mini-review · stuff I read

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

39721925Summary from Goodreads:
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, hospitals, churches, and the military. Its language – of extraversion vs. introversion, thinking vs. feeling – has inspired online dating platforms and BuzzFeed quizzes alike. And yet despite the test’s widespread adoption, experts in the field of psychometric testing, a $500 million industry, struggle to account for its success – no less to validate its results. How did the Myers-Briggs test insinuate itself into our jobs, 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 aspiring novelists and devoted homemakers, the Myers-Briggs was designed to bring the gospel of Carl Jung to the masses. But it would take on a life of its own, reaching from the smoke-filled boardrooms of mid-century New York to Berkeley, California, where it was honed against some of the twentieth century’s greatest creative minds. It would travel across the world to London, Zurich, Cape Town, Melbourne, and Tokyo; to elementary schools, nunneries, wellness retreats, and the closed-door corporate training sessions of today.

Drawing from original reporting and never-before-published documents, The Personality Brokers 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?

Chances are, you’ve probably taken a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test – with all the questions that seem to have no answer (I’m an INTJ, hello). Have you ever been curious about the origins of a test that so many companies have come to rely on for team-building and sales success? In The Personality Brokers Emre has set herself the task of investigating the origins of this million-dollar industry. And it turns out that the current owners of the MBTI really don’t want anyone poking into the rigor of the indicator. In-teresting….

If you were ever a skeptic of personality testing then this book will confirm that belief. I had suspected that the MBTI was less than scientifically rigorous, but WOW is it not even valid over repeat testing. The author really pulled a lot of information together – even when she couldn’t gain access to Isabel Myers Briggs papers – to try and shed some light on this widespread (and lucrative) evaluation. The beginning of the book was a bit hard to get into but it picked up. Once you get through all the Jungian fan-worship it gets better.

The Personality Brokers is out today.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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mini-review · stuff I read

Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America by Alissa Quart

36137920Summary from Goodreads:
Families today are squeezed on every side—from high childcare costs and harsh employment policies to workplaces without paid family leave or even dependable and regular working hours. Many realize that attaining the standard of living their parents managed has become impossible.

Alissa Quart, executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, examines the lives of many middle-class Americans who can now barely afford to raise children. Through gripping firsthand storytelling, Quart shows how America has failed its families. Her subjects—from professors to lawyers to caregivers to nurses—have been wrung out by a system that doesn’t support them and enriches only a tiny elite.

Interlacing her own experience with close-up reporting on families that are just getting by, Quart reveals parenthood itself to be financially overwhelming, except for the wealthiest. She offers real solutions to these problems, including outlining necessary policy shifts, as well as detailing the do-it-yourself tactics some families are already putting into motion, and argues for the cultural reevaluation of parenthood and caregiving.

Written in the spirit of Barbara Ehrenreich and Jennifer Senior, Squeezed is an eye-opening page-turner. Powerfully argued, deeply reported, and ultimately hopeful, it casts a bright, clarifying light on families struggling to thrive in an economy that holds too few options.

We were all told that college was the path to success, right? Go to college, get a nice 9-to-5 job, buy a house in the suburbs, and you’re good. Right? Nah, probably not anymore. Now you’ve probably got $50,000 in student loans, two jobs (because neither job has enough hours to qualify for a healthcare plan), and an apartment.

Squeezed is a sort-of Nickel and Dimed but for struggling and/or downwardly-mobile middle-class, educated, under-employed families. It is very well-researched. Although Quart stays primarily within the confines of two-partner M/F families and single moms (rarely, single dads) there is a lot to think about. It would have been nice, though, if the subjects had been less homogenous. Fair warning: if you already have a lot of anxiety about debt, income, future earnings, job stability etc., Squeezed will probably exacerbate that, it’s not a calming book.

Squeezed is out on June 26.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

90s Bitch: Media, Culture, and the Failed Promise of Gender Equality by Allison Yarrow

34217537Summary from Goodreads:
The close of the 20th century promised a new era of gender equality. However, the iconic women of the 1990s—such as Hillary Clinton, Courtney Love, Roseanne Barr, Marcia Clark, and Anita Hill—earned their places in history not as trailblazers, but as whipping girls of the media. During this decade, American society grew increasingly hostile to women who dared to speak up, challenge power, or defy rigid expectations for female behavior.

Deeply researched yet thoroughly engaging, 90s Bitch untangles the complex history of women in the 1990s, exploring how they were maligned by the media, vilified by popular culture, and objectified in the marketplace. In an age where even a presidential nominee can be derided as a “nasty woman,” it’s clear that the epidemic of casting women as bitches persists. To understand why we must take a long, hard look back at the 1990s—a decade in which female empowerment was twisted into bitchification and exploitation.

Yarrow’s thoughtful, clear-eyed, and timely examination is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand gender politics and how we might end the “bitch epidemic” for the next generation.

I liked 90s Bitch – it’s a good overview of how conservative backlash and media marketing strategies worked against very high profile women in politics (Monica Lewinsky), entertainment (Courtney Love), and crime (Marcia Clark). There are some rough transitions between subjects that I think could have been done better. I also think that some areas could have been fleshed out with more examples – there is a conspicuous absence of Janet Jackson (how can anyone forget her 90s release “Janet”? The “If” video, lordt) and Daria (and there was an easy opportunity when talking about Girl Power and the “self-esteem” remedy, which Daria tackled head-on).

Addendum: this book, while the author tries to cover some culture related to people of color – mostly rap culture/Living Single, and Anita Hill, of course – and LGBTQ+ it is very white and heteronormative, just FYI.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston, edited by Deborah G. Plant

35959199Summary from Goodreads:
A major literary event: a newly published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, with a foreword from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as it tells the true story of one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade—abducted from Africa on the last “Black Cargo” ship to arrive in the United States.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

Barracoon is an outstanding small book that finally, deservedly, is available to the wider world. Zora Neale Hurston was a gifted storyteller in her own right, but as an enthnographer possessed the ability to record a subject’s words and manner to let their story come to the front. This is Kossola’s story, preserved in Hurston’s manuscript and kept in good hands at the library at Howard University. Not only is Kossola’s story of being captured and sold into slavery, watching his whole village be obliterated, heartbreaking but so many of his thoughts and experiences as a free Black man could easily be brought into the headlines of the twenty-first century with only an update of grammar and vocabulary.

It’s not an easy book to read – it takes a bit of a head shift to get used to Hurston’s way of writing out Kossola’s speech. But the net result is so worth the effort.

*Note: I have referred to the man interviewed as Kossola, since that was the name given to him as a child in his village. He was renamed Cudjo when he was sold into slavery in America. He refers to himself using both names.

Barracoon published in May.

Dear FTC: I received a paper galley of this book from the publisher.