08/03/2009

Portraits of Temperament (by David Keirsey)

Although I wasn't all that impressed by Keirseyan Temperament theory when I first learned about the Myers-Briggs personality system, the past five or six years have rather altered my perception. Temperament does indeed seem to be core to who we are, and David Keirsey's second book 'Please Understand Me II' was considerably more helpful than the original 'Please Understand Me'.

So when I heard that there was another, albeit shorter book by the same author, with longer descriptions of the eight variants of the temperaments, I thought it would be well worth having. I was quite looking forward to reading 'Portraits of Temperament'.

However, I found it a little disappointing. There was nothing new. In the prologue, Keirsey simply repeats what he's said before about there being four temperaments, each with two main variants (as well as Introverted/Extraverted versions). He also recounts, yet again, the history of temperament theory and how, over the centuries, more and more philosophers and observers have come up with four broad categories of people, based on their core personalities.

The rest of the book is taken up with the descriptions of the eight type variants, in somewhat caricatured terms. I happen to know my own type, and thus temperament variant, and certainly recognised some of myself in his descriptions. However I didn't find anything substantially different from what I have already read elsewhere.

I then found the other descriptions rather long-winded and stereotyped. I don't think I would have recognised more than a handful of friends or relatives from these descriptions. Even in some cases when I'm pretty sure of someone's type, I found it quite hard to reconcile some of what was written.

All in all, I didn't think it was nearly as good as either of the 'Please Understand Me' books, or the various booklets by Linda Berens on the same topic.

Still, it's not a bad book. It might well be useful to someone wanting an overview of Keirseyan temperament theory, so long as they realise that one has to read between the lines and avoid many of the details and examples that do not necessarily fit with everyone.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 8th March 2009

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