Maggie Jackson—Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure

Cover of the book Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure by Maggie Jackson showing the title and author’s name in black letters above a mysterious landscape viewed through shards of broken glass.



Maggie Jackson
Prometheus, November 7, 2023
Hardback $27.95, eBook $19.99
ISBN-13: 9781633889187, eBook ISBN: 9781633889194

Jackson reports:

I’ve been intrigued for years by the question of what cognitive skills we need to flourish in a tech-centric age of flux. Along with focused attention—the topic of my book Distracted, (2nd Ed., 2018)—what types of thinking offer paths to clarity and depth? What are the necessary counterpoints to our steady diets of hurried, skimming reactivity? When I set out to write a new book investigating these questions, the answers took me by surprise.

At the outset, I envisioned an opening chapter on uncertainty’s relation to good thinking. I assumed this mindset was just a hurdle to overcome en route to a definitive answer. In time, however, I discovered that I had deeply misunderstood the nature of being unsure. Far from being synonymous with inertia and weakness, uncertainty plays a starring role in creativity, curiosity, adaptability, and even resilience, new research shows. I had found a critical missing link to thinking well and a timely focus for my book.

Portrait photo of Maggie Jackson

Maggie Jackson
Photo by Karen Smul

I decided to organize the book around a series of modes of what I call uncertainty-in-action, from productive dissent and creative reverie to the fallow time needed for meaning-making. This is my third book, and as before, I brought the story to life via research from across the sciences and humanities and copious reporting, this time in operating rooms, robotics labs, political campaigns, and more. I interviewed hundreds of people and did research in three countries and six states.

Shaping my book and decoding a complex, often-misunderstood subject took time. I benefited from supportive early feedback from my agents and from an outside editor, and from talks that I gave on the work-in-progress. Still, it was a difficult process, and some denizens of our efficiency-smitten culture raised eyebrows at how many years it took.

Yet in looking back, I believe that the errors, detours, and not-knowing intrinsic to the process were essential to the work of decoding uncertainty’s mysteries. In effect, I wound up living the teachings of my book. I hope that Uncertain helps writers and readers alike rethink their assumptions about not knowing and discover the overlooked wisdom of being unsure.

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Banner image adapted from original photo by Maggie Jackson.

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November 22, 2023

Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

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