There are tens of thousands of personality books in print, with hundreds more published every year. Unless you plan to devote the rest of your life to these publications, it's going to be pretty darn impossible to read them all. So where do you start? After giving it a lot of thought, here are the top five books that we think can best help readers to understand personality type according to Myers and Briggs' theory—and ultimately, to better understand themselves.
1. Please Understand Me/Please Understand Me II
Author: David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates
Why it's a must read: The seminal text on personality, Please Understand Me was one of the first books to popularize the personality theory of Briggs and Myers and contains some of the best type descriptions of this personality model. The book managed to sell nearly two million copies in its first 20 years of publication despite being advertised only by word of mouth, which speaks volumes about its quality.
The revised version, Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey (Marilyn Bates died in the intervening years) is so comprehensively updated, it stands alone as a new work. After 20 more years of researching personality differences, Keirsey uses this second book to share deeper insights into each type's behavior, and explores how each type interacts with other types. The book is literally definitive in the sense that it defines the four temperaments (ST Guardians, SF Artisans, NF Idealists, and NT Rationals) so clearly that most other personality books takes this book's concepts for granted.
2. Gifts Differing
Author: Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter Myers
Why it's a must read: If you like your personality theory straight from the horse's mouth, then this book's for you. In Gifts Differing, Isabel Briggs Myers serves up the definitive text on how the Myers-Briggs personality theory actually works and by doing so, offers a fascinating window into the world of personality typology. A thorough but easy read, the book oozes warmth and compassion and reflects the wisdom of a woman who dedicated her entire life to her work. The technical data is there in abundance, but it's the homespun, "Oprah" quality that makes this book a must read for anyone in need of some positive self-awareness or an upbeat view of the world. It will whet your appetite for more.
3. Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type
Author: Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger
Why it's a must read: Now in its sixth reprinting, Do What You Are uses the 16-type personality system to guide readers in figuring out their strengths, weaknesses, and behavior patterns with the aim of learning out first, what careers are the best match and second, how to be as effective as possible on the job once hired. As a career guide, it excels by going deep into personality type, explaining why everyone's experience at work differs so greatly from the idealized picture of skill sets and qualifications. Be prepared to feel slightly uncomfortable when you realize how uncannily accurate these guys are.
4. The Art of Speed Reading People: How to Size People Up and Speak Their Language
Author: Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger
Why it's a must read: Another offering by the prolific Barron-Tieger team, the Art of Speed Reading People takes a close look at personality from an outside perspective. How can you determine the personality types of the people with whom you interact? How do you overcome your own biases when communicating with people quite different to you? The final chapter is titled "How Will I Ever Look at People the Same Way Again?" Our guess is, you won't. You will begin to notice certain cues in people, and use these cues to improve your interactions with those around you. Recommended for everyone who's interested in the practical applications of personality typing, beyond the psychological theory.
5. Personality Type
Author: Lenore Thomson
Why it's a must read: While Keirsey talks in terms of behavior and Isabel Briggs Myers analyzes some of the mindset behind the behavior, Thomson focuses on the cognitive stack associated with the 16 personality types and takes our understanding of the four-letter personality code to a whole new level.
For readers new to cognitive functions, the basic idea is that we each have specific modes of processing information and making decisions based on our four-letter type. These modes are known as cognitive functions. Each type possesses four (out of a possible eight) cognitive functions in a specific order, known as a stack. The functions are: Extroverted Intuition (Ne)/ Introverted Intuition (Ni); Extroverted Sensing (Se)/ Introverted Sensing (Si); Extroverted Feeling (Fe) / Introverted Feeling (Fi); and Extroverted Thinking (Te) / Introverted Thinking (Ti). The INTJ stack, for example, is Ni, Te, Fi, Se.
Identifying which functions we use, and in what order, determines our four-letter type, not the other way around. So really, we're reaching deep into the Jungian psychology that sits behind the popular personality test. Sound complicated? It is, but Thomson does a remarkable job of keeping things clear. It's recommended if you are at all interested in the "why" behind typology.
Why only five?
It would be easy to make this list a top 10 (or 15 or 20), but it occurred to us that every reader probably has a favorite book that has helped them to understand personality typing that is not on this list. If that's the case with you, leave us a comment. We'd love to hear from you!