Pirsig’s Passing

9780060589462_1aa82Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, (HC/William Morrow; BBC Audio), died on Monday. He was 88.

Pirsig, a college writing instructor, became an overnight sensation in 1974 when Zen was published. It sold a million copies in its first year, remained a bestseller for a decade, and earned him a Guggenheim fellowship. Reading it became a right of passage for many and remains so to this day.

The NYT writes that the book “ranged widely in its concerns, contemplating the relationship of humans and machines, madness and the roots of culture … in seeking to reconcile humanism with technological progress, [it was] perfectly timed for a generation weary of the ’60s revolt against a soulless high-tech world dominated by a corporate and military-industrial order.”

In seeking to explain the book’s popularity and cult-like following, the NYT quotes Pirsig himself, who wrote on his website, “I expressed what I thought were my prime thoughts … and they turned out to be the prime thoughts of everybody else.”

The New Yorker linked the book to Herman Melville while The New York Times earlier connected it to Thoreau.

Pirsig wrote only one other book, the less successful Lila: An Inquiry into Morals (PRH/Bantam).

The Washington Post, L.A. Times, and NPR also offer remembrances.

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