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Publisher's Summary

Number-One New York Times Best Seller

Oprah’s Book Club Pick

Long-Listed for the National Book Award

“An instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far.” (Dwight Garner, The New York Times)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling 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.

Named the Number-One Nonfiction Book of the Year by TIME magazine and One of the 10 Best Books of the Year by People The Washington Post Publishers Weekly And One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review O: The Oprah Magazine • NPR • Bloomberg • Christian Science MonitorNew York Post • The New York Public Library • Fortune • Smithsonian Magazine • Marie Claire Town & Country Slate • Library Journal Kirkus Reviews LibraryReads PopMatters

Finalist for the Pen/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction and Longlisted for the Pen/Jean Stein Book Award

“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 performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power - which groups have it and which do not.”

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people - including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others - she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

Beautifully original and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.

©2020 Isabel Wilkerson (P)2020 Random House Audio

What the critics say

"[Caste] should be at the top of every American’s reading list." (Chicago Tribune

What listeners say about Caste (Oprah's Book Club)

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    3 out of 5 stars

Very good, but some unnecessary chapters

An excellent book, but the chapters on dog training, being interrupted by an upper caste woman and a few others could have been left out. In past wars, the winning side sometimes enslaved people on the conquered side, but only the United States ran an entire economy using slavery as its engine. The U.S. should treat slavery the way Germany treats Nazism: Ban the Confederate flag just as Germany bans the Nazi swastika. As Germany has no statues honouring Nazi leaders, the U.S. should not have any statues, schools, streets, lakes, rivers or anything else named after Confederate officers. As Germany did with the victims of the Holocaust, U.S. researchers should try to track down the names of slaves and embed medallions bearing their names in the streets near the plantations and other places where they worked.

9 people found this helpful

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  • JI
  • 2020-09-06

FINALLY

This is the history lesson that we all know has been left out of the history books.
Recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the roots of racism on the planet.
“Gratitude for being alive for this.”

2 people found this helpful

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Bravo!!!

I haven’t and will not stop talking about this book. I think it should be mandatory reading for humankind.

2 people found this helpful

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One of the Most Important Teachings Ever Written

Caste is a masterpiece. What at first seems to be well known, the problem of prejudice and racism, begins to take on new meanings and perspectives as an enabler of a larger caste system. To say that this is vividly explained in the form of vignette stories is an understatement. As the author brings you with her through the depth and detail of her research I began to appreciate the amount of personal bravery it must have taken her to bring to light the more severe atrocities of the caste system. I was riveted and shocked and convinced of her overall explanation of caste in our society. Many modern phenomena are thoroughly explained by Caste. The knowledge in Caste is without doubt a gigantic leap forward in the understanding our real culture and a further gigantic step towards the end of modern day enslavements big and small.

2 people found this helpful

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Not credible

Répétitive and boring
Unsubstantiated
The caste system exists in India. She fails to prove it does in the USA. Simply a reincarnation of racism.

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Terrible!

I was so looking forward to listening to this book, but after listening to just the first few chapters, I will return it. It is just another political statement from the far Left. Really. Does everything have to be political now? I thought this would be about human relationships within our society as shaped by history. I wanted to learn about this. This book is a waste of time. We've been hearing the same jargon now for years: Everything about working to contribute, being responsible, and building society is bad. Everything else is better. Can't get this trash out of my Library fast enough.

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Every human should read this book!

A complete insight into the history of caste in America....told with wisdom, honesty, humour and a deep understanding of our world. One of the top 5 books I’ve ever read.

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waste

I just wasted $27 hard earned dollars on this Trump hating liberal garbage. What a waste, I turned it off after less than 5 minutes.... ZERO stars

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Pulling back a veil to reveal a glimmer of hope.

This book should be required reading. The stark truths that it reveals are necessary to acknowledge if America and the world are to have the slightest hope of living a creed that is, at present, a fallacy. "All men are created equal."

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Excellent novel!

Every person on the planet should read this! Run to get your copy of Caste.

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  • GM
  • 2020-08-05

Brilliant, articulate, highly listenable.

Old white guy here, if that matters. I have to say I was gobsmacked at how good this is. I was anxious to read it after reading the glorious NYT review, so I got it the day it was released (yesterday) and just finished it. Wilkerson's reportage, analysis, synthesis, and conclusions are spectacularly insightful. Everything she says resonates so perfectly that throughout the book I was thinking, "Ah hah! Yes. This is so illuminating. She has it just right!" And that was my tone consistently. There were no lulls, no head-scratching off-shoots. If someone living in the US or curious about the US reads only one book even only tangentially related to race, let it be this one. Goodness, what a terrific book. And the narration by Robin Miles is flawless. Wow.

293 people found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 2020-08-15

Detailed instances -- but not much explanation.

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 of this book, hoping that it would be a deeply researched tome that would provide illumination for race relations in the United States. Seeing the title of "Caste" had me believe that this discussion would go beyond the binary frames that usually are associated with discourses on racism by using the lens of caste hierarchy. As the book went on, however, I found the intricate retelling of past atrocities against individual African Americans--which most of the book is dedicated to--akin to a rehashing of past work. Instead of establishing a new frame using caste, I found that on many occasions, the phrases of "dominant caste" and "subordinate caste" were just replacements for the words "white people" and "black people", and I didn't get the sense that the investigation was meant to go beyond that. Discussions of India's and the Nazi's caste systems were scant, and never really were raised to the same level of comparison as those of America's Jim Crow and Antebellum south.

To be clear, this isn't to say that these stories aren't significant to be reminded of, especially during our current moment. But it provides readers with more of an explanation of WHAT happened to certain individuals at a very particular time, rather than providing a fuller picture of the WHY these things happen, and the deeper implications of those actions both on the victims and the aggressors. That's where this book didn't reach the expectations that I had for it -- which admittedly, may have been misplaced.

196 people found this helpful

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  • Devin
  • 2020-08-05

Pretty good. Not a lot of new insights.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Warmth of Other Suns so I couldn’t wait to listen to her new book. I would definitely give “Warmth” a 5-star rating but couldn’t say Caste is on that same level. Her writing style is great and the narration is enjoyable. I don't think that you can argue with the premise that we have -- or at least have had -- a caste system based on race in the United States. However, I did feel that some of the personal anecdotes could have been left out. At least for me they weren’t needed to reinforce her point and I found some of them to be a stretch. Any time you attempt to assign race as the sole factor behind the motives and actions of an entire group it’s going to be problematic. You could argue that there are a number of factors influencing the situations she attributed to our race-based caste system in the book but then again who am I to question someone's lived experience. I just felt that there were times while listening that she had a hammer and everything was a nail.

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  • Chris
  • 2020-08-10

Disproves its title

I read through this book fully curious to see what billionaire Oprah, nurtured and grown fat on the affection of America, found that made her call "Caste" one of the most important reads she has recommended.
I was honestly seeking facts supporting an argument for a caste system in America.
What I found was a poetic and well thought out analogies from horticulture to construction about why America is disgusting (that was truly the tone) ... but very very little evidence for the argument being made.
An example of two facts Ms. Wilkerson did offer: "America was the first culture to embrace slavery" And "Slavery is a uniquely American institution."
I honestly believe Ms. Wilkerson thinks her particular audience has devolved into a state where they would believe this.
Here is a fact I didn't read: Black people from all over the world are desperately trying to get into America. When they are fortunate enough to get in, they fall to there faces and cry tears of gratitude for themselves and their children.... and for good reason.
I also didn't see one reference to how the Democratic Party's Great Society destroyed the black family at the point when they were the fastest rising middle class, had the highest rate of young men and women matriculating into College of any race, had 80% of children born into a two parent family, and had the fastest growing percentage of entrepreneurs of any race. No proposal that, had it not been for this condescending "intervention" at this critical time, even more than the current majority of Americans would not currently care or even notice the level of melatonin reflected in ones skin tone.
Isabel Wilkerson: one more person who became rich almost overnight in America's Caste system. One more black person telling their young that they might as well not try: the die is caste.

74 people found this helpful

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  • valerie
  • 2020-08-06

I Loved It

I could hardly wait to read this book. I read The Warmth of other Suns and loved it. I really believe it should be used in urban high schools as a history book. At it’s core this book is also a history book. But it is a very good book. I learned so much from reading this book. Makes me feel every worse about our ancestors than I did before. The strength of the book are the true stories and examples given. Especially when it relates events I was aware of but didn’t know all of the details.


RECOMMENDATION: Read It and share it with others

59 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2020-08-09

Want my credit back

Very biased and can’t get thru the first chapter! Was looking for a good book but this cannot be it

44 people found this helpful

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  • Alan Lewis
  • 2020-08-08

You owe it to yourself to read this book

Part narrative, history, sociology, anthropology, biography, and auto-biography. Above all else, a fresh metaphor that reframes the most vital American tragedy.

36 people found this helpful

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  • Joel Z.
  • 2020-08-06

A must read for everyone

A fresh take on the social disparity in the U.S. and around the world. I hope that we all realize that we are living under a Caste system and that we need to change our course or we will continue with the divisines in this country. At worst, we will elect someone that will profit from our differences and destroy our nation. At best, we will continue with the status quo.

36 people found this helpful

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  • Renée
  • 2020-08-18

Sure, she does have dark skin

Yes, it is written as a "survivor" of the Caste system. However this does not make it biased.
Please, fellow Americans, try to hold your judgements for ... 14 hours to listen to a book written by someone DIFFERENT than yourself. Then, let's SHARE OUR PERSPECTIVES, like readers traditionally used to do.
I WANT to hear your take on it, but once you have finished the book with the OPEN MIND REQUIRED, please. Especially in our time.
Thank you for your critical thinking and participatory citizenship.
Respectfully,
Your Fellow American

31 people found this helpful

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  • Tracy
  • 2020-08-06

Caste is Powerful!!!

Amazingly Awakening!!!Powerful Brutatly Honest, The Real Truth-the tacit truth about America !!! EYE Opening!!!!!!!!!

29 people found this helpful