Facts about Robert Pirsig

Robert Pirsig died at 88 years old
Died: April 24, 2017
Best known as: Author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

     
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Robert Pirsig Biography

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.

Extra credit

Robert Pirsig was married twice. His first marriage to Nancy Ann James lasted from 1954 until their divorce in 1978. They had two sons: Chris (born 1956) and Theodore (b. 1958).  His second marriage, to Wendy Kimball, lasted from 1978 until his death in 2017. They had one daughter, Nell (b. 1981)… Sadly, Robert Pirsig’s son Chris Pirsig was murdered in a street mugging in San Francisco in 1979.


     

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