as a blend of masterful narrative and philosophy, New Yorker critic George Steiner, compared Pirsig’s work to Moby Dick, adding that the story “lodges in the mind a few recent novels have”. 

Avoiding interviews after this success, it took Pirsig 17 years to work on the sequel, An Inquiry into Values, based on a fictitious sailboat journey along America’s east coast.

In 2006 Pirsig told The Guardian,”It is not good to talk about Zen because Zen is nothingness.

“If you talk about it you are always lying, and if you don’t talk about it no one knows it is there.”

Chris was killed in 1979 and later editions of the novel included an afterword about him. 

Pirsig is survived by his wife, son (Ted), daughter (Nell Peiken), son-in-law (Matthew Peiken) and three grandchildren. 

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Maria Vallahis

By Maria Vallahis