The Personality Brokers – By Merve Emre

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Goodreads Synopsis: 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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As someone whose been interested in the Myers-Briggs personality test for quite awhile I thought it would be good to read this book and learn a little bit more about it’s creators. And I’m really glad I had a chance to read this book, despite it’s faults.

I learned a good deal about the creation of this personality test through reading Emre’s book. Katherine and Isabel were interesting and driven women in a time that women weren’t always allowed to be so. They had an idea of typing the people of the world and experimented their ideas on the people around them, in some unethical ways I might add. Oh also they were both racist. I wouldn’t say that I was surprised to learn these things about Briggs and Myers, but it was interesting to learn the un-scientific ways this personality test began.

Emre’s writing left something to be desired. She had entire chapters that seemed to be off topic and were also boring. The book was a too long in my opinion, it could easily have been shortened by 50 to 80 pages, but that’s just me. While Emre does shine the light on these two women in ways that needed to be done, I also found her needlessly critical of personal aspects of the women’s lives. To me it seemed that she would make assumptions about their characters without having actual proof to back it up, but phrasing it in a way that sounded like fact.   Emre definitely comes off as disdainful of people in general. All of which bugged me quite a bit.

Still, this book is important for anyone interested in the Myers-Briggs personality test. The point of it all boils down to, let’s take this ”test” with a grain of salt.

In the end I gave The Personality Brokers 3 stars on Goodreads.

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