Robert M. Pirsig, whose philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became a million-selling classic and cultural touchstone after more than 100 publishers turned it down, died Monday at age 88. Publishing house William Morrow announced that he died at his home in South Berwick, Maine, the AP reports. He had been in failing health. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, published in 1974, was based on a motorcycle trip Pirsig took in the late 1960s with his 12-year-old son, Chris. It was in part an ode to the motorcycle and how he saw the world so viscerally traveling on one. It also told a personal story about a father and son relationship and the author's struggles with schizophrenia.
A native of Minneapolis, Pirsig was a prodigy with an IQ of 170 who graduated high school at 15. Military service in Korea at the end of World War II exposed him to Eastern thought and culture and profoundly influenced him. He studied philosophy at the University of Minnesota, traveled to India, and honed an enigmatic teaching style at Montana State College and at the University of Illinois. Pirsig is survived by his wife, Wendy; son, Ted; daughter, Nell Peiken; and son-in-law, Matthew Peiken, along with three grandchildren. Chris was killed by a mugger in 1979, and later editions of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance would include an afterword about him. The author told the Guardian his son had not cared for the book. "He said, 'Dad, I had a good time on that trip. It was all false,'" Pirsig said in 2006. "It threw him terribly. There is stuff I can't talk about still." (Read more author stories.)