The Personality Brokers: Book summary and reviews of The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre

The Personality Brokers

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

by Merve Emre

The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre X
The Personality Brokers by Merve Emre
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2018
    336 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

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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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[Emre] tells the fascinating story of the origins of the world's most widely used personality test…she is excellent at recounting how the MBTI began to sweep American institutions in the 1950s. [A] fine study." - Publishers Weekly

"An illuminating dual biography…Emre has dug deeply into published and archival sources to produce a deft, gracefully written account of Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers…a discerning history of the quest for self-knowledge." - Kirkus

"Scholar and trenchant literary critic Emre uses archival research to tell this story, revealing the fictions woven into a supposedly 'scientific' instrument." - The Millions

"This is a sparkling biography - not just of a pair of remarkable women, but of a popular personality tool. Merve Emre deftly exposes the hidden origins of the MBTI and the seductive appeal and fatal flaws of personality types." - Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take, Originals, and Option B (with Sheryl Sandberg)

"In the tradition of Hidden Figures, this brilliant book proves - yet again - that women were behind some of the most important scientific innovations of wartime and postwar America. I absolutely love it." - Liza Mundy, author of the national bestseller Code Girls

"The Personality Brokers is a fluid mix of history, research, and first hand reporting that speaks to both true believers and skeptics alike. With her engaging and persuasive narrative, Emre elucidates how personality testing became a cultural force, one whose influence persists." - Nathalia Holt, New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls

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Author Information

Merve Emre

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 Republic, The Baffler, n+1, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, where she is senior humanities editor.

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