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Caste by Isabel Wilkerson


by Isabel Wilkerson

Quick take

A look at racism and caste, in America and abroad, that goes beyond what you learned in history class.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Literary


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Serious


Illustrated icon, Icon_Challenging_Indicator


This is a long and in-depth historical analysis that contains extensive research. Serious nonfiction readers are encouraged!

Why I love it

Glory Edim
Founder, Well-Read Black Girl

In this cultural moment, I can’t think of a more resonant and urgent read than Caste, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson’s extensive interrogation of racism in America and abroad.

Wilkerson argues that there is an unspoken force controlling Americans, one with far-reaching and profound effects, writing that, “If we have been trained to see humans in the language of race, then caste is the underlying grammar that we encode as children.” Drawing on two of the best-known caste systems in history—in India and Nazi Germany—as a lens for understanding how the abuses of power, privilege, and oppression intersect, she makes the case that we are all bound to a caste system that perpetuates rampant inequality in our society. Along the way, she offers us detailed narratives of disenfranchisement—like explaining why Americans rallied to watch public lynchings in the Jim Crow South—and with each historical example, we are left with a better understanding of how the caste system shows up over and over again in our country.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an extraordinarily powerful and thought-provoking work. Wilkerson sets out to educate her readers, challenging us to go further beyond race 101. Ultimately, her outlook is hopeful: Wilkerson believes that with enough knowledge and honest indignation, we can successfully confront our history, acknowledge that Black Lives Matter, and dismantle oppressive caste systems.

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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.

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Get an early look from the first pages of Caste.

Member thoughts

All (9067)
All (9067)
Love (6390)
Like (2373)
Dislike (304)
9356 ratings
  • 68% Love
  • 25% Like
  • 3% Dislike
  • Chagrin falls, OH

    It’s a book that is hard to love- not because it isn’t superbly written. It is. Its hard to love because our history, as a nation, is unloveable. To ensure a future filled with love, it’s a must read.

  • Hyannis , MA

    It took a long time for me to read this book - it’s not the kind of book you “swallow” whole, more of the kind you take small bites of, see how the taste sits with you and give some time to digest.

  • Boston, MA

    Everyone needs to read this book! It’s amazing! Isabel Wilkerson’s exhaustive research explains the unique role caste plays in America. It explains much of what’s happening in our divided society.

  • Rochester, MN

    THIS book should be required reading for EVERYONE. I cannot put into words how important this book is!!! Elizabeth Wilkerson’s writing is well researched as well as eloquently expressed. READ THIS!!!!

  • Saint Paul, MN

    Very well-written. Looking at caste as the system upon which this country was founded was a new perspective compared to what I was taught in school and helped me make connections I hadn’t made before.

  • Hixson, TN

    Timeless, great story of society’s fault lines. Explains how broken nations’ systems really are! This horrible manmade division is seen today by the way those who are under represented are treated

  • Loves Park, IL

    This book was very enlightening. I feel that if it hadn’t gotten so political, so early on, readership would improve. The people that quit reading this early because of politics, need to read it most.

  • Fairfax, VA

    I feel like I don’t have adequate words for this book. It made me angry and sad, but also showed me in what direction I,and America, need to move in. This should be required reading across the nation.

  • Lake Forest, CA

    A revelation. Wilkerson masterfully crafts a narrative history about America’s continued perpetuation of caste. Her combination of anecdotal and numerical evidence leaves you compelled and convinced.

  • Salt Lake City , UT

    One of the most impactful books I’ve ever read. I cited this book in a paper for my doctoral program as well. One I will return to many times I am sure. I hope schools make this part of curriculums.

  • Thetford, VT

    This book shows us America's intentional complicitness with the building and maintenance of their caste system. A great first lesson on the pillars of caste, and how others built their system on ours.

  • Spanish Fork, UT

    I’m considering having required reading for my household, and this will be #1 on the list. Not really, but I loved it that much. It opened my eyes to questions I need to start asking. Mind blowing!

  • Ames, IA

    I have recommended this book to my book club. It's a tough read for anyone who denies racism exists. I liked the anecdotes-it helped personalize the story and provided authenticity to the information.

  • Birmingham, AL

    Wow!An important book very well written. Not perfectly objective but as close any social scientist could come. Incredibly well researched. Hard to read in places but a necessary read for all Americas.

  • Oklahoma City, OK

    This was a hard but very thought provoking read. While the view and point is only through the eye of Caste, it was very eye opening and a lot to digest. Highly recommend it to anyone wanting to grow!

  • Maitland, FL

    An interesting comparison: blacks in America with the caste system in India. Most of the book was thought provoking although there were some instances which were stretched for truthfulness. Liked it.

  • Inlet Beach, FL

    This was a revelatory book for me. I am an Am History major so I thought I knew a lot of history. I was wrong. Learned so much. I have passed this book on to family and have a line waiting for it.

  • Charleston, SC

    I was, embarrassingly-admittedly, worried Caste would kind of be like assigned reading, and not for personal desire to do so. Was. I. Wrong! Caste went by way too soon & left me wanting more from I.W.

  • Puyallup, WA

    Caste is a tough but highly important read. Isabel Wilkerson uses an array of analogies, examples, and research to illustrate her points. It's dense and takes attention, but is eye-opening. Must read.

  • Houston, TX

    This book has changed the way I view racism. It helped answer questions about how we view racism as a society and why in some situations, you know in your gut, are racist and wrong.Definite must read.

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