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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

4.64  ·  Rating details ·  17,352 ratings  ·  3,429 reviews
The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.

“As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published August 4th 2020 by Random House
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Beth Shorten I am not yet finished with this. I had to put it down because it was too painful to read...and all the more so because it is real and true.

This is in…more
I am not yet finished with this. I had to put it down because it was too painful to read...and all the more so because it is real and true.

This is incredibly well written; informative and not preachy. Honest but not judgemental. It is making me think and self reflect and I am not even halfway into it.(less)
Runwright The book addresses the difference with a quote borrowed from another author - "you can't earn or wed your way out" of the caste. See the chapter on he…moreThe book addresses the difference with a quote borrowed from another author - "you can't earn or wed your way out" of the caste. See the chapter on heritability (less)

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Average rating 4.64  · 
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Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Warmth of Other Suns was one of the most important books I’ve read. So, I was really looking forward to Caste. When I previously thought of castes, I thought only of India. Wilkerson posits that the Third Reich was also a caste system. And, of course, the US. In fact, the Nazis used American race laws to design their own system. Unlike the Indian caste system, which had hundreds if not hundreds of separate castes, we basically have two. White and Black, as the poorest white is still above a ...more
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: race
It is September 2020, we are a couple of months away from seeing just how insane the US actually is. I’m nearly certain that the world’s only superpower is about to re-elect Donald Trump, and I’m not in the least bit certain that the world will survive another 4 years of his lunacy. In my lifetime, each Republican president has been worse than the last and with each I’ve assumed we’d reached rock bottom – but Trump has proven there is no bottom. Nixon, Reagan, Bush I., Bush II – and still nothin ...more
Elyse  Walters
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
FAVORITE NON FICTION AUDIOBOOK since Michele Obama’s “Becoming”.

Ten years ago, I read “The Warmth of Other Suns”....The epic story of America’s Great Migration ....
One of the most highly imagined - engrossing - heartfelt books I’ve ever read. There were three main unforgettable characters— their complexities - individual stories - and motivations for what they did - had to do - was soooo well written and experienced from Isabel Wilkerson...I’ve never forgotten the power and impact her book lef
David Wineberg
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Americans don’t think in these terms, but Isabel Wilkerson points out in no uncertain terms that the country is running a caste system, remarkably and sadly just like India’s. In India, there are four varnas and numerous, maybe thousands of subdivisions between them. Each one is a caste with strict rules of life, conduct, liberty and employment. In the US, there is the dominant caste and the subordinate caste. In between, there are various subcastes for various colors and tribes, but at the very ...more
Liked this book for its blunt discussion of racism and caste discrimination, though at times its analysis felt rather simple or superficial. In terms of positives, I appreciate Caste for its international perspective. A lot of books on race write about race within the context one country, whereas Isabel Wilkerson compares and contrasts the United States, India, and Nazi Germany. Wilkerson does a great job too of showing how many anti-Black racist events within the United States occurred not too ...more
Diane S ☔
Aug 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
Impeccably written, extensively researched, this book couldn't be more timely. Systemic rascism, though that word is not used, rather Wilkerson argues it is in fact a caste system, a system that became embedded with the first colonials. She uses comparisons of the caste system in India and it's treatment of the undesirables, as well as Nazi Germany and its treatment of the Jews.

What makes this so poignant is the stories of individuals, and the effects in people trapped within these systems. Sys
This may be the most important book I read this year. It’s timely, well researched, and well written. Non-fiction is not my primary reading material, but I found myself engaged and easily turning the pages. Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of another book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration posits that African Americans are on the lowest rung of a caste system in American. In a systematic revelation of facts, Wilkerson shines a searing light on t ...more
Aug 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, makes the case that America is a caste system analogous to that of India's but organized on the basis of race. She strongly implies that the 2016 Presidential Election was somehow evidence for this claim and then outlines what she posits are the features of the American caste system (8 pillars of caste):

Wilkerson's 8 Pillars of Caste:
1) Divine Will and The Laws of Nature
2) Heritability
3) Endogamy a
Aug 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Last night I attended an event that was held by The New York Public Library which hosted a conversation with Isabel Wilkerson to talk about her newest book
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent.” Already finished with her book, I attended this event to help me group up my finals thoughts. During the event Wilkerson talks about how she doesn’t see this book as an argument but more as an “invitation to seeing ourselves differently than we have before and the idea that we can have new language to h
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A masterful, infuriating, heartbreaking book! Wilkinson argues (and illustrates beautifully with dozens of stories) that we need to go beyond a racial reckoning and examine the structure underneath: “caste is the bones, race the skin.” I believe my understanding of US History has deepened more from Isabel Wilkerson’s two brilliant, penetrating books than all the other texts I have read in the last several decades combined.
Lucy Langford
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups.

A very interesting read! Here Isabel Wilkerson explores the three main caste systems through history: in India, Nazi Germany and America. Here she analyses the caste systems in place in India and Germany and how these are also applicable to America. She sets about naming the pillars of caste and how they help
Aug 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The idea of perceiving America’s deeply ingrained racism as a caste system came to her while conducting her research for her Pulitzer-prize winning The Warmth of Other Suns. In that book she focused on a history of the Great Migration of African Americans moving out of the South. For this book, she proceeded to study the two best known caste systems in the world—India and Nazi Germany. Hence, Caste is not about biology, social history or science, but about structural power. She sees America’s ra ...more
Clif Hostetler
A different perspective almost always enhances understanding. Sometimes labeling with a different word can shape-shift a subject into a slightly different perspective revealing additional layers of meaning. I think that’s what Wilkerson has done by using the word “caste” to describe what others have described as structural, institutional, or systemic racism.

The word “racism” alone doesn’t communicate the endemic nature of the problem that is at the core of society’s discontent. The meaning of “
Traci at The Stacks
Aug 04, 2020 rated it liked it
CASTE was easily one of my most anticipated reads of 2020. I am known to have prosthelytized for THE WARMTH OF OTHER SONS, a book that I often say changed my life and the way I see myself in this world. Needless to say CASTE had some pretty big shoes to fill. Overall I enjoyed reading the book, but it didn’t live up to my astronomical expectations. I still think you should read CASTE. I still think it is a very good book.

What I loved was Wilkerson’s restructuring of racism into the framework o
Nov 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In this important and beautifully written book, Isabelle Wilkerson attributes the racial problems in this country to an invisible caste system. Similar to India's caste system, as well as that used by the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, it is a method of retaining social order by raising one designated group above another; it is the desire to preserve the purity of the blood of the ruling class. Wilkerson's carefully researched treatise leaves no doubt in this reader's mind that a caste system does ...more
Aug 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. Isabel Wilkerson is a great writer and her book Warmth of Other Suns was a masterpiece but this book felt like it had been written by an amateur. The thesis on race and caste is compelling but there’s a lot of simplistic theorization and the comparisons she makes between the US, India and Germany are superficial and at points, just plain dubious (e.g. she notes that Dalits in India were conquered by upper-caste Aryans who traveled from the North despite the ...more
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Matt by: Rae
I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #16 in my 2020 US Election Preparation
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is one of those really good books that could have been absolutely amazing with a more focused argument. That said, this book gives incredibly helpful language to describe the racial hierarchy that is the bedrock of the American social order. It is uncomfortable but quite illuminating to see her breakdown the parallels of American chattel slavery and the subsequent legally enforced racial discrimination to the caste system of India and the racial segregation & extermination programs of the T ...more
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved Warmth of Other Suns and was really really looking forward to this book--I got it and finished it within the first week it came out. Perhaps because my expectations were too high with this one, but I would not put this book anywhere close to the first if we are judging by innovation, style, or novelty. It's a good book and it's beautifully written, but most of the most poignant points were in the NYTimes Magazine article or were summaries of other race and historic research. I was hoping ...more
Aug 22, 2020 rated it did not like it
Caste, Isabel Wilkerson, author, Robin Miles, narrator
Where do I begin? I will begin at the beginning. In the first few pages of the book, “Caste” seems like an even handed explanation of society’s ills. When it began to describe the demands of the supremacists and the behavior of the protesters, I was sure she was describing the bullying democrats. After all, demanding that we have a woman of color as the Vice Presidential nominee is an example of the worst kind of supremacy and blackmail. I th
Nov 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is an incredible book and one I will re-read, as there is so much to unpack! I became totally immersed and worked through many thoughts and emotional reactions while I read about caste and how it is used to keep people 'in their place.'

I used the bookmark feature on Overdrive whenever I particularly 'leaned in' to listen to an important truth. Here is what I took away this time and is currently permeating my thoughts:

"Caste is a disease and none of us is immune."

"Combined with bans on immi
Judith E
Oct 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An explanation of how the American dominant-caste went from whippings to hangings to shootings to suffocation of the lowest caste. Easy to read writing infused with life stories and historical information.

This is an excellent introduction into explaining systemic racism. Even if you recognize your white privilege and supremacy characteristics, this is a reminder that there is still so much hard work to be done.

Michael Spikes
Aug 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
To start, I have to say that I think this book deserves a 4-star rating as a detailed narrative of the actions of certain individuals who were interested in maintaining a caste style hierarchy of others based on skin color. However, I found it a bit short-sighted and was personally disappointed in this work.

That said, as an individual reader, I think I was just expecting something different than what this book actually is, and that led me to the 2-star rating.

I eagerly awaited the publication
Sep 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
“You know that there are no black people in Africa,” she said...Africans are not black,” she said. “They are Igbo and Yorubu, Ewe, Akan, Ndebele. They are not black. They are just themselves. They are humans on the land. That is how they see themselves, and that is who they are...They don’t become black until they go to America or come to the U.K.,” she said. “It is then that they become black.” (Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, pp134-135)

Isabel Wilkerson describes the origins of the c
Aug 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Caste, Isabel Wilkerson addresses the rampant inequality between different classes of citizen as well as different races and the incontrovertible link between the systematic oppression of people of colour throughout The United States and abject poverty, health issues and so many more negatives. She talks about the rise of white supremacy and how dangerous it is by cleverly harking back to Nazi ideology and its harrowing consequences. There is also mention of India and the nuances of their unf ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Important. Timely. Eloquent. Enraging.
In Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson describes the infrastructure of the United States as a caste system akin to the Indian caste system and the one employed by the Nazi Germany. Eight pillars or commonalities between these three systems are outlined. Wilkerson draws from research dating back to the foundation of our country. Yet this book does not read like a history book as Wilkerson also uses seemingly apolitical news events, cultural references like the Matrix movie and ...more
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
If ever there were a book for this time, Caste would be it. With demonstrations against police brutality and the pulling down of Confederate monuments as a backdrop, I raced through this book. Linking the treatment of African-Americans to that of Dalits (Untouchables) in India, and explaining how American Jim Crow served as an inspiration for the Nazi treatment of Jews, her research is impeccable. Such a skilled writer brings the horror of lynchings to life in a way that will sear them into the ...more
Jeanette (Again)

So, I put this in my pipe and I smoked it, and it was a mind-altering experience. (And yes, I did inhale.) There's so much to absorb here that I will have to smoke it again sometime in the near future.

I have some personal take-aways to share, which I will add after I take some time for reflection. For now let me just say that if you are overwhelmed by the seeming flood of books coming out about racism and injustice and you can't figure out which of them to read, start with this one.
Aug 19, 2020 rated it did not like it
I hate reviewing books like this, but here goes...I should have passed when I heard it was an Oprah pick as that would just about guarantee that the book would mercilessly flog the reader with horror stories about the treatment of Blacks. I personally don't need to be bludgeoned with torture and lynching stories but I guess there are plenty of masochistic white people out there who do. Anyway, the author attempts to equate in a dilettantish way American racism with the Indian caste system. This ...more
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“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly. And the least that a person in the dominant caste can do is not make the pain any worse.” 22 likes
“Slavery was not merely an unfortunate thing that happened to black people. It was an American innovation, an American institution created by and for the benefit of the elites of the dominant caste and enforced by poorer members of the dominant caste who tied their lot to the caste system rather than to their consciences.” 20 likes
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