Caste (Oprah's Book Club)

By Isabel Wilkerson

  • Release Date: 2020-08-04
  • Genre: Social Science
Score: 3
From 234 Ratings


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.

Video Review Caste (Oprah's Book Club) - Isabel Wilkerson


  • Absolutely Essential Reading

    By Nbanderson228
    I don't know how to begin reviewing this book short of stating that it is arguably the best and most important non-fiction book that I have read to date. It is informative, powerful, and inspiring. In her acknowledgments, Isabel Wilkerson credits Ibram X. Kendi and Bryan Stevenson for their scholarship and efforts as it pertains to racism in America. Bryan Stevenson's book "Just Mercy" was the first book that I ever read that truly opened my eyes to the inequities of the U.S. criminal justice system, and after reading Dr. Kendi's "How To Be An Antiracist" recently, I contend that it is the definitive text for defining American structural racism. What Wilkerson does in this book is take it one step further. Whereas "How to Be An Antiracist" answers the 'what' questions, "Caste" answers the 'why.' As opposed to just speaking to racism, she compares the structure of America to India's long-standing caste system - essentially a fixed hierarchy of all of its citizens - and how this country was built and maintained to keep African Americans on the bottom rung of that totem. To provide just one small example, she identifies how the Nazis used America's treatment of black people as a framework for their Nuremberg Laws of 1934 that were designed to institutionalize marginalization of Jews during the era of the Third Reich. Just think about that for a moment. She then later goes on to detail how Germany has responded to that piece of their history with shame, education, and memorialization. Meanwhile, we have a large portion of our population in the United States fighting to preserve statues and monuments that honor men that provided Hitler with his playbook. Moreover, Wilkerson's book is so much more than research and facts. Throughout the book, she weaves her message through historical examples, personal anecdotes, and cultural references. She writes of tales of lynchings during the Jim Crow era that are so heart-wrenching and visceral that they read like a photograph. She highlights systemic absurdities with an undeniable sense of logic. And she appeals to humanity in a way that makes me feel like this book should be required reading for obtaining a driver's license or I don't know...buying a Big Gulp. Since the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all that has ensued, I have finally been educating myself. I have felt guilt. I have felt sad. I have started to identify and continue to work on my own shortcomings. I have felt empathy. I have donated to causes that are advocating for policy change. I have felt supportive. This was the book that I needed to feel outraged. It's time to do more.
  • This should be part of every American’s history lesson

    By Merissa T
    The book is excellent. Wilkerson has masterfully woven a complex history of events into a clearly understood, data supported explanation of what got us to where we are right now. Her metaphors are so insightful and her evidence of how the USA has established a hierarchy that debases human beings for the color of their skin is so thought provoking and at times, shocking to realize. She is an incredible storyteller and this story is so powerful and life changing- it should be required reading for every American student.
  • Thought Provoking, Educational and Engaging

    By GeisGal
    I found this book thoroghly educational and engaging. After reading it, I have vowed never to go back to the person I was before reading it. It has encouraged a deeper empathy and understanding for the experience of people of color, and has been the best education on the role of race/caste in our country that I have ever had. The stories woven through the book were enlightening and thought provoking and served as a way to allow the reader to feel strong emotions and a personal connection to the content. The connection to Nazi Germany and India provided views that I had never before considered. I learned so much and am seeking ways to incorporate what I have learned into my day to day life. Highly recommend. My only complaint is that I wish she had spent more time on how we can move forward and heal as a nation.
  • Wonderful

    By BodhiMine
    Thoughtful and challenging.

    By juliusa
    Another Pulitzer please!! This is a brilliant, moving, spot on analysis of the truth our country must face. Our system has too long allowed the caste hierarchy to exist and it needs to stop. The humanity exhibited in the writing here is astounding and reading this should deepen any human being’s resolve to make change. Thank you for yer another superb and necessary book.
  • Transformational

    By Margot157
    Powerful read that moved me from page one and took me on a journey that will forever change the way I view this experiment we call America.
  • Important Read in Our Current Times

    By Lalalalalalalalalablah
    A very eye opening book that does not point the finger but presents the ugly, uncomfortable facts. Beautifully written, though sometimes hard to read in its naked truthfulness, this is simply a book book we all must to read. With anti-racism books flying off the shelves in the current climate in the U.S., be sure to put this book at the top of your reading list.
  • Compelling argument but not scientific

    By Backroad Rider
    Wilkerson is a journalist, not a scientist, so while her book presents a logical case for a caste system in the United States that system is not examined beyond the White/Black situation. She makes little effort to fit Native Americans, Jews or those of Latin American ancestry into her theory of an Amciacn Caste system. However, she gives a compelling agrument for the exisance of millions of White Amcericans who are determined to keep their power and dominance over those from Noneuropean ancestry. Even to the point of electing a clearly incompetent person to the Presidency because he promised to make (Whte) America Great Again. The many negataive coments on this site show that she hit a nerve among those who believe they have the God-given right to domminate those who are not white or Protesant Christians but don’t want to publically admit it. Wilkerson is deservidely angry at the treatment she and other Black women have received because they are in the very lowest class/caste: Black and female. Her anger and attempt to understand how she became a bottom person sparked this book that gives an important insight into our nation.
  • Life changing and essential book

    By esn0622
    There are rare times when reading a book that you realize this is not merely a book but a companion, a guide to which you will return to help understand the world around you. Caste is one of those paradigm shifting books. My jaw was dropped and my stomach churned while seeing how Isabel Wilkerson laid out a convincing framework for how the U.S. society is organized. Not only by race but by something older: caste. Reading this book will make you look at your life and your place in the world differently. It’s an eye opening book. You can’t go back! Be brave enough to read it! The fact that it’s engrossing and well written only helps make its brilliant points come out more clearly. Thank you Oprah for choosing this book.
  • A masterpiece

    By BookGal444
    This book is a magnificent tapestry - weaving together history, social commentary, personal stories, and eye-opening anecdotes to tell an American history missing from textbooks. You will not want to put it down.