Book Review: Please Understand Me

Please Understand Me: Character & Temperament Types, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates

Paperback – 208 pages, Prometheus Nemesis Books

This book changed my life. Its introductory words tell the tale:

“If I do not want what you want, please try not to tell me that my want is wrong.
Or if I believe other than you, at least pause before you correct my view.
Or if my emotion is less than yours, or more, given the same circumstances, try not to ask me to feel more strongly or weakly.
Or yet if I act, or fail to act, in the manner of your design for action, let me be.
I do not, for the moment at least, ask you to understand me. That will come only when you are willing to give up changing me into a copy of you.”

This small-format, paperback book has the potential to enlighten you about yourself, your family, friends, and fellow workers far beyond anything you’ve likely encountered before. David Keirsey is a pioneer in temperament theory. There’s a long and convoluted history behind the elements of that theory, but you don’t have to be a psychologist or even know anything about psychology to profit from reading and studying this text.

At the root of temperament theory, lies the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™, which evolved from work done by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. The MBTI™ is a psychological “test” (that’s the wrong term (it’s really an “instrument”) but most people think of it as a test, although there are no right or wrong answers) that sorts the general population into 16 unique personality types. Keirsey has determined that those 16 types fall out as subsets of four distinct temperaments: Idealist, Rational, Guardian, and Artisan. Each temperament category contains four personality types.

This is not Cosmopolitan magazine quick-quiz stuff. It’s the real thing and the power of this knowledge can change your thinking and even, as it did with me, change your life. If you want to get the flavor of what Keirsey and his approach might do for you, visit his Web site at There you’ll find many interesting profiles that relate to the 16 personality types and four temperaments. You can even take the Keirsey “Temperament Sorter,” which will enable you to know your personality type and temperament. However, to experience the full depth and understanding of what all this means to you, I strongly suggest that you read the book.

Now, how does this all relate to college? In the book that I have co-authored – America’s Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer’s Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools (Princeton Review-Random House 2001) – I include a chapter devoted to a device that I invented called the Temperament Snapshot. The Snapshot targets high schoolers (and curious parents) who want to get a feel for how their personal preferences about life (that, their temperament) ties into choosing a possible college major and/or, ultimately, a life’s work. Finding out about one’s temperament’s implications for a well-fitting life’s work is especially useful to mid-life adults who are feeling uncomfortable in their current occupations. There are 21 quick questions. The whole Snapshot process takes about ten minutes and, combined with the greater detail of Keirsey’s analyses here, can be surprisingly illuminating.

I recommend that you don’t waste any more time sitting around wondering “Who am I?” Please Understand Me can give you the answers you need.

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Related Titles at Amazon:

Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, Intelligence

AUDIO TAPE: Please Understand Me : Character and Temperament Types : The Sixteen Types