Caste (Oprah's Book Club)

The Origins of Our Discontents
Narrated by: Robin Miles
Length: 14 hrs and 26 mins
5 out of 5 stars (2,080 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best seller • Oprah’s Book Club Pick • The Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling 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.

©2020 Isabel Wilkerson (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"[Caste] should be at the top of every American’s reading list." (Chicago Tribune

Editor's Pick

A lucid reframing of race in America
The arrival of a new work by Isabel Wilkerson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Warmth of Other Suns, would be noteworthy in any year. In 2020, it’s a revelation. With stunning clarity, Caste takes a topic causing deep national grief—America’s enduring racist structure—and reframes it in the language and context of caste. It exposes how our racial hierarchy was established and invisibly ingrained over centuries—and how it holds its own against India’s more ''classical'' caste system and the rigid order constructed by Nazi Germany. Compellingly researched, with fascinating historical detail—witness Dr. King’s visceral reaction, then dawning recognition, after being called an American ''untouchable'' during a visit to India in 1959—as well as forthright reflections from the author’s own life as a Black journalist and scholar. Wilkerson compares confronting America’s caste system to checking out the basement in an old house—a dreaded but necessary chore—and in this superb account voiced by Hall of Fame narrator Robin Miles, it’s a journey many more of us will take. —Kat J., Audible Editor

What listeners say about Caste (Oprah's Book Club)

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  • 08-05-20

Brilliant, articulate, highly listenable.

Old white guy here, if that matters. I have to say I was gobsmacked at how good this is. I was anxious to read it after reading the glorious NYT review, so I got it the day it was released (yesterday) and just finished it. Wilkerson's reportage, analysis, synthesis, and conclusions are spectacularly insightful. Everything she says resonates so perfectly that throughout the book I was thinking, "Ah hah! Yes. This is so illuminating. She has it just right!" And that was my tone consistently. There were no lulls, no head-scratching off-shoots. If someone living in the US or curious about the US reads only one book even only tangentially related to race, let it be this one. Goodness, what a terrific book. And the narration by Robin Miles is flawless. Wow.

138 people found this helpful

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Pretty good. Not a lot of new insights.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Warmth of Other Suns so I couldn’t wait to listen to her new book. I would definitely give “Warmth” a 5-star rating but couldn’t say Caste is on that same level. Her writing style is great and the narration is enjoyable. I don't think that you can argue with the premise that we have -- or at least have had -- a caste system based on race in the United States. However, I did feel that some of the personal anecdotes could have been left out. At least for me they weren’t needed to reinforce her point and I found some of them to be a stretch. Any time you attempt to assign race as the sole factor behind the motives and actions of an entire group it’s going to be problematic. You could argue that there are a number of factors influencing the situations she attributed to our race-based caste system in the book but then again who am I to question someone's lived experience. I just felt that there were times while listening that she had a hammer and everything was a nail.

39 people found this helpful

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I Loved It

I could hardly wait to read this book. I read The Warmth of other Suns and loved it. I really believe it should be used in urban high schools as a history book. At it’s core this book is also a history book. But it is a very good book. I learned so much from reading this book. Makes me feel every worse about our ancestors than I did before. The strength of the book are the true stories and examples given. Especially when it relates events I was aware of but didn’t know all of the details.


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38 people found this helpful

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Detailed instances -- but not much explanation.

To start, I have to say that I think this book deserves a 4-star rating as a detailed narrative of the actions of certain individuals who were interested in maintaining a caste style hierarchy of others based on skin color. However, I found it a bit short-sighted and was personally disappointed in this work.

That said, as an individual reader, I think I was just expecting something different than what this book actually is, and that led me to the 2-star rating.

I eagerly awaited the publication of this book, hoping that it would be a deeply researched tome that would provide illumination for race relations in the United States. Seeing the title of "Caste" had me believe that this discussion would go beyond the binary frames that usually are associated with discourses on racism by using the lens of caste hierarchy. As the book went on, however, I found the intricate retelling of past atrocities against individual African Americans--which most of the book is dedicated to--akin to a rehashing of past work. Instead of establishing a new frame using caste, I found that on many occasions, the phrases of "dominant caste" and "subordinate caste" were just replacements for the words "white people" and "black people", and I didn't get the sense that the investigation was meant to go beyond that. Discussions of India's and the Nazi's caste systems were scant, and never really were raised to the same level of comparison as those of America's Jim Crow and Antebellum south.

To be clear, this isn't to say that these stories aren't significant to be reminded of, especially during our current moment. But it provides readers with more of an explanation of WHAT happened to certain individuals at a very particular time, rather than providing a fuller picture of the WHY these things happen, and the deeper implications of those actions both on the victims and the aggressors. That's where this book didn't reach the expectations that I had for it -- which admittedly, may have been misplaced.

22 people found this helpful

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A must read for everyone

A fresh take on the social disparity in the U.S. and around the world. I hope that we all realize that we are living under a Caste system and that we need to change our course or we will continue with the divisines in this country. At worst, we will elect someone that will profit from our differences and destroy our nation. At best, we will continue with the status quo.

21 people found this helpful

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Total waste of time and money

Bought this because Oprah recommended it highly. However, it was obvious the author tried very hard to hide her political prejudices by wrapping them in carefully selected historical facts. Was truly hoping for an honest piece of insightful research. In addition the narration was just painfully boring.

18 people found this helpful

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You owe it to yourself to read this book

Part narrative, history, sociology, anthropology, biography, and auto-biography. Above all else, a fresh metaphor that reframes the most vital American tragedy.

16 people found this helpful

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Caste is Powerful!!!

Amazingly Awakening!!!Powerful Brutatly Honest, The Real Truth-the tacit truth about America !!! EYE Opening!!!!!!!!!

15 people found this helpful

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Want my credit back

Very biased and can’t get thru the first chapter! Was looking for a good book but this cannot be it

12 people found this helpful

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didn't like the book. struggled to listen. the ton

didn't like the topic,. the tone was dry. struggled to listen. needed more details .

12 people found this helpful