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Caste (Oprah's Book Club): The Origins of Our Discontents

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Robin Miles

14 Hours 26 Minutes

Random House (Audio)

August 2020

Audio Book 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 • Bloomberg • Christian Science Monitor • New York Post • The New York Public Library • Fortune • Smithsonian Magazine • Marie Claire • Town & Country • Slate • Library Journal • Kirkus Reviews • LibraryReads • PopMatters

Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist • National Book Critics Circle Award 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 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.

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Reviews

  • Anonymous

    It was riveting. The book explained so much that I hadn’t realized. Extremely well written and read.

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  • Leroy B.

    Awesome read. Should be mandatory reading in educational settings!!!

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  • Phyllis S.

    Very difficult listen. I learned much of things I never knew or even imagined. It woke me up to the sad reality of human nature and the selfish need to overpower and control others especially when we feel they are less than ourselves. The narrator seemed a bit authoritarian

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  • Robyn C.

    This was heartbreaking but also so educational

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  • Stacey R.

    Amazing and horrifying

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  • Okie

    I was really disappointed in this book. It is not a book about caste, but simply a book about white people being racists towards blacks. The author attempts to draw similarities to the caste system in India, but this is a weak comparison. Unfortunately the author makes almost no mention of Native Americans and where they may be in this supposed caste system. There is also no mention of castes within whites. The book, while well researched, has no clear pattern to it. I’ll admit I listened to only 2 hours of this book, but I saw no point in listening to the remaining 12 hrs.

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  • Anonymous

    Incredible to have this new perspective on a subject I think about all the time. It has changed the way I view experiences and explains a lot. I wish more would explore this topic. Perhaps the television adaptation of this book will broaden its reach. Thank you Isabel Wilkerson.

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  • Jack C.

    A far clearer view of our complicated history than I've seen before. Definitely the best read of the yesr--and that's saying a lot. Might be the most important book of the decade.

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  • Dorothy T.

    This is an important book. It completely reshaped my perception and understanding.

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  • Anonymous

    Powerful almost clinical but not dry approach using history to guide you to almost unimpeachable conclusions. My indoctrinated opinion of my country has taken quite a hit, but also provides the environment for positive growth.

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