#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • “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—now with a new Afterword by the author.
#1 NONFICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR: Time
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, O: The Oprah Magazine, NPR, Bloomberg, The Christian Science Monitor, New York Post, The New York Public Library, Fortune, Smithsonian Magazine, Marie Claire, Slate, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews
Winner of the Carl Sandberg Literary Award • Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize • National Book Award Longlist • 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 • Kirkus Prize Finalist
“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, and beautifully written 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.
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Oprah calls her new book club pick “a game-changing, revolutionary, profound look at how we got where we are in terms of inequality.” And she’s right. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson—best-selling author of The Warmth of Other Suns—takes us on an eye-opening journey as she excavates and reframes history. Her astounding deep dive into racial hierarchy in the United States pulls no punches. Drawing parallels to India and Nazi Germany and blending history, sociology, and powerful stories of lived experience, Wilkerson argues that the U.S. has always operated through a race-based system of caste. Her historical reframing gives us a new language for talking about racism and helps explain what it means to be casteist, or “invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it.” Wilkerson backs up her assertions with meticulous research, illustrating how caste permeates every aspect of American life: from politics to health outcomes to interpersonal relationships to the ways we learn to be ourselves. And narrator Robin Miles delivers Wilkerson’s powerful words with such grace and authority that if we didn’t know better, we’d assume she was the author. Caste effortlessly makes history personal, because it is. If you only listen to one book about race in the U.S. in your lifetime, let this be it.
Dominate Caste Be Damned
How did the caste system develop in the United States? While very difficult to read as a dominant caste member, this book is equally essential for the understanding it imparts. The book is well-researched and guides the reader through the history of terminology and legal structure that divided and subjugated a portion of the population.
The author presented the development of caste in India and Germany and compares it to the one in the United States. The book also discusses class and the difference between class and caste, notably that we can change our class by effort, and caste cannot. Ms. Wilkerson also discusses what happens when an improvement in class brings one into conflict with their caste.
Due to the problematic nature of the material, I read this slowly over a long time. Still, my increased awareness of caste is an intellectual framework for understanding racism in the United States.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
This book will be on my mind for a long time. It has changed the way I think about my country, myself, and my place in the world.
Writter hasn't done much research about the origination of caste system and goes by lot's of assumed common knowledge. If you wanna know about caste system and its prevalance, start with vedas. Caste system of course is bad and I denounce it but lots of so called facts presented in this book is wrong.