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The Principles of Uncertainty

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  9,082 ratings  ·  747 reviews
Maira Kalman paints her highly personal worldview in this inimitable combination of image and text

An irresistible invitation to experience life through a beloved artist's psyche, The Principles of Uncertainty is a compilation of Maira Kalman's New York Times columns. Part personal narrative, part documentary, part travelogue, part chapbook, and all Kalman, these brilliant,
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published November 1st 2007 by Penguin Press (first published October 18th 2007)
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Average rating 4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  9,082 ratings  ·  747 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
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
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?
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
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very special book which is very Maira Kalman... if you’re familiar with her work you recognize her approach and her illustration style which is naive and charming and her wandering from one subject to another seemingly at random accompanied by a handwritten narrative of sorts, which is partly inner monologue and partly commentary on the images which are based on photos she takes. She is a collector of odds and ends; ticket stubs, things that fall out of books, postcards of waterfalls and saint ...more
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
Shelves: favorites
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
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.
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
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Maira Kalman takes us on a tour of all the things she loves---old abandoned couches, found numbers, hats---as she shares thoughts and recollections and speculations about life.
Stefanie Onieal
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am officially obsessed with Maira Kalman’s writing and painting. Her sense of humor slays me. Her quirkiness speaks to me. I just love everything about everything I’ve read by her.
Abigail Brown
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
The artwork in this was incredible.
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, graphic-novel, art
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
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Poetic. Full of names I have never heard of, but were very interesting to get to know on the search engine. Learned about dances. People. War. Art. Remembered Russell quote:

"All the labor of all the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction..."

What's the point of it all?

Keep calm and carry on.
We have enough by being alive. Life is the point. Because there's so much we don't know. Besides, how to know the unknowable?

I lea
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
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: re-read
I re-read this thinking it might get better, but it didn't. I thought maybe my slight crush on Alex Kalman might make me like his mother's book more, but no. It's beautiful to look at -- the art is lovely and there's always something so appealing about marginless color printing. Basically this book is great as long as you don't actually read it.
Francesca Marciano
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This lovely book will make anyone reading it a hundred times happier. You'll want to meet Maira Kalman and beg her to become your friend.You'll give it to your friends. And flick through it eternally.
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 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It has the best hats!
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
I honestly don't know how to categorize this book. . . graphic musings? Essays? Humor?

I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a book I wouldn't mind owning because I loved the artistic layout, her scribbly handwriting, the meandering thoughts, the whimsical nature of it, and the thick, semi-glossy pages. Her drawings are hilarious and so expertly capture her text.

On p. 92 she has a drawing of Toscanini and his manager and writes: "We pass the Arturo Toscanini Elementary School. I would not want to have T
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
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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. She ...more

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38 likes · 14 comments
“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.” 297 likes
“if something does go wrong, here is my advice... KEEP CALM and CARRY ON.” 47 likes
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