Penn State

Reg Adams - Associate Professor of Psychology, Penn State University Park

Book Title: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

Author: Robert M. Pirsig

Book Description:

I was introduced to this book by my high school Latin teacher one day after class. I don't know why he chose this book or me. The book had no relation to the subject of Latin nor to anything we were discussing in that class, insofar as I recall. But, I am so glad he recommended it to me.

This book is many things at once. It is a semi-autobiographical philosophical novel that grapples with distinctions between classical and romantic thought, art and science, and attempts to blur those distinctions. It is about a man searching for personal meaning and identity. It is about a father and a son. It is an inquiry into the notion of quality, how to achieve it, how to appreciate it. It is chock-full of insightful gems I will mine for years to come.

In one passage Phaedrus, the author's alter ego, describes his attempt to help a student overcome writer's block. The student plans to write a 500-word essay on the United States. Phaedrus narrows the assignment to their small town, then to the main street running through that town. Nothing. Finally, frustrated, he narrows it to a single brick on a single building. Flood gates open. He tries this approach with other students, having them write about a coin, about the back of their own thumbs. All become prolific. Narrowing their focus had the ironic effect of expanding their creative thinking. His conclusion: it was impossible for them to imitate. They were forced to say something original, building-one brick at a time-something uniquely their own. This insight remains invaluable to me as a teacher and researcher in a field where original thinking is part of the job description.

Perhaps my Latin teacher noticed me in the back of the room staring out a window, daydreaming (admittedly a frequent pastime for me), and thought this book might hook my intellectual curiosity and reel me in. If so, he was right (thanks Mr. Mann). In that same spirit, I recommend this book to anyone who ever gets lost in thought.


Site maintained by Public Relations and Marketing
Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.
©2004 The Pennsylvania State University
U.Ed. LIB 04-64      last updated 8/10/10 wh