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The Principles of Uncertainty

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  8,645 ratings  ·  705 reviews
Maira Kalman paints her highly personal worldview in an inimitable combination of image and text.

The Principles of Uncertainty is an irresistible invitation to experience life through the psyche of Maira Kalman, one of this country's most beloved artists. The result is a book that is part personal narrative, part documentary, part travelogue, part chapbook, and all Kalman.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 1st 2007 by Penguin Press (first published October 18th 2007)
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4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,645 ratings  ·  705 reviews

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Sep 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone should have this experience.
Recommended to Meen by: It was on the $1 shelf at Page & Palette
I'm not sure how to categorize this book, but it was such an awesome experience. Definitely not just a "read." I was "reading" it in the Barnes & Noble Starbucks, and this old man came up to me as he was leaving and said, "It was a joy to watch you reading that." I was smiling, and laughing, and almost crying. It was definitely an interaction beyond just consuming text.

How can anything be any more lovable than this little book? How can I not have loved it all along? How can I not have seen it, or read it, or perhaps just heard about it? How can such charm and sweetness and wit be unread for so long? This book is like Agnes Varda's later films in book form. But less something. And more something else. She has that same creative-no-boundaries-super-smart-but-not-academic kind of thing. How can I have just heard about it today, checked it out of the library, and ...more
Mar 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing Review
Amazon Best of the Month, Octhober 2007: In 2005 Maira Kalman brought a fresh vision to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, filling the pages of the reference classic with her whimsical illustrations. And much like its multi-talented creator--who has illustrated children's books and New Yorker covers and collaborated on fashion projects with Kate Spade and Isaac Mizrahi--her new book, The Principles of Uncertainty, defies easy classification. Is it philosophy? Art? Memoir?
Dec 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
i came across this last night at the enormous used bookstore. it was laying on its side and the spine immediately caught my eye. the dustjacket is a nice heavy paper. the weight of the book. i opened it to perfect drawings and photographs. i want to unstitch this book carefully, saving every thread in a ball jar and staple them to telephone poles in succession. or populate a bleak city wall with them so day workers, away from their babies and lovers and family and friends can slow their walk. bu ...more
May 24, 2008 rated it it was ok
I just finished this book. To be fair, I put it down somewhere in the middle and didn't pick it up for a few weeks (bad habit), so maybe I lost the momentum of the flow of the book or something....

but I was generally un-impressed. I thought I would love it, because it just seemed like my kind of thing...constant journal-er and picture snapper that I tend to be.

But I was not blown away as I expected I would be. Most of the "profound thoughts" that the author seemed to document ended up seeming p
Mar 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art-architecture

"What can I tell you? The realization that we are all (you, me) going to die and the attending disbelief - isn't that the central premise of EVERYTHING?

*illustration of a scared blue bunny rabbit in pink striped socks and brown shoes*

It stops me DEAD in my tracks a DOZEN times a day. Do you think I remain FROZEN? NO. I spring into action. I find meaningful distraction.

Lately I have become enamored with fruit platters. I paint them.

*illustration of an Italian three tier fruit platter*"

Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book cost me about 30 cents at Barnes and Noble and took me less than an hour to read... but what an enjoyable way to spend 30 cents and an hour! In this humorous, illustrated memoir of sorts, Maira Kalman intertwines the minutia of her life (pages dedicated to her empty box collection, candy collection, and unusual hats) with philosophical questions about LIFE and HUMANITY. The effect is quirky and thought-provoking, rather than pretentious. I particularly liked her freehand embroideries o ...more
Nanditha Sankar
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A visual delight. This book is beautiful beyond words. It finishes in a breeze but each page needs reading and re-read to absorb the visual spectacle that it is. An account of the author's musings, her travels and curio objects and artefacts collected at various occasions, each page spans out like the uncertain prediction of a weatherman. Some sentences die an untimely death while the others make you take a deep breath. At the crux of it all is the ephemeral nature of life, the uncertainty that ...more
Jul 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: graphic, memoir
The whole world is her museum, and she its curator. She renders its grandness small so it may be held close, seen.

Can we all live such beautiful, artistic, well-appointed, colorful, jet-setting, hushed, thoughtful, tasty, grateful, collected lives as Maira Kalman?

Probably not, especially the well-appointed and jet-setting parts. For a little while though -- an hour or two all at once, or five minutes a morning with her, we believe we can. We do. Rating: 4 stars
David Schaafsma
Aug 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gn-women, cartoons
Whimsical, random, sometimes insightful, sometimes funny and thoughtful... very recognizable artist, a year of her life in painting and a few photos and odd reflections....what's the point?! Exactly, she would say. I liked it quite a lot. Pretty entertaining in its randomness...its uncertainty.
Sanjana Suresh Kumar
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
There is so much I want to say about this book- so many emotions felt, so many heartstrings pulled, so many images conjured up. But words will undoubtedly fall short. So I'll just stop by saying 'thank you' to Maira Kalman: for creating the balm to soothe my soul in trying times.
Reasons I like this book:

1) It has a good weight. It is hefty, with pages of thick smooth paper.

2) It defies categorization. I'm putting it on my "graphic novels" shelf even though I wouldn't call it a novel. More of a long, illustrated poem or inner monologue.

3) The book jacket says, "This is a year in my life profusely illustrated. Abounding with anguish, confusion, bits of wisdom, musings, meanderings, buckets of joie de vivre, and restful sojourns."

4) The paintings; the colors; the portrai
Shellie (Layers of Thought)
Jul 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: adult non fiction graphic novel lovers
Original review posted on Layers of Thought.

A stylized yet simple graphic novel which questions life and its inevitable uncertainties, where the author asks about the meaning of life and death within a one-year segment of her life.

Thoughts: Author Maira Kalman is the illustrator for The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, as well as the author and artist for a number of children’s books. As a collector of many curious things, she has compiled her thoughts, drawings, and photographs in this bo
Oct 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I love Maira Kalman. It’s quite possible that she is the most charming person in the whole world. I would like to think that we have some things in common. I, too, have an adoration of jaunty hat wearers. And I believe that I really do need a pleated green skirt for “the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.” Or maybe just a walk about town. My heaven on earth is also my aunt’s kitchen (or my mother’s. Or my friend Mel’s. Or my own.). Tea and stories. And hats. There are beautiful things. An ...more
Abigail B
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
The artwork in this was incredible.
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art, graphic-novel, memoir
I love, love, love this book.

If I were ever to keep a diary, I would like to think that I would keep one like this book. Random musings, drawings, collages and abundant charm.
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a joyful book! Stunning paintings and musings and historical references make for such an enjoyable journey through Maira Kalman's mind and life. I truly love her artistic expression and was continually delighted and surprised throughout this book.
Manik Sukoco
Dec 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is Maira Kalman's first work for adults (her children's books, created with her late husband, are legion and legendary), deserves to be put in the hands of everyone who could use cheering up. It is a life affirming work that makes short shrift of our troubles without gainsaying them. This is a book of found joy by a woman who knows where to look for it and how to"Kalman" it.

Its twelve chapters are taken from the internet column she wrote under the same title for TimesSelect five years
Jun 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Read this in an evening. It's a journal of thoughts over the course of one year, with paintings and photographs to accompany. Really lovely. The people, the thoughts, what she chooses to focus on. There's a friend she visits and in 3 spreads she describes the friend, what they did, and then the sink in the woman's bathroom (with a painting for each). It's hella quirky, but also thoughtful. It doesn't feel quirky for quriky's sake, you know?

Incidentally, it was really... kind of guilt inducing I
Jul 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I don't know what I would do in a world without Maira Kalman. Perspective, deeper perspective, and gratitude, perhaps are the sum total of sanity and some modicum of happiness we can afford ourselves in this lifetime. You know how it is when every once in a rare while you come across somebody who teaches you the true value of things, or not things, people nature, birds, textures, fabric, patterns, colours; simple objects that you would otherwise never look twice at. You know those people? Maira ...more
Sep 08, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful book. Maira Kalman paints her musings, which are always funny and insightful. To give you a taste, I'm adding my favorite quote from the book, but I have to reassure you that not all of the book is so pseudo-intellectually annoying.

"We could speak about the meaning of life vis-a-vis non-consequential/deontological theories, apodictic transformation schemata, the incoherence of exemplification, metaphysical realism, Cartesian interactive dualism, revised non reductive dualism
Sep 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Really charming. A heavy book full of illustrations and little thoughts that seem simple, then complex, then simple again. I would have given it a 3 if I didn't stop myself from overthinking.
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I love this book and I’m happy to name it as one of my favorites.

Reading reviews from other people, I’m reminded of some music I’ve performed. Would I love the composition if I was in the audience? No. I love it because I’m fully immersed in the experience of consuming it.

With a book such as this I believe it’s necessary to consume it more than just ‘reading’ it. It’s holding the book open and letting it float by as if standing at the corner of city streets watching the world pass by — hearing
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was initially a little turned off by the concept of this book- it's essentially a woman's journal/sketchbook that she has published. Why would you want to publish all your personal experiences and inner thoughts for everyone to read and rate? But, I found myself really enjoying how random and sporadic the whole thing was. And her painted sketches are delightful and whimsical and colorful. If nothing else it was a quick "read" (I put read in quotes because it really is more about studying the a ...more
Rebecca Waring-Crane
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Maira Kalman and I should be friends. If I lived in Manhattan I'm certain she would invite me over for Sunday afternoon tea. I would wear a fabulous hat.

Charming, off-beat, and surprising—and that's just the writing. Add the paintings and, well, there you are: Perfection. That is, perfection in the way a just-right cup of tea goes with fresh homemade bread and butter. Nourishment for the soul.
Stephanie (aka WW)
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a work of art. A treasure that I found in a used bookstore and bought despite its torn cover. Maira Kalman provides wry observations on life and whimsical paintings to match. I couldn’t help but smile at each page.
Mohit Joshi
Dec 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have never read comics or illustrated books in my life, not even as a kid. But, now I get what thrill it must be to spend time in their company.
This book gave me a nostalgia for a lost time, and all these years I have lived without such books.
Definitely, a book for adults and I am so childishly elated. Lol
Lauren Licitra
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I did not understand all the references. Yet, does it really matter? I felt them and enjoyed the journey. Isn’t that all we can hope for?
Sophie Mangano
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
10/5. Would recommend. Please read.
Peter Switzer
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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Maira Kalman was born in Tel Aviv and moved to New York with her family at the age of four. She has worked as a designer, author, illustrator and artist for more than thirty years without formal training. Her work is a narrative journal of her life and all its absurdities. She has written and illustrated twelve children's books including Ooh-la-la- Max in Love, What Pete Ate, and Swami on Rye . Sh ...more
“My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green?) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.” 289 likes
“if something does go wrong, here is my advice... KEEP CALM and CARRY ON.” 44 likes
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