Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Maira Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty

The artist, author, and designer uses handwritten text and paintings to tell of personal ponderings.

By Tiffany Lambert, Designers & Books November 13, 2013

 Cover of The Principles of Uncertainty, 2009 (Penguin) features a painting by author Maira Kalman

The Principles of Uncertainty Maira Kalman
2007, Penguin

My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials, neatly in place.”

We see trees, what more do we need?”

My brain is exploding trying to make sense out of nonsense.”

Quotes can be found on pages 25, 225, and 11.


"My dream is walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place..." Photo courtesy of Maira Kalman

Whimsical imagery commingles with handwritten text by artist, author, and designer Maira Kalman in her book The Principles of Uncertainty, based on a monthly New York Times blog she wrote and illustrated for one year, ending in 2007. Kalman reveals her inner monologue on over 300 pages dedicated to what might be broadly summarized as the delights and pains of living. She invites readers along on her walks of discovery and self-reflection, where she might, for example, appreciate the graceful gait of elderly people or where she describes her “adoration of jaunty hat-wearers” after finding an old postcard stuffed away in a book.

Recent Designers & Books contributor and visual literature specialist Warren Lehrer added The Principles of Uncertainty to his book list, noting that “It’s a marvel how seamlessly Kalman bridges word and image, everydayness with big questions, joy with dread, satire and affection.” Kalman’s ability to interpret both the beauty in the mundane and the search for meaning in life are equally rendered with a light, humorous touch, drawing readers closely into her world.  

"But then I found (stuck in a book about moss) my postcard of an 18th century female hermit in a smart Schiaparelli-type turban, which makes me think of the joys of hiding and the allure of fashion and my adoration of jaunty hat-wearers. Especially my son Alexander." Photo courtesy of Maira Kalman
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