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Publisher's Summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST • “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, 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.

NAMED THE #1 NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR BY TIME, ONE OF THE TEN 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 • BloombergChristian Science MonitorNew York Post • The New York Public Library • FortuneSmithsonian MagazineMarie Claire Town & Country SlateLibrary Journal Kirkus Reviews LibraryReads PopMatters

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize • National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist • Dayton Literary Peace Prize Finalist • PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction Finalist • PEN/Jean Stein Book Award Longlist

“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 outcasting 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

"This enthralling exposé deserves a wide and impassioned readership.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“Similar to her previous book, the latest by Wilkerson is destined to become a classic, and is urgent, essential reading for all.” (Library Journal, starred review)

"This is a brilliant book, well timed in the face of a pandemic and police brutality that cleave along the lines of a caste system.” (Booklist)

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.

11 people found this helpful

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Interesting, but questionable conclusions

I enjoyed how the author applied caste to racism against Black Americans, but I found some of her conclusions and statistics incorrect or misleading. She writes about the economic oppression (very true), but states that Blacks are the most economically oppressed race in America (not true). The statistics show quite clearly that Latin Americans (as well as others), are more economically oppressed. When I read something that doesn’t make sense (like that), I start to question other factual accounts.

There is no doubt that racism and oppression has been and still is, but leaning on extreme examples and not being clear with your conclusions to make your point leaves me unsatisfied.

3 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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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.

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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Read with Caution

This book is another tool to use in your understanding of the world - do not take it as gospel.

I appreciated the American history aspects of this book, however the author injects a lot of her personal opinions and feelings and presents them as proof of her argument. Though there is validity behind her argument of the caste system in America, the author appears to have lost the ability to look at things from any other context. According to the information in the book, I would be a lower-caste member, but instead of looking at the world solely through a caste lens, I see it from many different lenses. In doing so, I find I cannot agree with several of her statements.

Narration was clear, but far too slow. you should definitely speed it up.

1 person found this helpful

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A++++++++

everyone MUST read. so well presented. SO EDUCATIONAL! the experiences and author kept me engaged and didn't want to stop listening!

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Thank you

Love the detail. Enjoyed the points in history for my own research.

Should be added to school curriculums everywhere.

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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.

1 person found this helpful

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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.

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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.

285 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.

115 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

72 people found this helpful

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  • Alan L.
  • 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.

53 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.

46 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!!!!!!!!!

39 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 .

29 people found this helpful

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  • Stark Twain
  • 2020-09-09

Eloquent, Repetitive

This book is eloquently written, expertly composed, and reads like a critical theory essay fattened into a book.

I could see “Caste” becoming tremendously useful in an academic setting, or as tool for readers to explore a new concept. It is a useful introductory book, and would be instructive in a high school or college class that further explored the subject.

However, if you’re already familiar with the thesis of a race-based caste system existing in the modern United States, this book doesn’t add much to the conversation. I wanted a deeper dive on the subject, but this book felt topical, summative, and distinctly one-sided.

The second half of the book was dedicated to thorough discussions of anecdotal microagressions toward the author. This came across as indulgent, tangential, and only indirectly constructive. It caused a distinct tone shift from academic analysis to elegant personal complaint.

“Caste” is artfully written and I can see it making a lasting place for itself in American literature. However, if you’ve taken any African American studies courses in the past 20 years, or been active in current social discourse on the topic, I don’t think you will find anything new here.

28 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-08-17

disappointed

badly researched, author all over the place mostly based on left propaganda, I had good hopes for this book after hearing the author on Stay Tuned with Preet, very disappointed

20 people found this helpful