Want to Read Books that Show Examples of the Four Tendencies? Revealed!

Revealed! My book club recommendations for August.

Newsflash: I’ve decided to change the way I suggest books for this book club. Instead of suggesting three books each month (one about happiness and human nature; one work of children’s literature; one eccentric pick), I’m going to provide a reading list once a quarter, on a particular subject.

For instance, I’m looking forward to providing a list of some of my favorite books about color, favorite memoirs, favorite books about other people’s happiness projects…the list goes on. If you’d like to suggest a theme for a list, just email me.

For instance, I had so much fun compiling my list of my 81 favorite works of children’s and young-adult literature. These lists will be shorter than than list, however.

You can still get the book club suggestions by email, by signing up for my “book club” here.

As I may have mentioned, my book The Four Tendencies hits the shelves on September 12.

So, to get you in the mood to read about the Four Tendencies, or if you can’t wait until September to immerse yourself in the subject, here’s a list of books that illustrate the Four Tendencies.

It’s important to note that we can never judge someone’s Tendency from his or her actions; we must know the reasons behind that action. For instance, Questioner refuses to do something because “why should I?” while a Rebel refuses because “you can’t tell me what to do.”

Nevertheless, I’ve included some memoirs by people who were close to someone of a certain Tendency. Such accounts aren’t as dispositive as having an account by that person himself or herself, but I do think that sometimes, a person gets to know someone well enough over time that a portrait really does capture a Tendency.

Also, even if you’re not interested in reading about the Four Tendencies, each one of these books is outstanding. So I recommend them wholly apart from their relevance to the Four Tendencies.


The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling — in this legendary series, Hermione Granger is such an Upholder, with the strengths and weakness of that Tendency.

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik — Will Laurence is an Upholder, and Temeraire is a Questioner. It’s interesting to see how the two Tendencies work together. Warning: it’s a book with dragons, which is either your kind of thing, or not at all your kind of thing.


Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson — a fascinating portrait of a QUESTIONER/Rebel. (As I explain in The Four Tendencies, people often “tip” in the direction of a Tendency that overlaps with their core Tendency. So while my husband is an example of a QUESTIONER/Upholder, Jobs is a QUESTIONER/Rebel.)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronteon the very first page of this classic novel, Jane’s hateful aunt Mrs. Reed literally calls her “Questioner” to explain why she finds Jane annoying: “Jane, I don’t like cavillers or questioners.” (I had to look up “caviller”; it means “one who quibbles.”)


Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi — a brilliant self-portrait of a textbook Obliger who is also a tennis star.

Here But Not Here: My Life with William Shawn and the New Yorker by Lillian Ross — it’s not Ross, but Shawn, who is convincingly portrayed as an Obliger.

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn — an engaging memoir about the challenges of marriage by an Obliger married to a Questioner.


Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot — Gilot’s fascinating portrayal of her life with Picasso shows his Rebel Tendency. (The image above shows Gilot and Picasso at the beach.)

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen — Lady Bertram is a thorough Rebel; she’s also a good example of how Rebels may appear proper and conventional — until closer consideration reveals that they do only what they want to do.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton — I wrote a giant portrait of Merton as a Rebel, which got cut down to a few paragraphs in The Four Tendencies. He fascinates me. Rebel as Cistercian monk!

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham — in this brand-new memoir, the author writes about the challenges when her daughter grows sick and needs a bone-marrow transplant. Along the way, Harpham’s thoughts and actions show her Rebel Tendency.

I’m always looking for books (and movies, television shows, street signs, anything!) that illustrate the Four Tendencies. So if you have any to suggest, please send them my way.

Happy August, and happy reading! I do love summer reading.

  • I just added the Jancee Dunn book to my list at the library….currently reading Better than Before.

  • Carol El Hawary

    I love this new way of doing your book club! I’m going to read the books about the questioners.

  • Linda Young

    You mentioned DADDY LONG-LEGS, but have you read the sequel DEAR ENEMY? I enjoyed that even more! Also, the Addie Mills books (THE HOUSE WITHOUT A CHRISTMAS TREE) were written after the television specials.

  • Miss Honey

    I am a questioner who tips to rebel, but I’m not particularly interested in Steve Jobs. Can you convince me why I should read it? (Even then I might decide not to.)

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh don’t read it if you’re not interested. So many books!

  • Fionnuala

    As an obliger who read Andre Agassi’s page-turner of an autobiography a few years ago and has been recommending it to anyone who’ll listen ever since, you’ve made me realise why I identified so much with Andre – of course! – he’s an obliger too!! The passages describing his relationship with his father have in particular stayed with me. It’s such a fantastic read, and he’s so unflinchingly honest. I was interested to read elsewhere about his ghost writer – presumably his ‘book-writing accountability partner’!

  • Leslie Rieger

    I like this new way of picking book suggestions! Also, I’m so glad you recommended His Majesty’s Dragon. I LOVE those books, and the way Temeraire and Laurence interact is so fascinating!