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

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  2,207 ratings  ·  393 reviews
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
...more
Hardcover, 307 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Doubleday
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Yaaresse Yes. Not a lot of time is spent on discussing the fiction, but the author does point out in several places that both Myers and Briggs had deep prejudi…moreYes. Not a lot of time is spent on discussing the fiction, but the author does point out in several places that both Myers and Briggs had deep prejudices. Most of that commentary is centered on their work on the MBTI (and Katharine's political and social views) than on Isabel's fiction, though. (less)

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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 ...more
Gumble's Yard
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
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
...more
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: psychology
Well that 5 star prediction was way off the mark...
Peter (Pete) 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 ...more
Robin Bonne
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Mitch Hedwig
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Audrey
Jan 22, 2019 rated it liked it
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
...more
Mehrsa
Dec 20, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Amanda O.
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Glen
Nov 12, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
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
...more
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 ...more
Anna
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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.
Leo Walsh
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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 ...more
Olga
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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!
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 ...more
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 ...more
Pixie
Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
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- ...more
Fox
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Ian Tymms
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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Ange
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Aberdeen
Apr 06, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Charlotte
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Marks54
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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 ...more
Jen
Apr 06, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Nell
Aug 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommended to Nell by: RL
Shelves: self-and-others

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
...more
KM Boyett
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2018-nf
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.
Chelsea
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
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 ...more
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Merve Emre is an associate professor of English at the University of Oxford. She is the author of Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Bookforum, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Baffler, n+1, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, where she is senior humanities editor ...more

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