PT's Bookshelf

PT reviews The Cult of Personality and The Burn Journals.

By PT Staff, published on September 1, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The Cult of Personality

By Annie Murphy Paul

Some 1,200 employees of Rent-A-Center cashed in three years ago when the company paid a $2 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit. The company's alleged wrongdoing: administering a personality test comprising more than 500 questions, some of them bizarre and seemingly irrelevant, including many that asked about employees' sex lives and religious beliefs.

It has become commonplace for companies to require that job applicants complete such tests as part of the interview process. Exams can even be used to determine which parent gets custody of a child.

Annie Murphy Paul makes the argument in her new book, The Cult of Personality, that we are basing weighty decisions on an imperfect science. Murphy provides an overview of the histories and shortcomings of the major personality tests, including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Big Five and projective tests such as the Rorschach inkblots. She also chronicles our fascination with such tests and explores how our reliance on them may impoverish our sense of self rather than enrich it.

The book is deftly shot through with absorbing biographical asides-the sorts of details that make people far more three-dimensional than personality tests let on.

-Elise Kramer

The Burn Journals

By Brent Runyon

Brent Runyon was 14 years old when he soaked his bathrobe in gasoline and lit himself on fire.

The burns on 85 percent of his body required months of painful skin grafts and hospitalization. The Burn Journals, written at age 19, recounts a physical rehabilitation and personal reckoning. He can't explain his actions to his parents or friends. His brother won't see him. At the urging of a hospital psychologist, he summons the courage to tell his mother about other suicide attempts.

Although billed as "teen" literature, the book is for mature audiences only.

-Willow Lawson