April 2022

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

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

Isabel Wilkerson


The writer, lecturer and the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Isabel Wilkerson, examines in her newest book, Caste: The Origin of our Discontents, the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions. In this brilliant book, Isabel gives the readers 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.


One might ask what even is caste? According to Isabel,

“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.”


Reading the definition of caste provided by Isabel, one might see the correlation between racism and caste, which certainly does overlap and Wilkerson notes further that

 “what some people call racism could be seen as merely one manifestation of the degree to which we have internalized the larger American caste system.”


Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behaviour and the nation’s fate. In her book, Isabel links the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany and further defines eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including a divine will, heredity, bloodlines, stigma and dehumanization.


This beautifully written, original, and revealing book is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and American life today.


Isabel Wilkerson might be best known for being the first woman of African-American heritage to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1994. Through her writing, Wilkerson strives to bring the invisible and the marginalized into the light and into our hearts. Her other famous work is her debut book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. A nonfictional story following three African Americans fleeing the southern repression into the North and hence being part of the Great Migration.


#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
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
“Wilkerson’s work is the missing puzzle piece of our country’s history.” — The American Prospect
“Wilkerson’s book is about how brutal misperceptions about race have disfigured the American experiment. This is a topic that major historians and novelists have examined from many angles, with care, anger, deep feeling and sometimes simmering wit.
Wilkerson’s book is a work of synthesis. She borrows from all that has come before, and her book stands on many shoulders. “Caste” lands so firmly because the historian, the sociologist and the reporter are not at war with the essayist and the critic inside her. This book has the reverberating and patriotic slap of the best American prose writing.”— Dwight Garner, Book Critic, The New York Times