What a memory jogger. I first read the book as part of a class I took at Stanford with the great teacher and design thinker Jim Adams. It was a mechanical engineering class called, quite simply, "Quality". No six sigma here, no sir. Instead, we looked at old tractors, Japanese flutes, wrenches… and generally spent a lot of time getting a visceral feel for quality. The two textbooks for the course really shaped my few of the world as a design thinker, and continue to do so. The first was the formidable work The Nature and Art of Workmanship, by David Pye, the other Pirsig’s book.
If you haven’t read Zen, I highly recommend it. It’s a deep, chewy book, full of meditations on what makes good stuff, and what it means to live with good stuff and what it takes to keep good stuff being good stuff. Here’s a representative passage:
Each machine has its own, unique personality which probably could be
defined as the intuitive sum total of everything you know and feel
about it. This personality constantly changes, usually for the worse,
but sometimes surprisingly for the better, and it is this personality
that is the real object of motorcycle maintenance. The new ones start
out as good-looking strangers and, depending on how they are treated,
degenerate rapidly into bad-acting grouches or even cripples, or else
turn into healthy, good-natured, long-lasting friends.
Quality is one of those intangibles which is really difficult — maybe even pointless — to articulate verbally, but which is essential to be able to feel and recognize and act upon.