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

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Book Rating (486)

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Written By: Isabel Wilkerson

Narrated By: Robin Miles

Date: August 2020

Duration: 14 hours 26 minutes


#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.

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

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.


  • Anonymous

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

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful.

  • Joseph G.

    a great argument made and supported. parallels made between USA India & Germany are alarming.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful.

  • Stacey R.

    Amazing and horrifying

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful.

  • 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.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful.

  • Anonymous

    I would recommend this book to every person of color. It was mind opening for me. Now I fully understand what racism means. Excellently written and the narration was superb . I give it a five.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful.

  • Robert V.

    Outstanding and very enlightening!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • Leroy B.

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

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • 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

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • Robyn C.

    This was heartbreaking but also so educational

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • 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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • 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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • Dorothy T.

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

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • Cutressa

    This book has moved me n so many ways. The depth of research & detail Isabel invested into this project is AMAZING! The feelings about the subject are varied.. I felt sadness, disgust, anger - an entire array of emotions. Highly recommend this work & this author.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a senior who happen to be a dark indigenous individual, from my earliest memory the caste system was apparent to me! Our tribe migrated from the East cost of America in the beginning in the 1600s to finally settle in the Green Bay Area of WI our dark color was always remarked upon we were called red N-word, my siblings and I would live and attend school in Milwaukee WI, to again be confronted with “what are y’all?” My Mother instructed me to reply, that I was “FBI,” after being teased, I would explain, full blooded Indian, everyone would assume we were from India, my Mother corrected my reply to, Full Blooded Indigenous! To date the tribe excepts lighter skin as tribesmen with less resistances then our darker ones, especially if they is black blood involved, yet European blood is of no concern? I read a another book (Red Brethren), that had the same impact on me as I was, well in this case listening, it was all to familiar! Because I had lived it, great read! Very well explained for those that want to hide or pretend not to be aware it’s still practiced, it’s a keepsake for me! I found it encouraging, supportive to my determination to

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • 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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful.

  • Anonymous

    I must read....

  • Casey J.

    Fantastic book, Wilkerson is a force in the field and I look forward to more of her work

  • Shannon B.

    I would recommend this book to everybody. I loved the authors style of writing. It was such an enjoyable read and I learned so much, including a different perspective.

  • Shar V.

    radical empathy. well said.

  • Paulette T.

    Excellent historical content, narrated eloquently by the author. It is hard to image the horrors that transpired during the hundreds of years that human beings were treated with such disrespect and contempt. I came of age in the 60's during the Civil Rights movement ( white middle class), with an openly racist father. I am grateful to have evolved to understand and support all that our political and economic system is attempting to do (at least the Democrats) to right centuries of wrongs. Thank you, Isabel, for the tremendous research that went into this book. If it could only become required reading in our educational system, however, alas, governors in states such as Florida (where I live) and Texas, will maintain their hierarchical White Caste positions, pandering to #45's Base!

  • Anonymous

    What is presented as historical fact is, without doubt or debate, fact. However, there are some aspects of opinion that are glanced by or discredited, to the discredit of those who are represented. I would recommend this book as a baseline for the historical significance of racism in America. While I do not agree with the comparing of Caste in India with the racism in America, both clearly exist, and both must be fully acknowledged to have any hope of change. Read the book; draw your own conclusion.

  • G B.

    Utterly captivating and deserves more than one reading. Highly educational and brings forth an integrated understanding of racism and it’s sad history and caste is an excellent word for it.

  • Gustav G.

    Its hard not to feel empahty for the project undertaken in this book. Some of the narratives are interesting, educational, and at times, entertaining, but framing the discussion of race in America in the context of caste left me thinking.. "Is the political environment in the US so toxic, is the discussion of americas racism so tabu, that you have to veil it in unnecessary layers of (nonsensical) terminology?" I am a white european, so I dont have the experience, but thats the feeling this book left me with. While I am near shocked at some of the examples of systemic racism in this book, I am not convinved of the "caste" argument, and I do not think the narritives are tied together to anything that points to a "how" or a purpose.

  • Anonymous

    Very well written, well read and insightful. I highly recommend this book.

  • Dale S.

    Very well written and informative. A great read.

  • Anonymous

    I wanted to like this book. I think the concept behind caste is very interesting and has legitimacy, but the author is so biased towards one ideology that the good parts of the book are drowned out. As a white male, I spent the entire time reading the book in a defensive mindset. As much as I wanted to understand the author’s experience and viewpoint, it was hard to empathize. Given a different tone, this could have been a great book.

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

by Isabel Wilkerson

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