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Caste (Oprah's Book Club): The Origins…

Caste (Oprah's Book Club): The Origins of Our Discontents (edition 2020)

by Isabel Wilkerson (Author)

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1,680877,779 (4.44)105
Title:Caste (Oprah's Book Club): The Origins of Our Discontents
Authors:Isabel Wilkerson (Author)
Info:Random House (2020), 496 pages
Collections:Your library

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Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson


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Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
3.75 stars

In this book, African-American author, Isabel Wilkerson, argues that the United States has a caste system with African-Americans at the bottom. She makes comparisons to the caste system in India (with Untouchables at the bottom) and with the Nazi regime in Germany. Caste is a bit different from social class in that you are born into your caste and you can never get out of it.

This was interesting. I was particularly drawn in by the Nazi comparisons, and I think that’s what I will remember the most of this book. I have to admit I unlikely to remember the list of “pillars” of the system (she did a chapter on each). I’d like to say the first half (which included those pillars) wasn’t as interesting, but it just depended on what she was talking about at the time. She has plenty of anecdotes through history, including her own. She also discusses politics, particularly the 2016 election, as well as the elections that brought Barack Obama to power. Of course, there is a lot about slavery, the Jim Crow laws, and the Confederacy, as well. She does do a really good job explaining and making the comparisons. This is – most definitely – well worth reading. ( )
  LibraryCin | Jul 18, 2021 |
Learned a lot about why this nation has continued with white supremacy as one of its identifying markers. The book could have used a much more thorough editing process. It would have been so much better had about 40% of the text been cut out. ( )
  larrybenfield | Jul 14, 2021 |
Unbelievable book. So many "AHA" moments(nod to Ms. Winfrey naturally) it was hard to keep track. I have told everyone about Caste. My son bought it and I am confident that a few of my book club pals will follow suit. Don't miss this. I can't stress enough how intelligent this was.
( )
  scoene | Jul 13, 2021 |
This is an amazing, scholarly, personal, punch-in-the-gut book. It should be required reading for everyone in the United States.

For the last several years I have heard the phrase "The system isn't broken. It's working exactly the way it was designed to." I decided that was probably true, but I had no idea *how* true it was until I read this book. From the days of the earliest white settlers, dark-skinned people have been deliberately, explicitly categorized as a "lesser" race than white people. Our first settlers created racism. Yes, other countries had slavery, but this was the first time in history that skin color was used to justify perpetual slavery.

I knew, in a middle-class-liberal-white way that black people had continued to be treated badly after the Civil War. I didn't realize that after the Civil War, none of the leaders of the Confederacy were punished in a meaningful way. Reparations were made to white people in the south, but not to those who were enslaved. I did not realize how many laws had been passed to keep blacks "in their place." I did not realize that even into the modern era, a black man wearing a suit in a southern town square could be challenged by any white person for dressing "above his status." I didn't realize how many laws designed to help the middle class explicitly excluded black people. (Apologies for not offering more specifics, but there was a lot of material in the book. I need to go back and write down specific examples and citations.)

The United States has a caste system as rigid as that of India, but not formalized. The author's descriptions of interacting with Indian scholars from the "Untouchable" caste, who were treated as second-class citizens by their Indian colleagues, their supposed peers, and the author's recognition of it as the way she has been treated as an educated black woman are directly parallel.

In the last part of the book, the author addresses the power of the existential belief by white people that no matter how lowly they are, all black people are beneath them, and the deeply disturbing experience of having it proved, again and again -- especially with a black president -- that that's not true. For those of us who believed that poor white people voted "against their own interests" in voting for Trump, this book makes clear that for a great number of them, their primary interest is preserving their status in the caste system as being securely above any and all people of color. ( )
  jsabrina | Jul 13, 2021 |
Critical race theory ( )
  claudiaannett | Jul 12, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (next | show all)
The descriptions are vivid in their horror; the connections travel across history and time to resonate in the mind. This structural move is a classic trademark of Wilkerson's style, and one of the attributes of her unique voice that imbues her writing with such textured depth. Wilkerson's use of a poetic focus on imagery and detailed characterization allows us an intimate and personal relationship with the lives of those she chronicles; when this empathic closeness is juxtaposed with the harsh brutality of the historical record the contrast is resonant and haunting, becoming a towering memorial to those violated by the violence of caste.
“Caste,” the book, upsets the already rickety national myth that anyone in the United States can be anything — albeit, without entirely abandoning that hope.... It’s the creeping horror of potentially losing ground. “Make America Great Again” is, if nothing else, a plea to maintain caste. Political scientists in Wilkerson’s book refer to that panic as “dominant group status threat,” a funhouse reflection in which those on the bottom rungs are seen as moving up a little too easily for the comfort of those at the top.
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.... “Caste” deepens our tragic sense of American history. It reads like watching the slow passing of a long and demented cortege. In its suggestion that we need something akin to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, her book points the way toward an alleviation of alienation. It’s a book that seeks to shatter a paralysis of will. It’s a book that changes the weather inside a reader.
added by Lemeritus | editNew York Times, Dwight Garner (pay site) (Jul 31, 2020)
A memorable, provocative book that exposes an American history in which few can take pride.
added by Lemeritus | editKirkus Reviews (May 30, 2020)

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isabel Wilkersonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Miles, RobinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Because even if I should speak,
no one would believe me,
And they would not believe me precisely because
they wuld know that that I said was ture.
--------James Baldwin
If the majority knew of the root of this evil,

then the road to its cure would not be long.

-------------------Albert Einstein
To the memory of my parents

who survived the caste system

and to the memory of Brett

who defied it
First words
In the haunted summer of 2016, an unaccustomed heat wave struck the Siberian tundra on the edge of what the ancients once called the End of the Land.
Hitler had made it to the chancellery in a brokered deal that conservative elites agreed to only because they were convinced they could hold him in check and make use of him for their own political aims. They underestimated his cunning and overestimated his base of support, which had been the very reasson the had felt they needed him in the first place. At the height of their power at the polls, the Nazis never pulled the majority they coveted and drew only 38 percent of the vote in the country's last free and fair elections at the onset of their twelve-year reign. The old guard did not foresee, or chose not to see, that his actual mission was "to exploit the methods of democracy to destroy democracy." (p 82)
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