A discerning history of the quest for self-knowledge.



An illuminating dual biography of two women who invented a hugely popular personality test.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is still widely used by businesses, schools, churches, and the military. Although it has no scientific credibility, it incited a vogue for self-assessment questionnaires proliferating in popular magazines, online dating sites, and self-help books, offering a means of “self-discovery as a civilizing form of self-mastery.” Los Angeles Review of Books senior humanities editor Emre (English/Oxford Univ.; Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America, 2017, etc.) has dug deeply into published and archival sources to produce a deft, gracefully written account of Katharine Briggs (1875-1968) and her daughter, Isabel Myers (1897-1980), ardent devotees of Carl Jung who created, tested, and promoted a lengthy questionnaire that, they insisted, revealed an individual’s true, innate, unchanging personality type. Influenced by Jung’s Psychological Types (1921), they devised a rubric that identified personality according to four “easy to understand and easily relatable” categories: extravert or introvert, thinking or feeling, sensing or intuiting, judging or perceiving. Katharine’s early interest in personality shaped her “Obedience-Curiosity” method of raising her daughter: Disobedience was punished by slaps and drills, obedience rewarded by stories, and curiosity encouraged—as long as it did not lead to disobedience. Occasionally, Isabel attended school, although Katharine derided the “rapidly democratizing public-school system.” Katharine’s unconventional method attracted enough attention that she was asked to write magazine articles expounding on child-rearing advice. By 1923, with her daughter grown and married, Katharine sank into depression, alleviated by her discovery of Jung, for whom she developed an intense, even erotic, passion. As she delved into his work, she came to believe “that knowing one’s type could save the soul of an individual while prompting him to assume the specialized offices that would help him advance civilization.” Emre traces the intersection of the Briggs-Myers inventory with widespread interest in personality that involved prominent psychologists, sociologists, businessmen, college admissions officers, and researchers eager to find tools for measuring character and capability.

A discerning history of the quest for self-knowledge.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54190-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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