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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

4.56  ·  Rating details ·  75,548 ratings  ·  11,983 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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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)
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)

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Jan 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The superlatives people use to describe Caste are all accurate. This is an astonishing book with a bold premise—that race in America is a caste system like those in India and Nazi Germany. Well-written, well argued and provocative. Wilkerson made me think and taught me so much. You think you know the history of racism and then a book like this reveals that it’s so much worse than you could have also imagined. Also she quotes me in the book! I dropped it when I saw that. So unexpected. A lil ego ...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
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
Jan 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Those in the dominant caste who found themselves lagging behind those seen as inherently inferior potentially faced an epic existential crisis. To stand on the same rung as those perceived to be of a lower caste is seen as lowering one's status. In the zero-sum stakes of a caste system upheld by perceived scarcity, if a lower-caste person goes up a rung, an upper-caste person comes down. The elevation of others amounts to a demotion of oneself, thus equality feels like a demotion.
Coming acro
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
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
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
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
I'm of two minds on Caste. On the one hand, it is a must-read book for anyone with the slightest interest in understanding the Black experience in the US. Its reach is so broad that having read it is table stakes for any cross-racial conversation on point. If you're white and serious about expanding your meaningful relationships with Black individuals, you particularly need to read it, along with The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Between the World and Me and a co ...more
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
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
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of the most important books of this year, tackling the issue of race, caste, class and prejudice, giving insight into how a caste society is built, how it functions and how it shapes an individual.
For me it was eye-opening and mind-blowing at times, a reading experience that greatly appreciated.
A big thank-you to Isabel Wilkerson, Penguin Press UK, and NetGalley for arc in exchange for my honest review.*
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It was the 70s. The young woman sat in my history class listening to the professor talk about slavery. Then she said, “They loved being slaves. That is why they were always singing and dancing. We all laughed, but we should have gasped. Our laugh was how we corrected her. There should have been something said and maybe there was, and I have just forgotten. This book has that correction. They sang and they danced because they were forced to do so, and tears would slide down their faces like rain ...more
Clif Hostetler
Aug 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: current-events
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 “
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
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
[4.5 stars]

This is quite a dense book, in that it covers a lot of topics and has so much information, but it's never impenetrable. Listening to the audiobook made it very accessible and Wilkerson also weaves in a lot of story-telling amongst research, statistics and history to create a finely woven narrative.

I found her comparison between the Indian caste system, Nazi Germany and the American caste system that oppresses people of color to be especially profound. It's something that after hearing
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
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
Michael Finocchiaro
This is an excellent study of how caste is structured and is sometimes a better lens for looking at discrimination than race. Wilkerson compares the situation of Untouchables in India and the Holocaust to the fate of African Americans during and following slavery. It is also an indictment of the 4-year dump nightmare. I found that the writing was very good, the stories always relevant, and the research solid. I can see why this book created so much buzz and endorse it as a critical study to obta ...more
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Elle by: Madison
Shelves: 2020
This has been a year full of anti-racism books, some newly published in 2020 (like this one) and others experiencing a resurgence in the months following the George Floyd protests in the United States. Ones like Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which was a great comprehensive introduction to the history of racism in America, and Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, which walked the reader through the disastrous criminal justice system our c ...more
Woman Reading
3.5 ☆

In my introductory sociology course in university, my professor stated that within 15 seconds, people always took note of two things about any persons who crossed their path - their gender and their race. People do this to determine their actions. This is the sole lesson I remember from that class, as interesting as it was.

In Caste, Wilkerson wrote about what Americans do with that information. From her earlier work on her Pulitzer-prize winning The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of
Rachel Reads Ravenously
5 stars!

“Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things.”

Wow, and I mean WOW. This is a book that really reframes they way you think about the world we live in. I know we don’t think of America as a caste system, but it very much is. In this book the autho
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43 likes · 24 comments
“Radical empathy, on the other hand, means putting in the work to educate oneself and to listen with a humble heart to understand another's experience from their perspective, not as we imagine we would feel. Radical empathy is not about you and what you think you would do in a situation you have never been in and perhaps never will. It is the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the pain of another as they perceive it.

Empathy is no substitute for the experience itself. We don't get to tell a person with a broken leg or a bullet wound that they are not in pain. And people who have hit the caste lottery are not in a position to tell a person who has suffered under the tyranny of caste what is offensive or hurtful or demeaning to those at the bottom. 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.”
“Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things.” 52 likes
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