Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, died Monday “after a period of failing health,” according to his publisher. He was 88.
Pirsig’s 1974 novel combined philosophy with the story of a motorcycle road trip, with Pirsig’s son Chris as pillion, from Minneapolis to San Francisco. Pirsig followed that book up with a second novel (published in 1991) that continued his philosophical explorations, but this time from the view of a sailor.
But although he only published one book associated with motorcycling, and although that book was arguably very difficult to read and certainly very different from most travel tales published in the two-wheeled genre, Pirsig’s story of his road trip became one of the best-known stories of motorcycling.
The fact that it combined eastern philosophy with the spirit of restlessness that had settled over the western world probably worked in its favour; it was arguably the right book at the right time. It also inspired CMG Editor-in-Chief Mark Richardson’s 2008 book, Zen and Now, which retraced Pirsig’s steps, along with many other two-wheeled journeys by readers.
Despite Pirsig’s literary success, he did not have an easy life. He suffered from mental illness and receiving electroconvulsive therapy as treatment. His academic career was marked by frustration, and the son who traveled with him on his Zen trip was murdered in a 1979 mugging. It took Pirsig 121 attempts before he found a publisher willing to accept Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
In his later years, Pirsig lived in Maine with his second wife Wendy. He was born September 6, 1928, and died Monday, April 24, 2017. You can find more details of his life at his Wikipedia page here.