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

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  185 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
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
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Doubleday
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Yaaresse The author doesn't actively attempt to diminish confidence in the MBTI.
She does have a bias, as do all writers, but I think the facts she lays out…more
The author doesn't actively attempt to diminish confidence in the MBTI.
She does have a bias, as do all writers, but I think the facts she lays out about how the type indicator was created, massaged into form, and marketed support the scientific community's criticisms of the MBTI. As for the use of such tool by businesses in general, safe to say she is very critical of that in the last part of the book. (less)
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…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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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.
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
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.
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
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!
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
Christopher Cronin
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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.
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
The first third of the book was interesting. The rest of the book could have been 25 pages total.
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating account of the history behind the Myers-Briggs personality test, and the women who developed it.
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really interesting book about the women behind the personality test. I had always assumed they were men.
Don Heiman
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Merve Emre’s 2018 book “The Personality Brokers” is a biography about Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabell Briggs Myers who co-developed the popular and very controversial Myers-Briggs Personality Type Index. In the book Merve explains the various ways the Index helps us understand how we inherit and self-create personalities that evolve throughout the timeline of our lives. I found the book fascinating and well worth reading. (L/P)
Dahnoor Noviansyah
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
Oct 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Fascinating! This was not just about Myers-Briggs, but also about the way the study of psychology has infiltrated and affected the culture at large. I wish I had read this with a book club--so much to think about and discuss!
Amber Daugherty
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What's your type? Bet whatever type you are - ENFJ, ISTJ - you didn't realize that the Myers-Briggs test got its start in the early 1900s when Katherine Briggs began 'training' her daughter Isabel and other children in her neighbourhood to be obedient. She documented everything, recording how Isabel walked, talked, responded to games and experiments, certain that she could help impact how Isabel's life would evolve. As Isabel grew older, she became fascinated with the experiments her mom did and ...more
Matt Schindel
Sep 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Strange story about the even stranger concept of personality testing. The writing made an already wild story even more interesting. WILD!
Niklas Pivic
To investigate the history of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the most popular personality inventory in the world, is to court a kind of low-level paranoia. Files disappear. Tapes are erased. People begin to watch you.

The first start of this book made me think of scientology, how closely guarded and paranoid they are, and it turned out to be right all along this story. However, this book is not about the mechanics that surround what makes the Myers-Briggs Indicator Type test, but its core, its
Sep 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Felt a weird, tense, stomachache of emotions reading this book because trying to sympathize or relate with the mother-daughter duo that was detailed, so precisely, was uncomfortable. They aren't relatable and I don't think it's the time period, necessarily, or even the historical context. The desires to go beyond a limited station in life, to contemplate one's path, are reasonable. Bringing oneself up to the level of a doctor, a licensed psychologist, or other roles to justify making up a fun qu ...more
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
After I completed the Myers-Briggs personality test in Guidance class, I thought the test was an interesting way of identifying people’s personalities and wanted to know more about it. When I came across The Personality Brokers from a Goodreads recommendation, I knew I wanted to read about how this test came to be the way it is today. When I finally got it from the library (I was the first person to get the book after its arrival!), I was really disappointed to see that 3 people were in line aft ...more
Dawn (The Reading Column)
Free copy provided by the publisher. | What type are you? Extrovert or introvert, thinking or feeling, sensing or intuiting, judging or perceiving? Almost everyone has completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator because we like to know we fit into some type of descriptive box. Employers like it for its people sorting purpose.

THE PERSONALITY BROKERS explores the popularity of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a widely used device to assess one’s personality, free from judgment, and generates only p
Deb M.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it liked it
If you have ever taken the Myers-Briggs and wondered how it came about. If you've ever had an employer who used it in order to assign you to a pigeon-hole and wondered why. This is your book!
My introduction to the Myers-Briggs was myself and a few friends taking it and being surprised how well it seemed to ferret out our personalities. My next experience was with an employer who tried to use it so they could pigeon-hole me. FYI, it did not work because I quit!
After reading this book I can say q
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
I requested this book from NetGalley not only because of my interest in the Myers-Briggs but also the title. "The Personality Brokers" conjured up for me the image of two women making their livelihood from the personalities of others. Sort of vampiric. And Emre sort of sets Katherine up that way, feeding off the life of her daughter, becoming incredibly entangled.
This was an interesting look at the women behind the still-popular personality tests. Emre sometimes feels like she veers into histor
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
A summary: two bright women go a little bit nuts when confronted with the realities of staying at home raising children.

I was first introduced to Myers-Briggs typing as a pre-teen, and from the start, I was confused by the weight that was the indicator was given, seeing as how easily it could be gamed. Though I, too, have experienced a sense of relief in knowing how type explained me (understanding what it means to be an introvert helps me to better acknowledge how I interact with the world), I
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre is a free NetGalley ebook that I read into early September.

I had come in, already curious about what I recognized from an episode of Drunk History: its origins in the mother/daughter duo of Katharine Cook (pious, marries young to Lyman Briggs who is a scientist) and Isabel Briggs-Myers (Katharine's only child, diligently and punitively disciplined by her mom, codes her journal with initials to indicate what kind of boy she's dating until she meets 'Chief' My
I tend to think of things like the MBTI as a sort of astrology dressed up in modern clothes ... and the history of MBTI's development seems to confirm that this isn't too far off the mark. But, Emre writes the story with some real sympathy for the mother-daughter duo at the origin of the ubiquitous MBTI, even if she remains ultimately skeptical of the promises of "type." Would have liked even more analysis and more investigation of just why the MBTI (and other tests like it) have such broad appe ...more
Sep 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I appreciate the work and effort that went into this book (hence 4 stars), but I found it almost too in depth at times that I was "bored" and just wanted the book to be over. I love the world of psychology and it's tests, results, etc. However, I was left at times wondering if I really cared about this tiny corner of psychology. At the end of the day, not really, and I probably wouldn't recommend this book unless you have a serious interest in the history of this test.
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. I’ve taken the MBTI at least once and remember being frustrated on the all or nothing feel. Sometimes I can answer one way. Sometimes the other. And that’s one of the biggest critiques- that user results can change when they take it multiple times. And that the instrument isn’t statistically significant. And that it allowed companies and universities to use the results to form prejudices against others. Very interesting read.
Kendra Reed
Sep 27, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book was a struggle to get through. I struggle to find anything good to say about this book. When not being bored to death with day to day details of the MBTI creators, you're being feed irrelevant information or name dropped. It's chaos. The book doesn't cover any of the controversial issues either, just side skirts them.
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MERVE EMRE is an assistant professor of English at McGill University. 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 Republic, The Baffler, n+1, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, where she is senior humanities editor.