What Would a Rational Gryffindor Read?

In the Harry Potter world, Ravenclaws are known for being the smart ones. That’s their thing. In fact, that was really all they were known for. In the books, each house could be boiled down to one or two words: Gryffindors are brave, Ravenclaws are smart, Slytherins are evil and/or racist, and Hufflepuffs are pathetic loyal. (Giving rise to this hilarious Second City mockery.)

But while reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, I realized that there’s actually quite a lot of potential for interesting reading in each house. Ravenclaws would be interested in philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and mathematics; Gryffindors in combat, ethics, and democracy; Slytherins in persuasion, rhetoric, and political machination; and Hufflepuffs in productivity, happiness, and the game theory of cooperation.

And so, after much thought, I found myself knee-deep in my books recreating what a rationalist from each house would have on his or her shelf. I tried to match the mood as well as the content. Here they are in the appropriate proportions for a Facebook cover image so that you can display your pride both in rationality and in your chosen house (click to see each image larger, with a book list on the left):

Rationality Ravenclaw Library

Rationality Gryffindor Library

Rationality Slytherin Library

Rationality Hufflepuff Library

What do you think? I’m always open to book recommendations and suggestions for good fits. Which bookshelf fits you best? What would you add?

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83 Responses to What Would a Rational Gryffindor Read?

  1. Graham says:

    Interesting! Your breakdown can be divided roughly among books that I’ve found important and influential at various points in my life. Gryffindor is mostly my late teens/early 20s. Ravenclaw is more along what I’ve been reading the last few years, and Slytherin contains several things on my reading list.

    I wonder if I’m about to enter the evil stage of my life.

    • Jesse Galef says:

      Well, there’s nothing *necessarily* evil about Slytherin… they just seek power, and we tend to be wary of people with power.

      Don’t worry, just follow it up with the Hufflepuff shelf books on cooperation and you’ll be back as a trusted member of society again!

      • Rachel says:

        I was actually just thinking that Nudge would also be very appropriate for Slytherin. This is exciting as the grey area between things has always been most interesting to me and Slytherin and Hufflepuff doesn’t tend to share much of a border.

    • soulless1 says:

      Umm, same boat. Quite a lot of all 4 are represented in my past reading. This is odd, as I do not consider myself a rationalist.

      • Thomas says:

        Not many people believe they think irrationally. Can I ask why you believe you do?

  2. Brian says:

    A good addition to the Slytherin section would be Kevin Mitnick’s “The Art of Deception”.

  3. This is wonderful, thanks for putting it together.

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  5. Loved the fact that Watchmen is on the Slytherin shelf! I’d have added The Screwtape Letters as well.

    Also Hufflepuff needs to have The Hobbit on it.

    • Jesse Galef says:

      Ooh, “The Hobbit” is a good idea. Funny you should mention The Screwtape Letters – check the Slytherin shelf between ‘Influence’ and ‘How to Win Every Argument”…

  6. ajwells82 says:

    This is fantastic. I’m not sure if I would have put Game of Thrones in Gryffindor – that seems more of a Slytherin tale. Lord of the Rings maybe, as Game of Thrones is darker and less focused on honor and courage, and more on getting ahead and “winning”.

    • Jesse Galef says:

      Thanks! I’m hearing that point a lot about Game of Thrones. It might just be cognitive dissonance, but here’s my current thinking: The first book heavily features Ned Stark being noble and principled, and so fits well into Gryffindor.

      It would be a great idea to include another Song of Fire and Ice book on the Slytherin shelf, though… #regrets

      • Jack says:

        Ned Stark is an extremely principled and noble character, but (SPOILER WARNING, TURN BACK NOW) that’s precisely what ends up getting him killed. His refusal to compromise his strict code of honor rendered him impotent against all his enemies who placed no such restrictions on themselves.

      • Jesse Galef says:

        Yeah, that’s my interpretation of the story too. But I think that’s what makes it so Gryffindor – principles are easy to uphold when there’s nothing at stake.

      • ajwells82 says:

        That does make sense! I should have actually paid more attention to what I was saying – I was lumping all of the books of the series together as a whole, but Game of Thrones as a stand-alone? Definitely belongs there. Thanks for explaining!

      • Eleanor says:

        I personally prefer Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen over GoT

    • Esprit-follet says:

      I agree. I would put it on Slytherin’s shelf. There are a few noble characters, but even then. I think Arya would be Gryffindor for sure. The rest, I don’t think so. Maybe the Golden Compass or something? I haven’t read that one, but I think tales of adventure with some sort of hero overcoming obstacles seems more Gryffindor. Graceling. Sabriel by Garth Nix.

    • Deena says:

      I agree. I would put it on Slytherin’s shelf. There are a few noble characters, but even then. I think Arya would be Gryffindor for sure. The rest, I don’t think so. Maybe the Golden Compass or something? I haven’t read that one, but I think tales of adventure with some sort of hero overcoming obstacles seems more Gryffindor. Graceling. Sabriel by Garth Nix.

      You could probably also put “Battle Royale” on Slytherin’s shelf…

  7. KattM says:

    I thought Ravenclaw’s shelf would fit me, but I’m actually spread out among all four. I’m a big Discworld and Song of Ice & Fire (as well as Wheel of Time—would Ravenclaw be the Brown Ajah?) fan, but I also love science texts. I would love to see a Mary Roach (Bonk, Spook, Stiff, Packing for Mars) book on Ravenclaw’s shelf, but I’m not sure which would fit. The Phantom Tollbooth is nice; you could also include any of Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet (A Wrinkle in Time being the first book). Also, Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich — if only as a play on the name Ravenclaw. Oh, and New Scientist, a UK science news publication, if you desire.

    I would also suggest Thinking Strategically by Avinash K. Dixit & Barry J. Nalebuff for Slytherin and/or Gryffindor.

    Thinking further on magazines, I wonder what mags each house would keep in their common room?

  8. Craig says:

    No Nietzsche on the Slytherin shelf?

    • Jesse Galef says:

      Nietzsche definitely fits the Slytherin shelf! Now, would it be Will to Power or Beyond Good and Evil?

      • Neitzsche didn’t write Will to Power, that was crap that was edited together by his sister after his insanity in order to support Nazism.

      • valatan says:

        Neitzsche din’t write will to power. That was pro-Nazi propaganda that his sister dishonestly edited together after he went insane.

  9. jlredford says:

    Poets? Shakespeare on Slytherin, I would think, both for lessons in rhetoric and stories of the use and mis-use of power. The great deeds of Homer and Milton for Gryffindore, and the intricate self-reflection of Eliot and Borges for Ravenclaw. Maybe Tennyson for Hufflepuff entirely for “In Memoriam”?

    • Jesse Galef says:

      I’d actually been considering adding Henry V – it doesn’t get much more Gryffindor than “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, Or close up the wall with our English dead!” and if I’d had a copy of Tennyson’s work I would have put it with Gryffindor on the strength of Charge of the Light Brigade alone.

      I like the idea of using Homer and Milton though, and there’s some Shakespeare that belongs on Slytherin, you’re right.

      • jlredford says:

        In Henry V, the great St. Crispen’s day speech could also be read as an example of how to get people to risk gruesome death for your own goals. Very Slytherin! “We happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother” Well, that’s one way to phrase being radically undermanned in the face of a better-armed foe.

  10. MJ says:

    I’d heartily recommend Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan for Slytherin and Rawls’s A Theory of Justice for Gryffindor. Slytherin aren’t necessarily evil, merely concerned with power and how it should be applied.

    Might be somewhat obscure, but Sidgwick would certainly also be a good fit for Slytherin (utilitarianism as an esoteric doctrine that should guide those in power without that fact being widely promulgated/known? How wonderfully serpentine!)

    I heartily approve of the Ravenclaw picks, too.

  11. Jim Randolph says:

    What a fun exercise. What I like about it is that there are books I’ve read on all four shelves which just goes to show that people are more complex than the artificial “House” divisions would indicate. That’s why there are some good Slytherins and some bad Gryffindors (remember Peter Pettigrew was a Gryffindor!)

    I’ve always thought I’d probably be a Ravenclaw but I’ve read more books on the Gryffindor shelf, so who knows. I know that doesn’t really mean anything but these are great lists to add to and think about.

    Of course then I’ll start thinking how different Hermione and Ron’s shelves would be then I’ll go crazy thinking up shelves for every character!

  12. J says:

    Could you make the four illustrations available as pdf files? Because I’m sure many school librarians would not only love to have them as posters, but might even organize a bookshelf to match. Great reading incentive!

  13. burrangelo says:

    I think Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: A factor of Evolution would be good on the Hufflepuff shelf.

  14. OrangeMime says:

    What, no Battle Royale? That book has a profound analysis of how individuals process their view of the world when placed under extreme duress. I found that when looked at under sociology eyeglasses, it strongly forced me to look at myself and how I would react under similar circumstances. Not everyone is a Wild 7 or a Kiriyama… but who is a Yoshitoki, Akamatsu or even someone who would end up in a “lighthouse” situation. Nutty stuff!

  15. kbed5275 says:

    Flowers for Algernon would be good on the Hufflepuff shelf

  16. Paradox Fox says:

    It’s fun to think of suggestions. I might propose including something by Stephenson for Ravenclaw fiction such as Cryptonomicon or Anathem. Both are fairly educational, with Cryptonomicon exploring modern cryptography and information security, with discussions of prime numbers, modular arithmetic, and Van Eck phreaking and Anathem explores the (to borrow the wikipedia summary) ‘many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and the philosophical debate between Platonic realism and formalism.’

  17. pamwatts says:

    I think His Dark Materials would be Ravenclaw, personally. How about Kant’s Perpetual Peace for Gryffindor and Rousseau’s Origin of Inequality? Where the Heart Is would be Hufflepuff. And I personally think all Aristotle belongs to Slytherin. But that could just be a personal bias. Ravenclaw would also get a Modest Proposal. This is fun.

  18. Dan says:

    I disagree with what you said about Slytherins. If I could describe them in one word it would be egoistic or self-seeking. They are both witty and outgoing, however it is almost always for selfish reasons. Remember that Malfoy and company only exemplify a small population of the Slytherin house. Case in point: Severus Snape, one of the bravest characters in the entire series.

  19. Libby says:

    I think maybe some Steinbeck for Hufflepuff? Grapes of Wrath would work well. I also think The Little Prince would work for Hufflepuff, too (and maybe Emily Post’s Etiquette).

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  21. Jonathan von Mering says:

    Interesting that you put Cyrano de Bergerac down for Hufflepuff. I suppose it’s true that Hufflepuffs are interested in seeking happiness, but something about the play’s hero seems very Gryffindorian to me— the intense pride and bravery.

  22. sam.millett@gmail.com says:

    I think the analytic philosophy bias in Ravenclaw makes sense to a degree – more analytical/rational, and possibly a little closed minded. But I think as scholars they would have a broader interest and understanding.

    There should be some Husserl & Heidegger there for good measure ;)

  23. pamwatts says:

    Heidegger made me think of Jeremy Boor’s “Mostly German Philosopher’s Love Song” http://jboor.bandcamp.com/track/the-mostly-german-philosophers-love-song. I’m not positive about how to embed things, but I think that takes you to the track. It’s hilarious and worth listening to as often as possible.

  24. Lu Zhao says:

    This is awesome! I recognize some of these as past reads, but some are new to me. Is there somewhere where I can get these lists with authors so that I can go find them?

  25. wynne says:

    Sophie’s World, The Elegant Universe, HHG2TG, AND Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman?

    DAMN you did a good job. Ravenclaw FTW!

  26. Lu Zhao says:

    Also, I would recommend Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature” and “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature” for Ravenclaw, his “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature”, Philip Zimbardo’s “The Lucifer Effect”, “The Prince”, and Han Fei Zi’s writing for Slytherins.

    And for Gryffindors, how about Michael J. Sandel’s “Justice” and “Just War”?

  27. scb0212 says:

    Out of classic literature, Montaigne is definitely a Ravenclaw. Constantly revising what he knows (and what he thinks he knows, but isn’t sure).

    Chaucer would make a good Hufflepuff, with his tales of assorted folks and their wild storytelling.

    Arthurian Legend would seem Gryffindor-like, or perhaps the Books of Five Rings or Hagakure. Clausewitz’s On War, too.

    Slytherin could empathize with Milton’s Satan. Perhaps Faust, too.

  28. Carryl says:

    I’m a Hufflepuff at heart, but am only interested in a few of the happiness/anti-panic books. Much more interested in the Ravenclaw books especially on psychology. Those are a very small percentage of what I read, though, since I read much more fiction and autobiography.

  29. Vlad says:

    Art of War is a great choice for Gryffindor. My father considered it a required reading for my formative years.

    A great addition to would be Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow to the Gryffindor line. It shows battle mentality for Defense of the dark arts and the price of using (SPOILER ALERT) Child warriors.
    Any David Gemmell Book (preferably Legend or the Lion of Macedon)

    The Jedi Path would be a good addition to the Ravenclaw shelf as it shows a study on the culture of a primarily diplomatic (albeit warrior) class.
    Also, Sherlock Holmes.

    Rhinoceros and Waiting for Godot for Hufflepuff, I think only their minds would truly appreciate the absurdity in those two plays!

    Great shelf!

  30. Interesting! At the moment what I would find more useful would be Gryffindor for my world building, but at the same time I’d read more pleasantly Hufflepuff!

  31. Jh says:

    Hey, good job! Do you think you could provide a soft copy of the list? Would like to include them in my reading if it’s not too much trouble for you :)

  32. Sonu says:

    Quite interesting post.. I just bookmarked your blog :)

  33. divinit says:

    I think your lists are too limiting. As a house full of Pottermore sorted Ravenclaws, we’ve all read books on the Gryffindore list, as well as the others. What one person gets from a work of fiction or non-fiction has more to do with their perceptions of relevance to their individuality.

  34. divinit says:

    I find your choices quite limiting. As a household of Pottermore sorted Ravenclaws, there are many books on the Gryffindor list that the other houses would also enjoy. A books content is relevant for many different reasons and perceptions. An example, my sister, who is a Slytherin (and doesn’t live with me) found the main character (Andrea) in The Devil Wears Prada to be naive and impossible in her rational about the business world, while I found her experiences to be an example of everything that needs to be changed in the business world. Your premise is good, however the execution doesn’t allow for similarities by the readers – only exclusion. Nearly the entire Gryffindor list has been read by my house, which is full of scientists. LOL.

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  36. Gypsy says:

    I was categorized as a Hufflepuff. But my personality exhibits a very wide range of interests. I am a very artistic person, in that I compose music and write books, as well as draw with intense detail. But I am also a self-sacrificial person that loves thrill. I am entering the Marines in their equivalence of Navy SEAL, and I am very for protecting and loyal, but daring and willing to give. I am also a very compassionate and social person. Am also hoping to be a volunteer Firefighter and EMT, and planning on studying counterterrorism. I am also really big into natural ways of living. Like poultices and brews instead of pills and vaccines … I believe in a singular God, but also believe in the power of nature, as well as science in things like ‘String Theory’, which also closely ties to my love for music. I also have contradicting ways in which i examine a situation. Sometimes I take a look, and examine it and think about it and the consequence and etc, and other times, i just jump in it and do it. Strangely enough, I do the latter for more important moves, and the former with less important ideas. Anyways, so, as I would be a strange and potentially very difficult member classification, as I would fit in in many different places, the books I would read (I love books by the way), are a lot. I have the fantasy books that i read for enjoyment, the few self help books, the natural herbal books, then the guns and ammunition books and weaponry books on how to make them or how to classify them. I think i have a writing book as well, or how to publish … and then I have a warrior’s book (something about how to become a warrior by letting go of fear), a meditation book … :/ so, even though the ‘personalities’ of the majority are what classifies a house, the personalities of the few is what blurs the lines between the houses.

  37. kojitmal says:

    Ravenclaws being Ravenclaws, I figured they`d basically be interested in almost anything, what with being knowledge addicts and all. I know I personally, as a Ravenclaw, have history, physics, astrophysics, psychology, philosophy, and a whole range of fiction. If I had to give a specific example though, I`d say Sherlock Holmes suits us Ravenclaws pretty well. Rational, yet (almost) unbelievable, and exciting at the same time.

    I also personally think that giving books about lying to Slytherin is assuming that all Slytherins are indeed evil. I always considered them as more self-protecting. They`re more ambitious (and ego-centric) than evil in my mind. I`d rather suggest books on body language. Maybe some biographies of people? Just throwing some ideas out there.

    And finally a recommendation for Gryffindor: Hagakure (Yamamoto Tsunetomo) & The Book of Five Rings (Miyamoto Musashi). These are both books written by Samurai, and are about the “way of the samurai”, warrior`s rules, so to speak.
    (These two might also be interesting to Slytherins, I think)

    • Gypsy says:

      Funny thing, I always saw myself as Gryffindor and found that i was in fact Hufflepuff, imagine my disappointment. Found out their qualities are loyalty, hard working, patience, justice, etc. Which is what I am … Funny thing is, I am joining the military and striving for the Marine’s equivalence of the Navy SEAL, and then a degree in counterterrorism … just saying … If i was a Hufflepuff, I am far from boring. If you were to put the houses in real life application, the Gryffindors would be the military leaders, putting their lives on the line, the Ravenclaws would be the scientists and other smart people who give them the examples of consequences if they did this certain action, the Slytherins are the traitors within the body, or those who are greedy for power, like politicians, and the Hufflepuff? They are the ones behind the enemy lines, placing things in order, or gaining information and relaying it back. They are the ones who, if they get caught and are tortured, wouldn’t give anything up. They are like the spies for military leaders, the Gryffindors. I am not trying to put Hufflepuff on the pedestal, actually, quite the opposite, as the spies and information relayers are given absolutely no credit for their value, as it is done with the houses. The Hufflepuff back up the Gryffindors, make sure that when they make those decisions that are on the fly and dangerous, they are the ones to make sure they survive flight.

  38. Ok, this one of the most awesome things I’ve seen on the internet for a while.
    Thanks for putting the time to make it happen.

  39. Nauru says:

    I’m still learning from you, but I’m trying to reach my goals. I absolutely enjoy reading everything that is posted on your blog.Keep the tips coming. I enjoyed it!

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  41. This works, as long as you don’t suspect there are actual wizards in the real world. Once you do that the shelf of books grows considerably. The main difference has to do with the conventional view of natural science today, that: all is matter, there is no spirit. Here is a link to my Youtube videos on: How to Become a Real Wizard http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4CAB86F6A9E5F238

    Now don’t worry I am not so much an irrationalist believer in magic, but a transrationalist, who knows, from direct experience, that spirit is just as real as matter. The difficulty is considerable and many of your books border on what can be studied (I refer to a few of them myself). Let me just suggest one, which can be read in pdf form: Man or Matter: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/5641/pg5641.html

    Joel A. Wendt website: Shapes in the Fire http://ipwebdev.com/hermit/

  42. Rachel says:

    Reblogged this on Jim and Rachel and commented:
    HOLY CROW, YOU GUYS. Harry Potter inspired, house-specific, real-world reading lists. Where would the Sorting Hat send you?

  43. These are brilliant — love that the Slytherin shelf includes the Screwtape Letters LOL! Based on a quick match of titles to my actual bookshelves, I’m a clear Ravenclaw :)

  44. Nice list. I’m apparently a Slytherin. How about Dune and the Ferengi Laws of Acquisition for the Slytherin list?

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  47. bwithbooks says:

    This is amazing. OMG I love this. I’m apparently a Hufflepuff….

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  52. lorq says:

    Really fun lists!

    Most of the books of Alfie Kohn would fit really well on the Hufflepuff list, especially “No Contest,” a very readable and compelling case against the culture of competition.

  53. burrangelo says:

    Don Quixote needs to be on the Gryffindor list. Whats more Quixotic than a few teenagers defeating an dark lord who represents all evil?

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  55. What about ANTI-FRAGILITY? by Nassim Taleb?

  56. Chris Boyd says:

    I can recommend three more books for Ravenclaw. Two are by Cal Tech physicist Mlodinow and based on Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow: The Drunkard’s Walk and Subliminal. Who’s in Charge by Gazzaniga poses the concept of The Interpreter, a source of System 2 rationalizations of System 1 inspired actions.

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  58. Eleanor says:

    Curious, as I personally fall between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw… Ideas you may have to fill out some of the house characteristics..
    for example, ravenclaws are often very creative.. and i feel curious and wanting to find knowledge on any and all topics (including astronomy based on their house location)
    As for hufflepuff I wonder about herbology, and food (also second their connection with hobbits and a desire to se Tolkien’s work
    In all, really awesome work!!

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