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An unprecedented history of the personality test conceived a century ago by a mother and her daughter–fiction writers with no formal training in psychology–and how it insinuated itself into our boardrooms, classrooms, and beyond The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It is used regularly by Fortune 500 companies, universities, hos An unprecedented history of the personality test conceived a century ago by a mother and her daughter–fiction writers with no formal training in psychology–and how it insinuated itself into our boardrooms, classrooms, and beyond The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It is used regularly by Fortune 500 companies, universities, hospitals, churches, and the military. Its language of personality types–extraversion and introversion, sensing and intuiting, thinking and feeling, judging and perceiving–has inspired television shows, online dating platforms, and Buzzfeed quizzes. Yet despite the test’s widespread adoption, experts in the field of psychometric testing, a $2 billion industry, have struggled to validate its results–no less account for its success. How did Myers-Briggs, a homegrown multiple choice questionnaire, infiltrate our workplaces, our relationships, our Internet, our lives? First conceived in the 1920s by the mother-daughter team of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, a pair of devoted homemakers, novelists, and amateur psychoanalysts, Myers-Briggs was designed to bring the gospel of Carl Jung to the masses. But it would take on a life entirely its own, reaching from the smoke-filled boardrooms of mid-century New York to Berkeley, California, where it was administered to some of the twentieth century’s greatest creative minds. It would travel across the world to London, Zurich, Cape Town, Melbourne, and Tokyo, until it could be found just as easily in elementary schools, nunneries, and wellness retreats as in shadowy political consultancies and on social networks. Drawing from original reporting and never-before-published documents, The Personality Brokers takes a critical look at the personality indicator that became a cultural icon. Along the way it examines nothing less than the definition of the self–our attempts to grasp, categorize, and quantify our personalities. Surprising and absorbing, the book, like the test at its heart, considers the timeless question: What makes you, you?


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An unprecedented history of the personality test conceived a century ago by a mother and her daughter–fiction writers with no formal training in psychology–and how it insinuated itself into our boardrooms, classrooms, and beyond The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It is used regularly by Fortune 500 companies, universities, hos An unprecedented history of the personality test conceived a century ago by a mother and her daughter–fiction writers with no formal training in psychology–and how it insinuated itself into our boardrooms, classrooms, and beyond The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It is used regularly by Fortune 500 companies, universities, hospitals, churches, and the military. Its language of personality types–extraversion and introversion, sensing and intuiting, thinking and feeling, judging and perceiving–has inspired television shows, online dating platforms, and Buzzfeed quizzes. Yet despite the test’s widespread adoption, experts in the field of psychometric testing, a $2 billion industry, have struggled to validate its results–no less account for its success. How did Myers-Briggs, a homegrown multiple choice questionnaire, infiltrate our workplaces, our relationships, our Internet, our lives? First conceived in the 1920s by the mother-daughter team of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, a pair of devoted homemakers, novelists, and amateur psychoanalysts, Myers-Briggs was designed to bring the gospel of Carl Jung to the masses. But it would take on a life entirely its own, reaching from the smoke-filled boardrooms of mid-century New York to Berkeley, California, where it was administered to some of the twentieth century’s greatest creative minds. It would travel across the world to London, Zurich, Cape Town, Melbourne, and Tokyo, until it could be found just as easily in elementary schools, nunneries, and wellness retreats as in shadowy political consultancies and on social networks. Drawing from original reporting and never-before-published documents, The Personality Brokers takes a critical look at the personality indicator that became a cultural icon. Along the way it examines nothing less than the definition of the self–our attempts to grasp, categorize, and quantify our personalities. Surprising and absorbing, the book, like the test at its heart, considers the timeless question: What makes you, you?

30 review for The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing

  1. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    This book was a disappointment. I looked forward to it: I went through a phase of interest in the Myers-Briggs as a teenager, and so was eager to learn more about it. Unfortunately, after a fascinating introduction in which the author delves into the almost cult-like atmosphere of Myers-Briggs training (in an attempt to get access to Isabel Myers’s archives, the author was required to pay $2000 for a week of “re-education,” which was pretty much as it sounds), this turns into a dull biography of This book was a disappointment. I looked forward to it: I went through a phase of interest in the Myers-Briggs as a teenager, and so was eager to learn more about it. Unfortunately, after a fascinating introduction in which the author delves into the almost cult-like atmosphere of Myers-Briggs training (in an attempt to get access to Isabel Myers’s archives, the author was required to pay $2000 for a week of “re-education,” which was pretty much as it sounds), this turns into a dull biography of the test’s creators. Ultimately, I had to turn to the internet to provide basic information about the test left out of the book. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI, sorts people into sixteen categories of “personality types” based on their expressed preferences. This “indicator” (its devotees insist that it is not a test because there are no right or wrong answers) was developed by two housewives, Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers. Though both were college graduates, neither was formally trained in psychology. Briggs, born in the late 19th century, was an amateur psychologist who developed a fascination with Carl Jung and his writings later in life. Myers later picked up where her mother left off, working during the WWII era to develop a test that would assist companies in finding workers who were the best fit for the job based on their personalities. The book is mostly devoted to describing their lives, which unfortunately are too mundane to warrant this length, and Emre doesn’t quite bring them to life. But she’s far more interested in the lives of Briggs and Myers and than in the test itself. For instance, she writes about efforts to scientifically validate the test, but is entirely concerned with the emotional dimensions of these efforts (how the men doing the studies treated Isabel Myers, and how Myers felt about that) rather than the scientific ones (I finished this book not knowing what “validation” even means in the context of a personality test). And she promises more drama in their lives than is actually there: claiming in the introduction, for instance, that their personality-testing obsession cost both women their marriages when it did no such thing; at worst it sometimes irritated their husbands. Information about the test itself is dropped haphazardly; she tells us that Jung meant something different from “introversion” and “extraversion” than we do today, but then never returns to that change or discusses the evolution of any of the other categories. She tells us that the creators thought the test was only really useful with more intelligent people and those of higher socioeconomic status (apparently the lowly didn't get personalities), but then follows up with no actual data about the less advantaged. I don't know about you, but I'm more interested in whether, and how, the test itself is racist or classist, than the obviously outdated views of its creators. But Emre only shares the latter, hinting that there might be classist issues with the test but never telling us what they are. Likewise, the couple of sections that are more about the test than its creators focus on extraneous information or the author’s thought experiments. For instance, a chapter about a group of researchers who had prominent people spend the weekend together in a house to take a battery of tests focuses on subjects like how Truman Capote charmed the staff, and the career of a female researcher who happened to work there, rather than what was learned from all of this and how it fits into the history of personality testing. And at the end, rather than presenting real data or even real anecdotes about how the MBTI is used in the modern era, the author traces hypothetical women of different generations through their imaginary lives and where they might theoretically have encountered the test. Emre is clearly not an MBTI devotee herself, but she declines to fully discuss the issues with the test, instead dismissing them as too oft-repeated, as if this made a criticism less worthy of attention rather than more so. In an interview, she stated: I think even talking about validity and reliability sort of misses that point—because it asks whether these tests are really measuring what they purport to be measuring and whether they show the same thing over time, and those are questions for scientists, or psychologists. As a humanist I want to preempt those questions because even they are premised on assumptions that the systems and language that we use to describe people have some kind of basis in truth. I don’t think they do. Which, first, what? I suspect most people interested in a book about the MBTI do think those questions are important, and are more interested in the facts than the author’s philosophical maunderings. (Unfortunately, she’s an English professor with a Master’s of Philosophy – not a historian, journalist or scientist.) And second, if the author’s point – as she suggests in the book, and as is even suggested by Katherine Briggs – is that the MBTI is a sort of religion for its devotees, rendering its validity beside the point, then why doesn’t she delve into that, introduce us to some of these people whose lives have been changed by it? Study the community of practitioners and the test’s impact on their lives? But no, we don’t get that either. For those who are actually interested in the MBTI’s validity, here is a good scientific article about it, and here are several other relevant articles. What I learned that is not in the book: 1) A method for determining the reliability of a personality test is “test-retest reliability,” or whether people taking it more than once get the same result. Up to 50% of MBTI takers get a different result on a second test, even as little as 5 weeks later. (Its devotees insist, however, that type never changes, so these people must be doing it wrong.) 2) But perhaps a bigger problem is that human traits rarely fit into dichotomies, which form the foundation of the MBTI. Most human traits actually fall on a bell curve, with most people in the middle, and increasingly smaller numbers of people the further from the middle you go. The MBTI’s own data reveals a bell curve, or “normal distribution,” for its results too, but then uses a cutoff score to describe the results in terms of two distinct, non-overlapping groups. In reality, people aren’t divided between “introverts” and “extraverts,” any more than we’re divided into the short and the tall; someone who scores barely introverted has far more in common with someone who scores barely extraverted than with an extreme introvert. 3) And then there are the actual traits used, which haven’t been borne out in psychological research to be a useful or relevant way of describing personality (which is why psychologists don’t use the MBTI). Research backs up a different group of five traits, only one of which overlaps: extraversion, openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism (i.e. emotional stability). You see why these are less popular though: few people want to be seen as sloppy, disagreeable, or emotionally unstable. This test would be far less fun. 4) Statistical analysis doesn’t support that the four MBTI factors are independent of one another, and there is no proven correlation between MBTI results and success in particular jobs or relationships. This is unsurprising to me, given what a rough measure it is. Something like “introversion” can come out in a wide variety of ways – I’m quite introverted in my personal life, but probably tilt extraverted at work – so a simple “E” or “I” tells you nothing useful about someone as an employee and can even be actively misleading. At any rate, you won’t find scientific information in this book, nor learn much about personality testing, or even much about the MBTI itself. Go for it if you want an overlong, dull biography of two housewives who created a test that's never fully discussed, but otherwise, go elsewhere.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gumble's Yard

    In reading for pleasure do you (a) Enjoy odd and original ways of saying things or (b) Like writers to say exactly what they mean” To which I will add my own three questions. Feel free to give me your answers in the comments and I can provide you my own unofficial but carefully researched Goodreads Myers Briggs Type Indicator. When you have finished a book do you (c) look for ways to engage with others who have read the book or (d) look forward to losing yourself in the next book When writi In reading for pleasure do you (a) Enjoy odd and original ways of saying things or (b) Like writers to say exactly what they mean” To which I will add my own three questions. Feel free to give me your answers in the comments and I can provide you my own unofficial but carefully researched Goodreads Myers Briggs Type Indicator. When you have finished a book do you (c) look for ways to engage with others who have read the book or (d) look forward to losing yourself in the next book When writing a review do you consider it most important to (e) think how to represent the book as accurately as possible or (f) consider how other readers (or even the author and publishers) might feel about your review. Do you think that arranging for your bookshelves to be carefully arranged according to some scheme (such as alphabetically by author) is (g) vital to your literary peace of mind or (h) somewhere between unnecessary and sad ——————————————————————————————————- This book is an excellent review of the history of what is now the world’s most popular personality test and in particular its creators Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers. This is a subject which interests me as despite its flaws, this test (which I have probably undergone on at least half a dozen occasions from business schools, to work team bonding sessions to church discipleship groups) is one I enjoy discussing, one where I recall my type without effort, and one I have on an occasion even used (I would argue very carefully and for a very specific purpose) as a recruitment tool. Even while reading the book I Googled to check if there was an article on using type to predict the type of book you enjoy and found I was a lover of literary fiction. Confirmation bias perhaps, as I may have ignored the article with a different result, but I would say not entirely. The book makes no attempt to hide the lack of scientific rigour at the base of the test, or of statistical validity. Nor to disguise the really at times quite bizarre history of its creators. Katherine’s psycho-sexual, quasi-religious obsession with Jung and her sinister fixation with one of her first subjects - the daughter of her husband’s colleague. Isabel’s brief career as an award winning novelist of casually racist detective novels. Later her eccentric and paranoid behaviour when her test came under the auspices of the Education Training Service (purveyor of the SAT). Interestingly it places the role of the test and of the wider fields of personality profiling and testing, as being intrinsic to the post war development of a corporatist ethos in the white collar workforce in America (as effectively a capitalist antidote to the threat of socialism) - but with a smaller group of researchers concerned that the ideas of classification strayed too close to fascism. The author also draws out its links with reinforcing areas of social, gender and racial discrimination. I have two criticisms. At times the book can be surprising in its parochialism; in a way which reminded me of the World Series I was rather caught by surprise and then humoured when a reference to the test making the transition from “East to West” turned out to reference the two coasts of the United States. The book features various other figures in the history of personality testing/profiling who played an important role in the development of the profile of MBTI. At times MBTI itself can seem almost incidental to these chapters, which while interesting (showing how both Big Brother shows and the Stanford Prison experiment had their origins in this field, decades earlier) are too detailed for the casual reader. But the book is nicely balanced; opening and closing with the author (so as to access papers she wanted for her book research) being required to attend a 2 day Myers Briggs accreditation. There, despite her cynicism at evangelical nature of the true believers, she sees some of the ways in which understanding their type enables people to make sense of their lives, characters and relationships and concludes Despite all the challenges to its validity and reliability, despite all the criticism of its origins and its uses despite its silky, ironic appropriations, the indicator continued to operate as a powerful technology of the self even in its twenty-first century incarnation. ——————————————————————————————————- In case you are wondering my own answers are: (c) but marginally so (a) strongly except in some areas of non fictional writing (f) and increasingly so (g) fiction by author, sports books by sport, history books by chronology Which matches, even in its nuances, my much tested Type.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    Well that 5 star prediction was way off the mark...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Robin Bonne

    3.5 Stars. The beginning really tried to sell me on the mystery of the author’s journey to uncover the history of MBTI. After such promise, it slowed down for awhile, which is why I can’t rate it higher. Then it took a turn toward the bizarre when Katherine had a strange relationship with Mary “Tucky” Tuckerman. Overall, it was fascinating and there were moments of, “What did I just read?” Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy of this ebook in exchange for an unbiased review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mitch Hedwig

    The Personality Brokers combines a conceptually sophisticated intellectual history with a thrilling narrative. It takes a special kind of talent to make ideas this interesting. The "personalities" covered come to riotous life--Hitler, Jung, Truman Capote, to say nothing of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers themselves. Emre is always witty and always sharp, but never condescending to her subjects, no matter how eccentric they can be. An amazing book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    This is mostly a biography of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers, the mother and daughter who came up with the pervasive Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test based on Carl Jung’s theories. It’s also a history of the evolution of the indicator and of personality tests in general. The writing is more academic than conversational, making it hard to read a whole lot at once. Emre does her best to remain disinterested in the subject matter, neither condemning nor endorsing it. I’d have liked This is mostly a biography of Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers, the mother and daughter who came up with the pervasive Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test based on Carl Jung’s theories. It’s also a history of the evolution of the indicator and of personality tests in general. The writing is more academic than conversational, making it hard to read a whole lot at once. Emre does her best to remain disinterested in the subject matter, neither condemning nor endorsing it. I’d have liked to see more of its criticisms (and more from people who swear by it). The MBTI has never been scientifically validated, but psychology is still new enough a field that validation is not easy even now. I’ve taken Internet versions and gotten a different result every time. Isabel Myers insisted that results never changed. If they did, it was a problem with the test taker. (I’m an extreme Introvert and a pretty solid Intuitive. The other two factors are pretty well balanced, so they keep switching.) Editing is good except for using “entitled” to mean “titled.” No strong language or violence.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    The book was very well-written and very good and easy to follow, but it was not what it could have been (should have been?). It was a story of the mother-daughter pair that began Myers Briggs and sort of how the test got adopted. It reads very well and the stories are interesting. It is not a commentary on why or how these tests became mainstream. Moreover, it's critical of the tests in a pretty shallow way. I am not a fan of these kinds of tests so I was willing to go along with any critique, b The book was very well-written and very good and easy to follow, but it was not what it could have been (should have been?). It was a story of the mother-daughter pair that began Myers Briggs and sort of how the test got adopted. It reads very well and the stories are interesting. It is not a commentary on why or how these tests became mainstream. Moreover, it's critical of the tests in a pretty shallow way. I am not a fan of these kinds of tests so I was willing to go along with any critique, but she did not give a solid one. That they're not scientific--fine, we knew that. But why do they appeal to people so much? What's the thing that they give people? Also, there does seem to be at least some science on the introvert/extrovert one--even DNA related. So perhaps it's not all just smoke and mirrors, right?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amanda O.

    My friend lent me her advance copy and I finished it in a week! The Personality Brokers is the fascinating history behind the Myers-Briggs test and the mother-daughter duo who created it. The book was incredibly well-written and well-researched and raised interesting questions about personality psychology, which interest me greatly. I also loved how it delves into the history of the test - how it weaves together the psychological frameworks of Jung and the made-up parts by Isabel Myers and Kathar My friend lent me her advance copy and I finished it in a week! The Personality Brokers is the fascinating history behind the Myers-Briggs test and the mother-daughter duo who created it. The book was incredibly well-written and well-researched and raised interesting questions about personality psychology, which interest me greatly. I also loved how it delves into the history of the test - how it weaves together the psychological frameworks of Jung and the made-up parts by Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs - and the widespread use of it across institutions like the military, universities, and churches. It uncovers the corporations behind the type indicator test and how they strive to protect the legitimacy of it. What I loved most about the book was how it challenged this widely-accepted personality test and shows how it's flawed. People who love and live by Myers-Briggs may not like to read about it, but it's an important book and it's written for those people as well. An overall fascinating read that will serve as a great talking points in future Myers-Briggs conversations!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    I won this book in a goodreads drawing. A book that goes into the history and the provenance of the Myers-Briggs test. Mostly, it's a history of fraud and cult like behavior from the very beginning. Created by a Progressive era crackpot, it became a cause celebre of big business, but there does not appear to be any actual scientific evidence behind it. Sounds about right.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Abdurrahman AlQahtani

    This is largely an interesting read, but not completely pure from shortcomings. I really needed it and I believe it is a must read for anyone who has done an MBTI, or promotes it one way or another. What I Most Liked: Let me start with I liked most about the book. Merve Emre is a master when it comes to critique and story telling. She depicted the history of MBTI and personality typing amazingly, and clearly has done her homework in going through the archives and extracting and stitching the stori This is largely an interesting read, but not completely pure from shortcomings. I really needed it and I believe it is a must read for anyone who has done an MBTI, or promotes it one way or another. What I Most Liked: Let me start with I liked most about the book. Merve Emre is a master when it comes to critique and story telling. She depicted the history of MBTI and personality typing amazingly, and clearly has done her homework in going through the archives and extracting and stitching the stories in a fine language. No doubt, as she is a professor of Oxford University in English and American literature. I very much liked the light she has shed on the history of Carl Jung, a trained and specialized in his field of psychiatry and psychoanalysis. And the mother and daughter, Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers, and how they came from no education background at all, how they have created something that had doubtful foundations to this day, and how clearly MBTI is not tightly connected to Jungian theories. This gave me a good perspective on how to approach MBTI with caution. What I Most Hated: On the other hand, the author has fallen in a number of traps that has sometimes sucked the life out of the book. She played confusingly in a vacuum between historical memoirs and historical fiction. She started with a clear premise, from the title, that she will cover the history of personality testing, but she went wildly into extravagantly narrating the lives of Katherine, Isabel, their extended families, and their large circle of acquaintances. There is nothing wrong in that if I'm reading a historical fiction, but it seriously wounded my journey when I was interested in facts and only facts. Not once she led me astray into extravagant anecdotes that are completely not helping her punch line or cause. Other times she was telling intimate stories and dialogues that can hardly be documented let aside be true. I can roughly say that the book could easily be shortened by half, and still deliver on its premise. Another pitfall of the book is that the author is completely biased towards skepticism of MBTI and personality testing. In her introduction, she tried to draw how she wanted to approach the topic neutrally "addressing the skeptic and the true believer, and everyone in between". But unfortunately, she negated that approach by saying in the very beginning of the book: "You reader, who cannot and shouldn't be typed", and continued on that bias throughout the book. There is no harm in writing a book from an angle of prejudice and skepticism. But it could have helped the reader to approach it unbiased, or at least clarify your position clearly from the beginning. You can feel that from the anecdotes and facts told by the author with a cynical tone sometimes. Key Takeaway: The foundational problem with MBTI and most personality tests - and I could say any assessment at large - is one: people take them too seriously and use them dangerously to stereotype, choose and match people to institutions, jobs, tasks, or even to other people. My opinion is that assessments (personality or otherwise) should be used for self knowledge and development. They should not be used in hiring and firing, matching couples and teammates, or in choosing your major or occupation. They are unreliable to be taken for these serious decisions in life, and should be contained in just understanding yourself, and maneuvering life experiences and the people you come across. I still recommend reading this book, but you need a large reservoir of patience along its pages and lines. In my opinion, if you are in a middle island between the very skeptical and the true believer, you should be safe in using MBTI for just general purposes of discovery and development.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    I'm an INTP on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI). The Logician. So is Gandalf and Yoda and Dumbledore. "INTPs are marked by a quiet, stoic, modest, and aloof exterior that masks strong creativity and enthusiasm for novel possibilities" (Wikipedia). I'm also the astrological sign of Cancer. A water sign. So is Tom Cruise and Vin Diesel and Arianna Grande. "Deeply intuitive and sentimental, Cancer can be one of the most challenging zodiac signs to get to know" (Astrology Zodiac Signs.com). I I'm an INTP on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI). The Logician. So is Gandalf and Yoda and Dumbledore. "INTPs are marked by a quiet, stoic, modest, and aloof exterior that masks strong creativity and enthusiasm for novel possibilities" (Wikipedia). I'm also the astrological sign of Cancer. A water sign. So is Tom Cruise and Vin Diesel and Arianna Grande. "Deeply intuitive and sentimental, Cancer can be one of the most challenging zodiac signs to get to know" (Astrology Zodiac Signs.com). I was born in 1976, the year of the dragon. I'm a fire dragon, in fact. So is Peyton Manning and Reese Witherspoon and Benedict Cumberbatch. "Dragons prefer to live by their own rules and if left on their own, are usually successful" (Chinese Zodiac.com). So, what does all this mean? Barring how these arbitrary, pseudoscientific designations might lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, absolutely nothing. They're silly anti-Enlightenment parlor games. This is the focus of Merve Emre's investigation of the MBTI The Personality Brokers: that the truth about the ubiquitous personality questionnaire, which we all assume must have been developed by two psychologists named Myers and Briggs, is that it "is not scientifically valid; that the theory behind it has no basis in clinical psychology; and that it is the flagship product of a lucrative global corporation, one whose interests sit at the shadowy crossroads of industrial psychology and self-care” created in the kitchens of two "proud wives, mothers, and homemakers with no formal training in psychology or psychiatry". In the best parts of the book, the prologue and epilogue, Emre details her own attempts to gain access to the truth about the MBTI and the roadblocks she encountered from interested parties making a lot of money from running training and personality workshops (and planning the kinds of horrendous, soul-sucking "retreats" only corporate MBA types could dream up). In fact, Emre would have had an even better book if she'd focused more on the keeping of this secret--the MBTIs lack of validity and reliability as well as its dubious origins--rather than on the lives of the mother-daughter team who repurposed the ideas of Jung into their highly successful personality type indicators. To be fair to Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, although they're sometimes portrayed as dilettante housewives, they were both brilliant autodidacts who were limited not by intellect but by confirmation and selection bias. Emre does a good job of portraying both women as complex characters, equally brilliant, driven and...well, a little nuts. It's a portrayal that's well-supported and persuasive. All in all, it's a pretty good book. The first half is pure biography and is a little too exhaustive; the second half focuses purely on the indicator and gets a little tedious by the end. Again, Emre's own lack of access seems to be the most interesting detail but is relegated to brief mentions at the beginning and end of the book. I also enjoyed sections where Emre applies some of Adorno's best ideas about standardization, fascism and neoliberal capitalism, but this too lacks the space devoted to biographical details of the lives of Briggs and Briggs Myers. INTPs will enjoy reading it quietly somewhere while ESFJs will have plenty to discuss in their social circles.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I was totally engrossed in the story of the mother and daughter team behind Myers-Briggs. This test is nearly one hundred years old, and it's fascinating to see how it continues to impact huge institutions from the CIA to Fortune 500 companies. Highly recommend.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Leo Walsh

    I took the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) several times over my life. At B-school in the 1990s, our organizational leadership professors touted it as a wonder that would put the proper places in the proper jobs. After that, I took the MBTI on several team-builders at work and as twice as part of the interview process. And for going on fifteen years, I've questioned the test because my results have varied widely. I've tested as an ESTP and an INF/TP... types that are polar opposites. Needles I took the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) several times over my life. At B-school in the 1990s, our organizational leadership professors touted it as a wonder that would put the proper places in the proper jobs. After that, I took the MBTI on several team-builders at work and as twice as part of the interview process. And for going on fifteen years, I've questioned the test because my results have varied widely. I've tested as an ESTP and an INF/TP... types that are polar opposites. Needless to say, I found the test suspect. It turns out I was right. Merve Emre's THE PERSONALITY BROKERS tells me why: the test is meaningless. It was turned out by two intelligent, well-meaning but scientifically unsound kitchen-table psychologists, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. Despite the MBTI's failings, though, I found the women's stories amazing. The mother was something of a CG Jung groupie. And like many an autodidact, she lacked the refinement a trained psychologist would bring to test construction. But what Briggs and her daughter brought to the table was the passion of true believers. Which helped them sell the spurious, statistically irrelevant test to the DOD, the Stanford University, and the thousands of others of corporations. Four stars. A very enjoyable read into the gray area between science and pseudoscience... a space not populated by self-serving cranks, but by earnest people wanting to help but lacking the requisite skills, know-how and insight. Like every one of us at times, no doubt... At least me... :-) Four stars.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Huang

    Story about the genesis of the oft-used Myers-Briggs (personality) Type Indicator (MBTI). The creators are a mother (Briggs) and daughter (Myers) team. The inspiration comes from reading Carl Jung’s work. Jung believes people's souls are made up of opposing spirits (e.g., introvert vs extrovert). (This in turn might be inspired from Greek mythology of brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus who embody the opposites of foresight and hindsight.) Briggs is so obsessed with Jung, that she calls him rever Story about the genesis of the oft-used Myers-Briggs (personality) Type Indicator (MBTI). The creators are a mother (Briggs) and daughter (Myers) team. The inspiration comes from reading Carl Jung’s work. Jung believes people's souls are made up of opposing spirits (e.g., introvert vs extrovert). (This in turn might be inspired from Greek mythology of brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus who embody the opposites of foresight and hindsight.) Briggs is so obsessed with Jung, that she calls him reverently "The man from Zurich". She dreams of him and compose erotic fictions about him and his practice. There is no scientific evidence that personality is innate and unchanging (or that it can be pigeonholed into the 16 boxes). But the labels are non-judgmental so people like to use the test.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Olga

    Weirdest true story ever! If you have any experience with the Myers-Briggs test (who doesn't?) or are just interested in the idea of personality testing, definitely check out this book. This bizarre and compulsively readable history will make you think a little more deeply about all the professional development activities or Tinder profiles you come across that reference MBTI results. Super fun and informational read!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    My background is in psychology and I've always found personality testing fascinating, if dubious. Emre's exploration of the history of Myers-Briggs and the mother-daughter team behind it makes me think even more about how dubious they are -- and how dangerous they can be when used as tools to sort, assess, and direct people in personal and professional lives. I never realized it was so heavily influenced by Jung, and I never realized the fact that types are meant to be unchanging; it's this, the My background is in psychology and I've always found personality testing fascinating, if dubious. Emre's exploration of the history of Myers-Briggs and the mother-daughter team behind it makes me think even more about how dubious they are -- and how dangerous they can be when used as tools to sort, assess, and direct people in personal and professional lives. I never realized it was so heavily influenced by Jung, and I never realized the fact that types are meant to be unchanging; it's this, the idea of it being unchanging, that maybe bothers me the most (after, of course, the fact they're based on the ideal straight, white, cis, able-bodied male in American culture as "norms" for all 16 types). It was interesting to think about the time period when the test was created, too. The 1950s, post-war, when money became more flush and white Americans enjoyed far more leisure time and opportunity to "find themselves" (even though this never met that critical mass until the 1980s, it was the dream of the creators). The audio was solid. (INTJ, if you're wondering).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Navi

    This was an enjoyable read for me. The author provides an interesting insight into the early beginnings of the Myers-Briggs test and the worldwide effect it has had ever since. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the parts written about Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers more so than the test itself. These ladies were trailblazers at a time when the identity of women were primarily focused on their domestic life. I listened to the audiobook which I felt was narrated perfectly. The book This was an enjoyable read for me. The author provides an interesting insight into the early beginnings of the Myers-Briggs test and the worldwide effect it has had ever since. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the parts written about Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers more so than the test itself. These ladies were trailblazers at a time when the identity of women were primarily focused on their domestic life. I listened to the audiobook which I felt was narrated perfectly. The book lagged a little bit towards the end but I would still highly recommend it!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Pixie

    The back flap says the author is an Oxford professor of English, so she doesn't get the extra star I would give to someone who might not know better. The book constantly labels sexism and other bigotries without ever developing any explanations. Same goes for criticisms of the test. They are mentioned but never developed. The book consists of a compilation biography of the test's creators and a bit of history about how the test has been used since their deaths. I expect some more insight and in- The back flap says the author is an Oxford professor of English, so she doesn't get the extra star I would give to someone who might not know better. The book constantly labels sexism and other bigotries without ever developing any explanations. Same goes for criticisms of the test. They are mentioned but never developed. The book consists of a compilation biography of the test's creators and a bit of history about how the test has been used since their deaths. I expect some more insight and in-depth analysis from a professor.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Fox

    The Personality Brokers is a book about the history of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, more commonly referred to as the MBTI. It is book about the two women who created it, how they came about their beliefs, and the impact the MBTI had upon the world. It is a history of personality testing in general, and the optimism that it would change the world. It is about the danger of personality testing and consigning people to boxes, believing personalities can never change, and how self has been turn The Personality Brokers is a book about the history of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, more commonly referred to as the MBTI. It is book about the two women who created it, how they came about their beliefs, and the impact the MBTI had upon the world. It is a history of personality testing in general, and the optimism that it would change the world. It is about the danger of personality testing and consigning people to boxes, believing personalities can never change, and how self has been turned into a commodity. It is funny, terrifying, and undeniably fascinating. You'll come away from this book with a different view of how modernity itself developed. It will also teach you the history and troubling implications of those Buzzfeed and Facebook tests. What Game of Thrones House do you belong to? What does it mean to be slotted into such a role? How does that affect you? Affect you it does, even if only on an unconscious level. I would highly recommend this book to everyone. It was enlightening in ways I never expected it to be. While it does discount the MBTI, and rightly so, it also acknowledges why it is as attractive to people as it is. It's a seductive idea, slotting people into sixteen types. Isn't it easier to believe people don't change and develop? Isn't it easier to write off bad behavior as simply being part of who they are as a person, rather than conscious choices made day to day? It eases some of the burden of having to continuously choose to be good. Isn't that also incredibly limiting? If people can no longer surprise us, what does that mean? I would have loved if the book had extended the conclusion, but inevitably that would unlock another whole book's worth of discussion. This is an important book, and it raises so many questions worth asking and worth considering. This history is one that should be better known, and could potentially change many modern perspectives if it was better known. In any case, dear lord, we should stop exposing young people to this test and allowing it to cloud their worldview so thoroughly.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ian Tymms

    This is not an easy book to quantify. Emre begins with a critique of the Myers-Briggs test but, having explained that the test in not valid in the scientific sense, she goes on to write a book which is far more interesting than a simple critique. Her project is to explore where the Myers-Briggs test comes from - a fascinating slice of 20th century history on its own - and how and why it has become so deeply embedded in modern society. It was in Emre's discussion of Michel Foucault's concept of t This is not an easy book to quantify. Emre begins with a critique of the Myers-Briggs test but, having explained that the test in not valid in the scientific sense, she goes on to write a book which is far more interesting than a simple critique. Her project is to explore where the Myers-Briggs test comes from - a fascinating slice of 20th century history on its own - and how and why it has become so deeply embedded in modern society. It was in Emre's discussion of Michel Foucault's concept of the "laboratory of power" that much of the power and danger of the test emerged - for me at least. Foucault argues that in framing the world in particular ways, the scientific project limits understanding to those dimensions. In the case of the Myers-Briggs, the 16 dimensions based on 4 binary constructions subtly define and confine the insights of test-takers. Subjects become "introverted" or "extraverted" because those are the only options. And the insistence of the MBTI organisation that personalities never change means that the possibility that individuals behave in different ways at different times in different contexts is completely discounted. There's a fatalism to the test which can provide stability in a complex world but also injects an unsettling simplicity. Emre's book provides an alternative to that simplicity. Hers is a complex exploration of identity embedded in historical context. The personalities she describes change and evolve as they intersect with others and with happenstance. Most certainly there are themes and consistencies that emerge across the text, but these understandings recognise the meaning that comes through contradiction and the poetry of personality which provides a humanity beyond type.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ange

    This was a slog. After an introduction where the author describes attending an MBTI training, it begins sounding like the biography of the mother and daughter responsible for the MBTI with a lot of speculation about their lives and conversations. Okay, I’m all for presumptions about how they felt and spoke about things that can’t be verified, if that’s what you’re going for. Then, the book turns into a historical record of personality testing. Fine. Then, it turns back to fiction where she descr This was a slog. After an introduction where the author describes attending an MBTI training, it begins sounding like the biography of the mother and daughter responsible for the MBTI with a lot of speculation about their lives and conversations. Okay, I’m all for presumptions about how they felt and spoke about things that can’t be verified, if that’s what you’re going for. Then, the book turns into a historical record of personality testing. Fine. Then, it turns back to fiction where she describes different imaginary scenarios of personality test subjects. And, finally, we get back to the training where she describes her fellow attendees and wraps it all up, messily, describing how people love personality tests even if the tests are stupid. While I think I would actually like Emre in person (feminist skeptic, I’m down!), the tone of the book is mean and judgmental, particularly towards the mothers of the test. I take exception to her assumption that motherhood was a poor excuse for lack of work productivity, for example. She even criticizes other critics of the MBTI test, but she herself doesn’t do a clean job of describing its appeal and failings. More attention could have been paid to the research done that disproves the indicator’s accuracy or effectiveness rather than just kicking it off from the get go that she personally isn’t a fan. I think this could have either been a gripping non-linear narrative with all the invented dialogue and characters she wanted or a historical record of the development of personality tests, but trying for both made for a boring, erratic read.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Aberdeen

    Fascinating, sometimes disturbing, written by a skeptic who also appreciates the impact MBTI has had on people's lives. I'm glad I know the history behind MBTI now, with all its weirdness (Katherine's dreams and obsession with Jung, for example) and its inspiring underdog-ness (two untrained women changing her country and our world in an age when women in the workplace were not respected). I think it helped me take MBTI, and the personality typing culture, with a grain of salt, and I agree with Fascinating, sometimes disturbing, written by a skeptic who also appreciates the impact MBTI has had on people's lives. I'm glad I know the history behind MBTI now, with all its weirdness (Katherine's dreams and obsession with Jung, for example) and its inspiring underdog-ness (two untrained women changing her country and our world in an age when women in the workplace were not respected). I think it helped me take MBTI, and the personality typing culture, with a grain of salt, and I agree with her conclusion that it's really not about the science, it's about faith in the personality typing system. Just as yes, there is definitely more to people than a mere four-letter descriptor, there is more to MBTI than how statistically sound it is. Because this is people and the way they view themselves and personalities—subjective, metaphysical stuff. Critiquers of personality typing should remember that when they weigh it against scientific standards, as should MBTI enthusiasts when they claim it is the solution to all our problems and absolutely 100% accurate gospel truth for everyone.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

    This book was riveting and impossible to put down. A friend loaned me a copy and I finished it in three days even though I'm a slow and distractible reader. It's a fascinating history of the mother and daughter who developed the MBTI (much earlier than I would have imagined), and a broader examination of other personality tests, theories and research. It grapples with the question of why we as Americans, or maybe as humans, are so drawn to these types of categorical tools to sort ourselves and de This book was riveting and impossible to put down. A friend loaned me a copy and I finished it in three days even though I'm a slow and distractible reader. It's a fascinating history of the mother and daughter who developed the MBTI (much earlier than I would have imagined), and a broader examination of other personality tests, theories and research. It grapples with the question of why we as Americans, or maybe as humans, are so drawn to these types of categorical tools to sort ourselves and define our lives. And the writing is brilliant. The author powerfully and convincingly makes her arguments while simultaneously painting vivid and interesting characters. I found myself wanting to binge watch episodes of this book on Netflix.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    If you hang around business education and consulting/guru domains long enough, it is difficult to avoid contact with the Myers-Briggs Inventory. This is a standardized paper and pencil instrument designed to identify the characteristics of the subject completing the instrument along a series of personality dimensions, presented in terms of a series of dichotomies and operationalized through a series of forced choice questions based on the personality dimensions. The result is the placement of th If you hang around business education and consulting/guru domains long enough, it is difficult to avoid contact with the Myers-Briggs Inventory. This is a standardized paper and pencil instrument designed to identify the characteristics of the subject completing the instrument along a series of personality dimensions, presented in terms of a series of dichotomies and operationalized through a series of forced choice questions based on the personality dimensions. The result is the placement of the subject into one of 16 basic personality types, along with an explanation of the genesis of the person’s score and relative scores on different dimensions. It is nominally based on the psychology of types of Carl Jung (an ambivalent linkage at the best of times). The the MBTI has been a product of many uses ranging from pre-employment screening to determine job fit to inputs for job and team placement, to more general self-diagnostic uses. Merve Emre is a young literature professor who has written a biography of sorts of the MBTI and the mother-daughter team that developed it and that maintained control over it until their respective deaths. This is a very interesting story and the book is well written. The author is sympathetic to her subjects but also a bit critical, especially of the later popularization of the MBTI. It is also a very odd story that requires unpacking on multiple levels. The approach the author took to the story has in my view impeded her ability to do the necessary unpacking and deconstruction of the MBTI story. That is probably a result of her choices in assuming a perspective and the story. One thought I had while reading this is why would a literature professor be the author of this account? It becomes fairly clear early on that the answer is that personality testing as it developed after the depression and WW2 has a lot to it that suggests it as a literary rather than a scientific endeavor. OK, but that does not relieve the author of the need to clarify what is what in the story. Emre has done a respectible job here but it could have been better. Where to start? Begin with the task itself. What is a personality? What is character? Are these constructs real? Are they baked into people from birth? Do they change? If so how do they change? How can anyone even in principle know what someone’s personality is? What is the relationship between the scores on a paper and pencil inventory and the underlying psychological reality being claimed to exist? What conclusions can I drove, even in principle, from a score? What judgments can I defensibly make, even in principle, about a person based on a score? These questions only scratch the surface and they have been swirling around personality tests from the start. It is the validation of an instrument that has long been seen as crucial for evaluating a personality assessment. For psychologists, this is a very big deal and in academic research venues one will have a hard time publishing much that is found lacking in validation according to current standards of practice. With this in mind, the MBTI has never been found to be theoretically defensible or valid. The author makes this clear early in the story and repeats it throughout. Whatever is going on with the MBTI, it is not due to its scholarly standing or supportive validation. For example, it is very common that people who complete the inventory and then take it again at a later date will find that they obtain very different results regarding their types. This is a contradiction with the assumptions of the product, for example, that personality in inherent and unchanging, and while it can be explained away, it detracts from any claims that this is a valid and reliable instrument. The alternative explanation for why the MBTI is still widely used given its lack of psychometric support is that it is valuable as a diagnostic and the users of the instrument find it worthwhile. Fair enough, but this is not consistent with claims of the instrument to be valid and reliable. It certainly is possible that going through the MBTI process provides some personal value, but is it sufficient to justify the widespread popularity of the product as well as its expense? That is doubtful. Some other explanations come to mind. The inventory helps to classify individuals in ways that might be useful even if the content is lacking in content validity. Examples of this would be the inventory predicting job success and the avoidance of excessive turnover and job conflict. Another example would be in matching complementary types in the assignment of roommates at colleges. These and other such uses are common in the history of the MBTI but also raise the specter of manipulationn, in that the information provided on the inventory is being used for purposes of which the subjects might be unaware of or of which subjects may not approve once informed. Some of the original uses of the MBTI elements were by the OSS in WW2, the forerunner to the CIA. The potentially manipulative nature of this kind of material is a major normative problem with personality testing and has been so as long as they has been such testing in the US beginning in the 1940s and 1950s. An additional issue for me is that products like the MBTI are standard offerings of a testing business that charges a lot and has a general business model requiring more and more tests, all for a fee of course. Variants of this can be seen in employee relations work, in the movement to improve schools by continual testing (NCLB; Race to the Top, as well as the privatization movement). The need for validation work is critical to keep tests from being multiplied at will and avoid accountability regarding the quality of the test or its potential benefits for subjects. I have yet to hear anyone complain that there are not enough standardized tests around to pay for? An additional aspect of the book was how Professor Emre treated the initial genesis of the tests, the commitment of Myers-Briggs and her mother to the test, and the whole idea of personal commitment and amateurism as positive aspects of this story. The initial impetus of this in the effort to scientifically manage the home and children in the early part of the 20th century is really a nice addition to the story. The general story of women in management is understood and greatly in need of more accounts of which this book is a good one. I also do not doubt the commitment of Isabel or Katherine to their efforts as personality assessment. The problem I cannot get around is that standards for accreditation and licensure, while tedious, have a basis in preventing poor practice, scams, and mistakes by the poorly trained that frequently end up hurting people. Add to that the excesses to which entrepreneurs in personal services - especially for education and psychological assessment - are prone and I end up not sympathetic to the well intended personality amateurs from Philadelphia. The history of how well intended products can be put to bad use by unscrupulous customers is a long one and Emre is right to mention the link between personality assessment and the search for fascist tendencies after WW2, along with studies by Milagrom, Asch, and Zimbardo. I am not confident in good intentions controlling the spread and use of mass psychological products. Validation and standards matter. It is a good story and anyone interested in the area should read the book. While the book was not a hagiography, it did Seem like some capture occurred in the book’s overall trajectory and conclusions.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Westminster Library

    I was told in college I was an INTJ by friends before I ever took the Myers-Brigg test. Like everyone else I know, I didn't take the real test but one of the many online versions that are as good as anything for the test's true purpose: introspection with a lingo made for sharing. This is the definitive book for anyone who didn't think the test made a lick of sense once they took a day or two to consider the implications. But it has plenty for true believers, too. Merve Emre's half-history, half I was told in college I was an INTJ by friends before I ever took the Myers-Brigg test. Like everyone else I know, I didn't take the real test but one of the many online versions that are as good as anything for the test's true purpose: introspection with a lingo made for sharing. This is the definitive book for anyone who didn't think the test made a lick of sense once they took a day or two to consider the implications. But it has plenty for true believers, too. Merve Emre's half-history, half-investigation is far from perfect—a surprise for one of our better cultural and literary critics, whose articles are consistently ideal productions of their type—but it does unravel the haphazard, intelligent, unscientific way in which the Myers-Brigg came into being. An effective, but less than trenchant, deconstruction of what has become the most popular tool of administrative shoulder-surfing. The book, however, also goes some way to validating anyone who wants to take the test or even talk about the test. Learning about the mother and daughter who invented it, who fought for its legitimacy, it's impossible not to admire their devotion or find new appreciation for the hordes (myself included) inclined to wonder (at some point), "What's my type?" Emre fails to prove, or even elucidate clearly at times, her main purpose in writing the book, but the history and players she follows are compelling from beginning to end. Find Personality Brokers at Westminster Public Library today! And if you are in search of new books to read, try our services, What Do I Read Next. Our library staff are standing by to create a personalized recommendation list for you!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    This book covers the history of the Myers-Briggs Personality inventory. There are many fascinating nuggets here, but the book really bogged down in the middle. It's not as simple to brush off as the click bait articles about its amateur beginnings would have you believe, and I'm left feeling as I do about most personality descriptors: don't allow them to limit you, but if you feel like they describe you, find the benefit in that. I wish that the author had had a little bit more religious knowled This book covers the history of the Myers-Briggs Personality inventory. There are many fascinating nuggets here, but the book really bogged down in the middle. It's not as simple to brush off as the click bait articles about its amateur beginnings would have you believe, and I'm left feeling as I do about most personality descriptors: don't allow them to limit you, but if you feel like they describe you, find the benefit in that. I wish that the author had had a little bit more religious knowledge. Both women involved in the creation of the test were religious, but I was left confused about where there religious mind was rooted, so I didn't get the insight I feel like I should have gotten from this.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nell

    ISTJ here. Or so I thought. Or perhaps I was, but no longer am. This is the saga of how the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the brainchild of a mother and daughter, was created and developed over decades and became a “mass cultural phenomenon,” despite the women’s having no psychological background and the indicator no scientific validity whatsoever. Not that the women weren’t intelligent and observant, and had the times (from the 1920s into the early 1960s) allowed them a career option other than ISTJ here. Or so I thought. Or perhaps I was, but no longer am. This is the saga of how the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the brainchild of a mother and daughter, was created and developed over decades and became a “mass cultural phenomenon,” despite the women’s having no psychological background and the indicator no scientific validity whatsoever. Not that the women weren’t intelligent and observant, and had the times (from the 1920s into the early 1960s) allowed them a career option other than housewife, their talents might have contributed to some established field of endeavor. As it was, Katharine Briggs, born in 1875, entered college at age 14, graduated at the top of her class, and married the man who graduated second highest. Their daughter Isabel was born in 1897. A second child died as a toddler and there were no more children, leaving Katharine to focus all her energies on Isabel. Isabel was a bright child who excelled at whatever she tried, from music and science to languages and literature. She was such a paragon of brilliance and good behavior that other mothers begged Katharine to share her child-rearing methods. Katharine believed in discipline and obedience, fostering creativity and ambition, and leading children to an occupation suited to their personality, by which they would make a contribution to society. Katharine’s “baby training” led to her publishing several magazine articles promoting her theories. When Isabel left for Swarthmore College at 18, Katharine was bereft. She found her salvation in Jung’s theory of typology, which had its genesis in religion, philosophy, literature, and myth, rather than science. Katharine took it and ran with it, merging it with her own theory of personality based on her observation and analysis of her family and people in her social circle—all white, middle class, educated, and influenced by the racism and sexism of the times. To Jung’s schema she added the J/P scale (judging vs. perceiving). Though she had no training as a psychologist, Katharine had strong faith in herself as an amateur. The ethical principles and licensing laws of later decades, which would have prohibited her from practicing psychology without credentials, had yet to be developed. Isabel married a man whom Katharine did not like, and they continued at loggerheads for the rest of Katharine’s life. Isabel’s two children, family life, and domestic concerns were not enough to satisfy the multi-talented, ambitious high achiever who had graduated at the top of her class at Swarthmore. She wrote a couple of mystery novels (mediocre, but successful) during the Great Depression. In the mid-1930s, Isabel picked up where Katharine, gradually showing signs of dementia, had left off. Once satisfied with the definition of types, Isabel developed simple, binary questions intended to reveal a test taker’s “preferences.” She kept refining these by administering the test to her own children and their friends and classmates. Heretofore the focus of studying personality had been on identifying those with abnormal personalities. Katharine and Isabel were part of a trend to study normal people, giving them self-knowledge so that they would find their optimum place in the work force, enjoy their work, and feel that they were making a contribution. Under Isabel the Briggs-Myers Type Indictor (as it was then known) became more popular as she marketed it to businesses in the post-war era with a growing white-collar culture. She was not interested in and did not concern herself with less educated or intelligent workers—the ones her mother had described as “primitive.” Despite her continuing to refine the instrument by administering it and analyzing the results, there were no studies or evidence to support Isabel’s conclusions, some of which were based on her “instinct.” On the few occasions when she was hired to evaluate women workers to correlate their performance with type, she got results opposite of what she expected. For example, the test revealed the best nurses to be introverts. Isabel also had to explain away instances where type was not stable over time, a key component of her theory. Also, Isabel relied on the truthfulness of test takers, even when the test could easily (perhaps even unconsciously) be gamed, when test takers knew that employers, or college or graduate school admissions personnel, would make decisions based on the results. The stakes were high: college applications had skyrocketed since the passage of the GI Bill; this was the time of Sputnik, the Cold War, mutual assured destruction, and McCarthyism. Scores or even hundreds of tests were created about this time to identify future talent; none of them really met that goal. From the beginning of Katharine’s work, she and Isabel had kept their operation in-house. Katharine used 3x5 index cards, and Isabel hand-scored all the tests she administered. Not until Isabel began to work with the Educational Testing Service in the mid-1950s did the renamed Myers-Briggs Type Indicator run up against a rigorous attempt at scientific validation. In the process, the MBTI was given to school children, college students, prison inmates, and many other groups. Results could not be verified statistically. Many people tested toward the middle and not the strong ends of the scales. People who repeated the MBTI often tested differently the second time, when Katharine and Isabel believed type to be innate and unchangeable. The test did not accurately measure what it was intended to measure. ETS eventually severed its agreement with Isabel. Eventually the MBTI found a home with a company in California. It was sold basically as a consumer product, a self-scoring version, and it became a moneymaker for them. The MBTI, now “fully detached from its origins as Katharine and Isabel’s brainchild, [has taken] on an avid, cultish following.” Despite its flaws, it continues to be used by employers and job counselors, governments (including the military), educational institutions, and religious and secular nonprofit organizations. I myself first took it in a workshop under the auspices of a church, probably in the 1980s. At the time I felt as if it explained a lot, and I still feel like it makes a lot of sense in making clear how people’s approaches to life differ, even if it can’t pinpoint the best job applicant or college roommate. Because the test is not based on anything truly measurable and is completely subjective, it can be interpreted almost any way. Regardless of its looseness and lack of scientific rigor, the MBTI does help some people make sense of their lives and relationships and inspire them to make changes to further their happiness. If you want to learn what we now know about how biology shapes personality, I suggest Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are by Daniel Nettle.

  28. 5 out of 5

    KM Boyett

    Interesting overall, but like so many historical non-fiction works, I found that the author tended to wander off in the weeds trying to make sure all the research, however irrelevant to the original topic, was included in the book. However, I enjoyed the book and learned a great deal about a subject I had very little previous knowledge in.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

    I agree with other reviewers that there are unnecessary tangents in this book, namely: the typing of Hitler, and the detailing of typing groups of soldiers, graduate students, and professionals. Those drawn-out examples did not help me better understand the MBTI or its history. Otherwise, this book was an interesting read that touched on personal history as well as other types of personality tests that compare to the MBTI. I went into this reading highly skeptical of not only the MBTI but person I agree with other reviewers that there are unnecessary tangents in this book, namely: the typing of Hitler, and the detailing of typing groups of soldiers, graduate students, and professionals. Those drawn-out examples did not help me better understand the MBTI or its history. Otherwise, this book was an interesting read that touched on personal history as well as other types of personality tests that compare to the MBTI. I went into this reading highly skeptical of not only the MBTI but personality testing as a whole, and my skepticism did not abate in the slightest (I think it's a load of bullsh*t meant to make people feel better about themselves with no basis in reality). But I'm still glad I read it in spite of my personal feelings for personality testing. The narrator for the audiobook version did a good job. I heard of the MBTI for the first time approx 5-8 years ago and took an unofficial version online. I was immediately skeptical upon seeing my percentage-based results, as it showed that I was almost exactly on the line for two of the types (NvS, FvT) and had only a moderate leaning towards another (JvP), thus not giving me any solid result at all (which conflicts with information in this book about the official test basically stating that you can only be one or the other and your result is always the same). Although I like to think that means I'm balanced:) I have not had the patience to retake the test since, official or unofficial.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Myla

    If I hadn’t grown up with a dad who was very interested in all things personality tests/traits I don’t know if I would have found this as interesting as I did, but since I did have that father (we each had our indicator ENFP, ISTJ etc and each future spouse was administered the test during the dating period as soon as it was apparent they were going to be sticking around) so I did find this interesting enough. Nothing earth shattering, but definitely a little eye opening to realize that this may If I hadn’t grown up with a dad who was very interested in all things personality tests/traits I don’t know if I would have found this as interesting as I did, but since I did have that father (we each had our indicator ENFP, ISTJ etc and each future spouse was administered the test during the dating period as soon as it was apparent they were going to be sticking around) so I did find this interesting enough. Nothing earth shattering, but definitely a little eye opening to realize that this maybe isn’t gospel. Exact science or not I haven’t met a person who doesn’t like reading about themselves in a book...”that is SO me!” :)

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