Robert M. Pirsig

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Minneapolis, U.S.
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Minneapolis, U.S.

Robert M. Pirsig was the acclaimed author of the modern cult classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” As a child, he felt that there existed a theory that could explain the various singularities of existence, and he hoped that science would answer his questions and enlighten him. Contrary to his conviction, while conducting laboratory work at the University of Minnesota, he developed a number of theories for a variety of provided phenomena. This led to a decline in his academic performance and his eventual expulsion from the university. Through his works, he championed the ‘Metaphysics of Quality’ hypothesis and discussed the impact of “quality” and “good” on reality. His thought is the synthesis of Western and Eastern philosophy, through which he presented remedies to the value crises of western civilization. The Pulitzer Prize-nominated book ‘Lila: An Inquiry into Morals’ was written by him as well.

Robert Pirsig’s Childhood

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Robert Maynard Pirsig was born to parents Maynard Pirsig and Harriet Marie Sjobeck.
Due to his outstanding IQ of 170 at the tender age of nine, he was able to skip many grades in school. He then attended Blake School and graduated from high school in 1943.

While studying biochemistry at the University of Minnesota at the age of fifteen, he felt confused by the possibility of multiple hypotheses for any given phenomenon. Consequently, he lost interest in his studies, had failing grades, and was expelled from the university.

After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, he returned to Seattle and began his unfinished college degree. In May of 1950, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Eastern Philosophy.
He subsequently attended Banaras Hindu University to have a deeper understanding of Eastern philosophy and culture.

Robert Pirsig’s Career

In the early 1950s, while simultaneously working as a freelance journalist and technical writer, he visited Minnesota, Mexico, and Nevada. During this time, he also concentrated on writing short stories.

From September to December 1953, he co-edited ‘The Ivory Tower’ edition of the Minnesota Daily, the literary magazine of the University of Minnesota, with Nancy Ann James, whom he married the following year.
In 1955, he began summer humanitarian work in Minneapolis with United Press Service. In the same year, he was also hired to develop educational pamphlets for seventh- and eighth-grade students.

In 1956, he was engaged by the ‘Minneapolis Grain Exchange’ to produce educational films for marketing purposes. In the same year, he wrote R&D-related papers for General Mills Research Labs.
In April 1958, he resigned from General Mills and earned his Master of Arts in Journalism. He also became a lecturer at Montana State University for the next two years, where he taught creative writing.

In 1967, he began writing “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” after signing a deal with Century Publications. The following year, despite his best efforts, several publishing houses rejected his work.

In 1974, he published the first of his philosophical novels, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values,’ which recounted his motorcycle journey from Minnesota to California and his philosophical findings at this time.

His second philosophical work, titled ‘Lila: An Inquiry into Morals’ and set on the Hudson River, was released in 1991 and is believed to be semi-autobiographical. It is considered that this follow-up contributed to the development of the “Metaphysics of Quality.”

Robert’s Major Works

In 1974, the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was published. It is a philosophical tale inspired by the author’s 17-day motorcycling journey with his kid. Despite being rejected 121 times prior to its publication by William Morrow Publishers, the author was startled by the book’s five million-copy sales.

The author of “Lila: An Inquiry into Morals” classifies the universe into two major sections, the Static and the Dynamic. The underlying issues centered on ‘Metaphysics of Quality and anthropology merited a Pulitzer Prize candidacy for this second installment.

Awards & Achievements

In 1974, he was given a Guggenheim Fellowship for his book, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ which inspired him to create the sequel, ‘Lila: An Inquiry into Morals.’
In 1979, he was awarded the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award.

In 1992, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for ‘Lila: An Inquiry into Morals.’
He was also nominated for the Contemporary Affairs category of the National Book Award. Citizens of the United States receive the prize in honor of their remarkable contributions to literature.

Personal History and Legacy

Robert Pirsig wed Nancy Ann James on May 10, 1954, and the couple produced two children, Chris and Theodore.
He married Wendy Kimball on December 31, 1978, and they had a daughter, Nell.

On April 24, 2017, he passed away at his home in South Berwick, Maine, at the age of 88.

Estimated Net Worth



This American author was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
“The Buddha sits as easily in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a bicycle transmission as he does on the summit of a mountain,” is one of his most famous quotes.