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

Merve Emre. Doubleday, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-54190-9
Emre (Paraliterary), an associate English professor at Oxford University, tells the fascinating story of the origins of the world’s most widely used personality test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI.) The MBTI, which was introduced in 1943, classifies personality in terms of four polarities: introversion-extraversion, intuition-sensing, feeling-thinking, and judging-perceiving. Emre profiles each of its developers, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, noting neither possessed any formal psychological training. She also observes that for Briggs, personality “typing” was a kind of “personal religion” inspired by her near-reverential regard for Carl Jung’s theories, while for Myers, who developed the MBTI’s first 117-question multiple choice test, it was more of a vocation and, later, a business. In a major omission, Emre never discusses, or even delineates, the 16 personality types derived from the MBTI. However, she is excellent at recounting how the MBTI began to sweep American institutions in the 1950s–Brown University administered it to all 950 members of the class of 1958—and attained widespread popularity after its creators’ deaths. Emre’s fine study balances some sharp criticisms, such as from social theorist Theodor Adorno, with her own candid testimonial to the MBTI’s effectiveness; in the process she restores Briggs and Myers to their rightful place in the annals of popular psychology. (Sept.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misspelled the name of the author's previous book, and also incorrectly referred to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory.

Reviewed on: 07/09/2018
Release date: 09/11/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-345-81221-6
Hardcover - 336 pages - 978-0-345-81220-9
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-1-101-97414-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio

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