John Clay

Character Forming

What’s Your Type? The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing

By

William Collins 336pp £20 order from our bookshop

What’s Your Type? takes us back to 20th-century attempts at personality definition. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was used extensively for this purpose, mainly by corporations seeking to recruit staff of the most suitable calibre. Its progenitor was Katharine Cook, born in 1875 in Michigan. She was unprepossessing as a child, with thick glasses and tangled hair. When she went to Michigan Agricultural College, she met Lyman Briggs, a farm boy with a similar background to her own. Both were bright, self-reflective and forward-looking. After they married, Katharine, who was determined to bring up their children effectively, devised a programme to this end, calling it her ‘cosmic laboratory of baby training’. Unfortunately, two sons died in infancy, so the focus shifted entirely on to her daughter, Isabel. Born in 1897, Isabel was bright and eager like her mother, and spoke in full sentences by the age of two. She married in 1918, becoming Isabel Briggs Myers. She and her mother were strongly attached to one another and became lifelong collaborators.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'I was dumbfounded by the view of the Berlin Wall from the eastern side. It seemed inconceivable that in under thre… ,
    • RT : Danger for ‘local’ staff, access in exchange for silence (and logos) - all sounds familiar in this fascinating look… ,
    • 'He has long been eclipsed by Vermeer, though his interiors are arguably more ambitious.' David Gelber on the Dutc… ,
    • 'The wicked are truly revolting and the rage is wholly understandable' on new thrillers by John Le… ,
    • In @aaciman's sequel to 'Call Me By Your Name', 'Erotic urgency has merged with middle age’s frugality of heart', s… ,
    • 'The repression of free speech in Uganda is common. Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 Press Freedom Index ranks Ugand… ,
    • RT : The Topeka School is out today! I reviewed it for and I'm psyched to see him talking at the Tate tonigh… ,