NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • 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.
“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.
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. Caste effortlessly makes history personal, because it is. If you only read one book about race in the U.S. in your lifetime, let this be it.
Customer ReviewsSee All
I get it
Thanks to this book I better understand some/many Trump supporters. It’s an insight that should embarrass anyone that claims to be American.
What an education.
This book is not for the heart that wants to live unchanged. Only reading with intellectual tentacles up and with humanity in mind will allow you to receive this beauty in its fullness. What an education.
Caste is ESSENTIAL
I was learning new things from the very first page. I couldn’t believe what I was reading because they never taught us this in school. So I’d google it and BAM! It was real. This book should be in every classroom in America to help us move forward. Great job Isabel!