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An unprecedented history of a personality test devised in the 1940s by a mother and daughter, both homemakers, that has achieved cult-like status and is used in today's most distinguished boardrooms, classrooms, and beyond. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It has been harnessed by Fortune 100 companies, universities, hospita An unprecedented history of a personality test devised in the 1940s by a mother and daughter, both homemakers, that has achieved cult-like status and is used in today's most distinguished boardrooms, classrooms, and beyond. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It has been harnessed by Fortune 100 companies, universities, hospitals, churches, and the military. Its language - of extraversion vs. introversion, thinking vs. feeling - has inspired online dating platforms and BuzzFeed quizzes alike. And yet despite the test's widespread adoption, experts in the field of psychometric testing, a $500 million industry, struggle to account for its success - no less to validate its results. How did the Myers-Briggs test insinuate itself into our jobs, 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 aspiring novelists and devoted homemakers, the Myers-Briggs was designed to bring the gospel of Carl Jung to the masses. But it would take on a life of its own, reaching from the smoke-filled boardrooms of mid-century New York to Berkeley, California, where it was honed against some of the twentieth century's greatest creative minds. It would travel across the world to London, Zurich, Cape Town, Melbourne, and Tokyo; to elementary schools, nunneries, wellness retreats, and the closed-door corporate training sessions of today. Drawing from original reporting and never-before-published documents, The Personality Brokers 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 a personality test devised in the 1940s by a mother and daughter, both homemakers, that has achieved cult-like status and is used in today's most distinguished boardrooms, classrooms, and beyond. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It has been harnessed by Fortune 100 companies, universities, hospita An unprecedented history of a personality test devised in the 1940s by a mother and daughter, both homemakers, that has achieved cult-like status and is used in today's most distinguished boardrooms, classrooms, and beyond. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is the most popular personality test in the world. It has been harnessed by Fortune 100 companies, universities, hospitals, churches, and the military. Its language - of extraversion vs. introversion, thinking vs. feeling - has inspired online dating platforms and BuzzFeed quizzes alike. And yet despite the test's widespread adoption, experts in the field of psychometric testing, a $500 million industry, struggle to account for its success - no less to validate its results. How did the Myers-Briggs test insinuate itself into our jobs, 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 aspiring novelists and devoted homemakers, the Myers-Briggs was designed to bring the gospel of Carl Jung to the masses. But it would take on a life of its own, reaching from the smoke-filled boardrooms of mid-century New York to Berkeley, California, where it was honed against some of the twentieth century's greatest creative minds. It would travel across the world to London, Zurich, Cape Town, Melbourne, and Tokyo; to elementary schools, nunneries, wellness retreats, and the closed-door corporate training sessions of today. Drawing from original reporting and never-before-published documents, The Personality Brokers 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. 5 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 writing a 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.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    The Myer-Briggs test the pop-psych fad that won't die. This is a biography of the mother and daughter team and their unlikely test that you might find on a buzzfeed quiz these days. It has marched through business culture, the CIA, pop-culture, west coast Jungian gurus, to the interwebs. This story takes many unlikely threads from the twentieth century almost as if to employ the Jungian idea of synchronicity. It is a weird test that is totally unscientific but wildly popular. Myers-Briggs if not The Myer-Briggs test the pop-psych fad that won't die. This is a biography of the mother and daughter team and their unlikely test that you might find on a buzzfeed quiz these days. It has marched through business culture, the CIA, pop-culture, west coast Jungian gurus, to the interwebs. This story takes many unlikely threads from the twentieth century almost as if to employ the Jungian idea of synchronicity. It is a weird test that is totally unscientific but wildly popular. Myers-Briggs if not the most scientific in the study of psychology are one hell of a meme constructing team. in reading this story so rooted in a weird cold war optimism about self-discovery and the workplace I can't help but be reminded of a B-52s song called "song for a future generation" with the same feel as MBTI as it is expressed in the pop culture. and yes I am a total INFP. Link is right here to the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvCng...

  3. 4 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.

  4. 4 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.

  5. 5 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 4 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!

  8. 4 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).

  9. 4 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.

  10. 5 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?

  11. 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!

  12. 5 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 5 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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 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.

  17. 5 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.

  18. 5 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.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anna (lion_reads)

    Who hasn't taken a personality quiz? Chances are, you probably have even taken the Myers-Briggs test. I certainly have and have had the experience most have: "Oh, yes, this is totally me." Except that the way the ladies behind the names Myers and Briggs meant it, I should say, "Oh yes, this is totally me forever and this will tell me my lot in life and everyone should take the test because everyone needs to be in their own box or else...DISASTER." I had no idea that the history of the Myers-Briggs Who hasn't taken a personality quiz? Chances are, you probably have even taken the Myers-Briggs test. I certainly have and have had the experience most have: "Oh, yes, this is totally me." Except that the way the ladies behind the names Myers and Briggs meant it, I should say, "Oh yes, this is totally me forever and this will tell me my lot in life and everyone should take the test because everyone needs to be in their own box or else...DISASTER." I had no idea that the history of the Myers-Briggs was so odd and a little bit unsettling. When I have taken the test, it was always with the thought of fun. Or, at an attempt to understand people. But frankly, I am a bit disturbed about the whole thing after listening to this book. The fanaticism for classification of people and the belief that everyone is born into their personality (and the belief that the test is always right) and the fact that there is no science behind this AT ALL, was a bit shocking. To find out that since its creation governments and big companies bought into it to approve or dismiss potential candidates as right and wrong for the job is just repugnant. I don't even want to think about how many people were put in a disadvantage because of this stupid test. The very basis for it rejects the idea that a person can adapt and change based on their situation, or that being in a certain type means that you embody all the characteristics of that type and that your merit derives from your type, not from your learned skills and opportunities. Ridiculous. Equally ridiculous are the racism of Myers and Briggs, and the gender stereotyping. I agree that maybe Myers and Briggs were observant about some traits people carry, but to convert that into people-cataloguing tool and a people-perfecting tool was a step too far. Especially since it's very clear that Myers and Briggs attached moral values to people's personality types almost like drawing the path to "destined to be evil or destined to be a saint." How can you possibly weigh the worth of people like that? It takes the choice out of doing good or bad. Also sinister is Briggs's stalker-like obsession with Jung. To her, he was like a god and it seems odd that the only thing that eclipsed her reverence for type is her reverence for him. Anyway, a good book with lots of surprising facts about the crazy world of personality testing.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kiki

    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.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    3.5/5

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Davies

    one of my favourite reads o the year

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dahnoor Noviansyah

    Last year I took this test and the result was INTP. After I read this book then I took the test again and surprisingly the result was INFP. Deep down I know that I’m a logical person but you know, people change.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nick Richtsmeier

    This is a strange thing to say about a biography of the two women who created MBTI, but I desperately needed this book. I have been wrestling--after years of using psychographics like MBTI--in my work with the consequences for both individuals and groups for being broken into types. I have watched as we use these tools as short-hands for a person, putting them into boxes and weaponizing our toolkits to put people in their place when they try to be something which makes us uncomfortable. I have s This is a strange thing to say about a biography of the two women who created MBTI, but I desperately needed this book. I have been wrestling--after years of using psychographics like MBTI--in my work with the consequences for both individuals and groups for being broken into types. I have watched as we use these tools as short-hands for a person, putting them into boxes and weaponizing our toolkits to put people in their place when they try to be something which makes us uncomfortable. I have sat through meetings where leaders use typologies as a way to bully their managers into firing employees, putting types up on the screen and asking, "Would we EVER hire someone who had this type again? NO. We wouldn't. So why are we keeping them?" All of this, for many years, seemed to me as just an abuse of a perfectly good toolkit. And, to a certain degree, I still hold this to be true. BUT, something in me began to wonder if the toolkits themselves had a mercenary edge to them which predisposed them for such purposes. Then I found "The Personality Brokers." Emre is a fair historian here (although with a vague bias), clearly showing the popular appeal of MBTI and its ability to make people feel vaguely good about themselves and their unique personality, even if that good feeling has no grounding in actual science. She is not ruthless in her exposure of the founders racism, or of the gender biases inherent in the types' applications. But she does pull back the cover on decades of back story showing that MBTI has more validity as a tool for self-delusion than it does for self-discovery. The founders wrote it as way of hero worshipping (and wildly skewing) Jung's work on personality, but more importantly as a way of escaping the misogyny of their day. The book doesn't need to go into great detail on the scientific invalidation of type (other books do that better) but rather the story of why that invalidation has never seemed to matter. Apparently we as modern humans so badly want to put ourselves and each other into categories, it doesn't even matter if the categories are completely made up. I will go so far as to say that this book is important. In an era where we are all one Facebook quiz away from discovering our true selves, perhaps it is finally time to realize that there is no reason to believe our true selves are to be found anywhere near a multiple choice examination.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I first encountered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a young newspaper manager in 1999. It was introduced as an important tool for supervisors, one that could help us better understand ourselves -- and the people who worked with and for us. I remember a jolt of self-recognition when I was presented with my type (ENFJ at the time) and encouraged to think of my colleagues in the vocabulary of Myers-Briggs (introverts and extraverts, judging vs. perceiving, etc.). The next time I was evaluated by I first encountered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a young newspaper manager in 1999. It was introduced as an important tool for supervisors, one that could help us better understand ourselves -- and the people who worked with and for us. I remember a jolt of self-recognition when I was presented with my type (ENFJ at the time) and encouraged to think of my colleagues in the vocabulary of Myers-Briggs (introverts and extraverts, judging vs. perceiving, etc.). The next time I was evaluated by the MBTI, after a career change and becoming a parent, I was labeled ENTJ. The change didn't make me question the test; rather I saw it as evidence that I had matured and been influenced by years working with engineers and scientists in a university setting. More recently, I've heard Myers-Briggs described as "astrology for atheists" and heard that the test holds zero basis in science. I was ready for Merve Emre's book to blow up the entire MBTI and expose it as a fraud. "The Personality Brokers" doesn't quite do that. What it does do is introduce the women behind Myers-Briggs and make clear their qualifications in organizational psychology (hint: they had basically none). The test's growth as a favorite tool of corporate America emerges as a series of accidents, coincidences and (surprise, surprise) sexist and racist impulses. The book may not cure you of a curiosity about your type, but it does pretty much relegate the MBTI to the status of a quiz from Seventeen magazine.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Varga

    I picked up this book after hearing a fascinating NPR interview with the author. Her voice comes through most in her introduction and conclusion, where she describes going through MBTI training. One of my fav moments is when she's asked to draw her personality as a room and considers drawing the Red Room of Pain from 50 Shades of Grey. Her voice is less vivid during the the actual book. Emre steps aside to focus on the creators of the test and the facts of their lives. Katherine Briggs and Isabel I picked up this book after hearing a fascinating NPR interview with the author. Her voice comes through most in her introduction and conclusion, where she describes going through MBTI training. One of my fav moments is when she's asked to draw her personality as a room and considers drawing the Red Room of Pain from 50 Shades of Grey. Her voice is less vivid during the the actual book. Emre steps aside to focus on the creators of the test and the facts of their lives. Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers are both quite unpleasant, and I didn't enjoy spending time with their racism, classism, and Jung obsessions. I wanted to spend more time with Emre calling them out on their shit. I think Emre succeeded in being academic and monitoring her biases, but I would have preferred-dare I say it?-a little more personality. That being said, I've always felt frustrated by the Myers-Brigg test (Humans are complex! We don't all fit into binaries!) so this book was a validating read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    I was hoping for a more intriguing story. The story I got certainly seemed well researched, but I lost interest about halfway through. I vividly remember taking the Myers Briggs in college when I was unsure what I wanted to major in. I was an ISFJ and I also clearly remember that the "test" told me that meter reading might be a good job for me. I still wonder if I should have pursued meter reading (JK, not really). I learned a lot about the development of the tool, but by the end I just wasn't t I was hoping for a more intriguing story. The story I got certainly seemed well researched, but I lost interest about halfway through. I vividly remember taking the Myers Briggs in college when I was unsure what I wanted to major in. I was an ISFJ and I also clearly remember that the "test" told me that meter reading might be a good job for me. I still wonder if I should have pursued meter reading (JK, not really). I learned a lot about the development of the tool, but by the end I just wasn't that interested.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Geurts

    This is an exceptionally well researched book, which is required to take on the enormous personality typing business. Despite its pretext as an expose of Myers-Briggs, I found it to be very even handed in its treatment of the colorful history of the development of the indicator. Due to its attention to detail, and in part to dense syntax, I found some chapters dragged despite my high level of inherent interest in the subject matter. Nevertheless, there are such gems of humor and wisdom embedded This is an exceptionally well researched book, which is required to take on the enormous personality typing business. Despite its pretext as an expose of Myers-Briggs, I found it to be very even handed in its treatment of the colorful history of the development of the indicator. Due to its attention to detail, and in part to dense syntax, I found some chapters dragged despite my high level of inherent interest in the subject matter. Nevertheless, there are such gems of humor and wisdom embedded in this book! I would recommend it for anyone who is an MBTI enthusiast and as required reading for anyone who is MBTI Certified like me.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Cronin

    The Personality Brokers is an engaging read that takes the reader on a journey of a mother and daughter’s passionate and challenging pursuit to bring the concept of “Type” into society at large. The various settings of experimentation—from dream analysis to house parties, and Type’s clash with psychological and organizational thought leaders, makes every chapter uniquely captivating. This book isn’t just history—anyone who reads it can’t help but think of their own personal discovery of Type and The Personality Brokers is an engaging read that takes the reader on a journey of a mother and daughter’s passionate and challenging pursuit to bring the concept of “Type” into society at large. The various settings of experimentation—from dream analysis to house parties, and Type’s clash with psychological and organizational thought leaders, makes every chapter uniquely captivating. This book isn’t just history—anyone who reads it can’t help but think of their own personal discovery of Type and how it has shaped and continues to impact their lives.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tina Panik

    This well researched, wild ride of a story follows the mother-daughter team (with no psychological training) who design and influence contemporary culture with their personality theories which succeed through a serendipitous combination of timing and tenacity. Combine their hysterical passion with some Jung, the Nazi resistance, and Truman Capote, and you’ve got a completely astonishing tale.

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