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Caste (Oprah's Book Club)

The Origins of Our Discontents
Written by: Isabel Wilkerson
Narrated by: Robin Miles
Length: 14 hrs and 26 mins
5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Oprah’s Book Club Pick

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.

“An instant American classic.” (Dwight Garner, The New York Times)

"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 written, 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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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.

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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.

50 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

18 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.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Marcia S.
  • 2020-08-06

Total waste of time and money

Bought this because Oprah recommended it highly. However, it was obvious the author tried very hard to hide her political prejudices by wrapping them in carefully selected historical facts. Was truly hoping for an honest piece of insightful research. In addition the narration was just painfully boring.

9 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.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Lonnie Butler
  • 2020-08-05

didn't like the book. struggled to listen. the ton

didn't like the topic,. the tone was dry. struggled to listen. needed more details .

8 people found this helpful

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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.

6 people found this helpful

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  • David A.
  • 2020-08-06

knowledge is an unknown of new Understanding.

A complete world wide Historical investigation of our dilemma. After learning from this EXCELLENT new book, the question will be...How, and
Who will you share it with?

6 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!!!!!!!!!

6 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.

4 people found this helpful