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Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.
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Caste is insidious and therefore powerful because it is not hatred, it is not necessarily personal. It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things.
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No one was white before he/she came to America, James Baldwin once said.
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Caste (Oprah's Book Club): The Origins of Our Discontents Hardcover – August 4, 2020

4.8 out of 5 stars 35,903 ratings

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From the Publisher

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of August 2020: It has been ten years since Wilkerson’s award-winning The Warmth of Other Suns was published. While that book pointed to the great migration of Black people to the north as an “unrecognized migration,” this new book points to our entire social structure as an unrecognized caste system. Most people see America as racist, and Wilkerson agrees that it is indeed racist. She points out that we tend to refer to slavery as a “sad, dark chapter” in America when in fact it lasted for hundreds of years—but in order to maintain a social order and an “economy whose bottom gear was torture” (as Wilkerson quotes the historian Edward Baptist), it was necessary to give blacks the lowest possible status. Whites in turn got top status. In between came the middle castes of “Asians, Latinos, indigenous people, and immigrants of African descent” to fill out the originally bipolar hierarchy. Such a caste system allowed generations of whites to live under the same assumptions of inequality—these “distorted rules of engagement”—whether their ancestors were slave owners or abolitionists. And the unspoken caste system encouraged all to accept their roles. As Wilkerson develops her argument, she brings in historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Satchel Paige. She even looks at the Nazis, who turned to us when they were seeking ways to institutionalize racism in the Third Reich. As I read this book, I finally had to consciously stop myself from highlighting passages. Because I was highlighting most of the book. --Chris Schluep

Review

“Magnificent . . . a trailblazing work on the birth of inequality . . . Caste offers a forward-facing vision. Bursting with insight and love, this book may well help save us.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“This book has the reverberating and patriotic slap of the best American prose writing. . . . Wilkerson has written a closely argued book that largely avoids the word ‘racism,’ yet stares it down with more humanity and rigor than nearly all but a few books in our literature. . . . It’s a book that changes the weather inside a reader.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“A surprising and arresting wide-angle reframing . . . Her epilogue feels like a prayer for a country in pain, offering new directions through prophetic language.”—Bilal Qureshi, The Washington Post

“A transformative new framework through which to understand identity and injustice in America.”—Justin Worland, Time

“Magisterial . . . Her reporting is nimble and her sentences exquisite. But the real power of Caste lies tucked within the stories she strings together like pearls. . . . Caste roams wide and deep, lives and deaths vividly captured, haloed with piercing cultural critique. . . . Caste is a luminous read, bearing its own torch of righteous wrath in a diamond-hard prose that will be admired and studied by future generations of journalists.”—Hamilton Cain, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Brave, clear and shatteringly honest in both approach and delivery . . . Extrapolating Wilkerson’s ideas to contemporary America becomes an unsettling exercise that proves how right she is and how profoundly embedded into society the caste system is. . . . Her quest for answers frames everything and acts as the perfect delivery method for every explanation.”—Gabino Iglesias, San Francisco Chronicle

Caste draws heavily on the powerful mingling of narrative, research, and visionary, sweeping insight that made Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns the definitive contemporary study of African Americans’ twentieth-century Great Migration from the Jim Crow South to northern, midwestern, and western cities. It deepens the resonance of that book (a seemingly impossible feat) by digging more explicitly into the pervasive racial hierarchy that transcends region and time.”—Steve Nathans-Kelly, New York Journal of Books

Caste will spur readers to think and to feel in equal measure.”—Kwame Anthony Appiah, The New York Times Book Review

“Wilkerson’s book is a powerful, illuminating and heartfelt account of how hierarchy reproduces itself, as well as a call to action for the difficult work of undoing it.”—Kenneth W. Mack, The Washington Post

“Should be required reading for generations to come . . . A significant work of social science, journalism, and history, Caste removes the tenuous language of racial animus and replaces it with a sturdier lexicon based on power relationships.”—Joshunda Sanders, The Boston Globe

“[Caste] should be at the top of every American’s reading list.”—Jennifer Day, Chicago Tribune

“An expansive interrogation of racism, institutionalised inequality and injustice . . . This is an American reckoning and so it should be. . . . It is a painfully resonant book and could not have come at a more urgent time.”—Fatima Bhutto, The Guardian

“Full of uncovered stories and persuasive writing . . . Opening up a new bank of language in a time of emboldened white supremacism may provide her readers with a new way of thinking and talking about social injustice. . . . A useful reminder to India’s many upper-caste cosmopolitans . . . that dreams of resistance are just one part of the shared inheritance of the world’s oldest democracy, and the world’s largest.”—Supriya Nair, Mumbai Mirror

“It is bracing to be reminded with such precision that our country was built through genocide and slavery. But Ms. Wilkerson has also provided a renewed way of understanding America’s longest, fiercest trouble in all its complexity. Her book leaves me both grateful and hopeful. I gulped it down.”—Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Mountains Beyond Mountains 

“Like Martin Luther King, Jr. before her, Isabel Wilkerson has traveled the world to study the caste system and has returned to show us more clearly than ever before how caste is permanently embedded in the foundation and unseen structural beams of this old house called America. Isabel Wilkerson tells this story in prose that is so beautiful, the only reason to pause your reading is to catch your breath. You cannot understand America today without this book.”—Lawrence O’Donnell

“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 (starred review)

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Random House; Reprint edition (August 4, 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 496 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0593230256
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0593230251
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.75 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.4 x 1.25 x 9.52 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.8 out of 5 stars 35,903 ratings

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Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, is the author the critically acclaimed New York Times bestsellers The Warmth of Other Suns, and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

Her first book, The Warmth of Other Suns, tells the story of the Great Migration, a watershed in American history. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize and was shortlisted for both the Pen-Galbraith Literary Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

WARMTH was named to more than 30 Best of the Year lists, including The New York Times' 10 Best Books of the Year, Amazon's 5 Best Books of the Year and Best of the Year lists in The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Economist, among others. In 2019, TIME Magazine named Warmth to its list of the10 best books of the decade.

Her second book, CASTE: The Origins of Our Discontents, explores the unrecognized hierarchy in America, its history and its consequences. Caste became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, was the 2020 summer/fall selection for Oprah’s Book Club and was longlisted for the National Book Award. It was named to more best of the year lists than any other work of nonfiction and was named the No. 1 book of 2020 across all genres by the industry arbiter, Publishers Marketplace.

Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer and the first African-American to win for individual reporting. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal for "championing the stories of an unsung history."

She has appeared on national programs such as "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," CBS's "60 Minutes," NBC's "Nightly News," "The PBS News Hour," MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” NPR's "On Being with Krista Tippett," the BBC and others. She has taught at Princeton, Emory and Boston universities and has lectured at more than 200 other colleges and universities across the U.S. and in Europe and Asia.

Follow @isabelwilkerson on Instagram and Twitter. Follow her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/IsabelWilkersonWriter/

Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5
35,903 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on August 4, 2020
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Reviewed in the United States on August 5, 2020
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Top reviews from other countries

Madan Jadhav
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on "Caste". Not only for Americans, for Indians too.
Reviewed in India on September 24, 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books on "Caste". Not only for Americans, for Indians too.
Reviewed in India on September 24, 2020
I got to know about this book through social media which invoked a curiosity of mine. So I Pre-ordered it. Contrary to the routine, the kindle edition price was also comparable to hardbound editiom. So reluctantly though, I ordered the hardbound one. The binding, paper quality and the font size, all are really worth of the price. About reading experience, I must say this book is at par. Right from the 1st line, this 400-odd pages book gets over you. The writer has written this book simply keeping the american sociology and psychology at prime focus. While doing this, she has compared it with the racism during Nazi Germany and Caste system in India. Though it is a non-fiction, the writer has intermittently narrated some real stories and experiences in such a manner that the reading never gets dull. From Indian perspective, whatever she has mentioned about Indian caste system, they are pure facts and not exaggeration as some of the users have said in their respective reviews here. That's all for now. I am going to write a detailed review on goodreads.
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76 people found this helpful
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David
1.0 out of 5 stars Dangerous Sophistry
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 24, 2020
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bettyparry
5.0 out of 5 stars WHY AFRICAN-AMERICANS' HEALTH IS SO POOR.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 19, 2020
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25 people found this helpful
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Shopaholic
2.0 out of 5 stars Parochial, devoid of originality, pretentious and overstated. Misleading publisher's promotion
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 14, 2020
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Susan Layng
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing and Insightful Book!
Reviewed in Canada on October 4, 2020
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