Robert Pirsig wrote the 1974 philosophical memoir Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
-- a surprise best-seller that has sold millions of copies in the decades since its publication. The book was Pirsig's account of a cross-country motorcycle trip with his 11-year-old son Chris, with Pirsig using the trip as a springboard for meditations on religion, philosophy and the meaning of life. (Pirsig previously had undergone electroshock therapy, and in the book he refers to his former self as "Phaedrus," after the character created by Plato
.) According to Pirsig, 121 publishers turned down Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
before it was published by Morrow in 1974; the book became a perennial favorite in high school and college English classes across America. Robert Pirsig was born in Minnesota and served in the U.S. Army after World War II. According to the publisher HarperCollins, Robert Pirsig “studied chemistry and philosophy (B.A., 1950) and journalism (M.A., 1953) at the University of Minnesota and also attended Benares Hindu University in India where he studied Oriental philosophy.” He taught at Montana State University and the University of Chicago. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1961 and after a few years spent in and out of hospitals, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression -- events he discussed obliquely in Zen
. In 2001 Pirsig published his second book, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.
A follow-up of sorts to his first book, it was not a huge success. They are the only two books Pirsig published in his lifetime.