I was enthralled by this engagingly written, and-I gather-controversial history of the widely used Myers-Briggs personality test, devised by mother and daughter team Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. Emre, a US English professor, draws on original reporting and previously unpublished documents to try and account for the test's global success and ubiquity. Ultimately, it's a book about our often fumbling attempts to grasp, characterise and quantify our slippery human personalities....
Emre’s antagonism to this leads to a tension in this very engaging book, written with an eye to social comedy, between demonization and admiration. On the one hand Emre might like to shoot down and ridicule her subjects, getting chummy with the reader at their expense and digging the dirt on them, but on the other, there’s not much dirt to dig, and they are unsophisticated but not – quite – ridiculous. Katharine, in particular, was what might be more simply termed a control freak, but both were talented women and their test remains a considerable achievement, even though it is not hard science and it can be naively applied
Emre is rightly sceptical of the present-day value of this typology. It is clearly unscientific and has been superseded by other models. She has written an accessible, always interesting book, strong on narrative, and her engagement with hitherto unused material, such as Katharine Briggs’s diaries and letters, which are held in the archives of Michigan State University, pays off.
What’s Your Type is an impressive work of scholarship, not just a biography of two fascinating women but also a tightly argued and sweeping history of how the conception of personality changed throughout the upheavals of the 20th century. Emre wears her research lightly and knows how to hook her readers.
What’s Your Type? is a tremendous piece of storytelling and an acute analysis of the craving of the contemporary, secular imagination for certainties. The truth is that there are no types; human personalities are irreducible one-offs. This is a glorious but melancholy fate, so who can blame us for occasionally seeking comfort in the placebos of pseudo-science?
Emre’s thought-provoking book is full of interest and she brings admirable vigour and intelligence to her investigation of Myers-Briggs — but for whom is it written? True believers will be hurt and alienated by Emre’s scepticism. Readers who instinctively think personality tests are hokum will find their prejudices satisfyingly confirmed.