This book quite simply changed my life. I cannot say this about many books, and perhaps this is the first one for which I can.
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is perhaps the most wildly read book of contemporary philosophy, and perhaps one reason for its popularity is that it touches on universal themes, such as travel adventure and father-son relationships, and offbeat themes like psychological madness.
The book, through a beautiful symmetry of narrative and reflection, is an autobiographical account by Robert M. Persig regarding his motorcycle road trip with his son and friends from Michigan to San Francisco and his philosophical deliberation, especially in reaction to the rise of technology.
Persig tries to make light of the negative reactions to increasing technology, such as those prompted by the "beatniks", but he eventually steers us to a more positive understanding.
Here is the main concept of the book: The idea of Quality.
Quality, according to Persig, is the balance between two mindsets or personalities— the Classical and the Romantic.
Although people can strive for the median between the two, people tend to lean towards one category or the other.
The Classical personality concerns the inner workings of things—such as the study of how the motorcycle operates. The Romantic concerns the outward appearance of things—such as actually riding the motorcycle, or the Zen-like approach of living in the moment and observing everything around you.
The book ties nicely into history because Persig describes how the Hippies of the 70’s were protesting “The System,” a classical orchestration, through and attitute of free-spirit and getting out and experiencing the world, a romantic approach. Although Persig ultimately claims that the Hippies provided no solution to the problem.
I agree with Persig that the solution is always balance—both the ability to constantly innovate and look towards to future, but also to remain conscious of our environment and appreciate the moment.