The Origins of Our Discontents

Book - 2020 | First edition.
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""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 America life today"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2020]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780593230251
Characteristics: xvii, 476 pages ; 23 cm


From Library Staff

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. This book ... Read More »

October 7, 2021

From the critics

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Nov 14, 2020

The title, an argument lack of objective persuasion.
A weak aspect: resource scarcity is not perceived, it’s a reality. We live in a society/system that rewards competition, our lives are achieved. Caste won’t end, relying on human conscience. Human nature allows caste persists (e.g. we may change it from skin color to mental attributes etc...)
The book presents remarkable, extensive materials, but overwhelms readers with compassion without a concrete solution (if any) or a hope brighter than anguish inflamed candles.

I wonder,
why India's caste last,
when dynasties went under;
why Nazis caste blast
the world quick in shudder.

Chapters swell,
narration structures overlap to tell;
time and again, points made well,
salvo and burst, emotions not to quell.

Rhetoric from/for bottom rung.
empathy choked my lung:
pro justice though, align with the dominant,
my shame unsung.

I ponder,
resource scarcity is not perceived;
compete is believed, life is achieved.
Caste is always yonder,
not by divine will, is human ill.
When no one to conquer, no country with border,
but a planet to fill,
communism would be a magic pill.

Nov 10, 2020

Recommended by Barbara

Nov 07, 2020

Amazing. I learned so much and how appropriate during the US election. I now understand why so many Americans are so enamoured with Trump. So glad to be a Canadian!

Nov 06, 2020

This book is one of Publishers Weekly’s top books of 2020.

Oct 23, 2020

A basic rule of journalism is : If it bleeds, it reads. The Warmth of Other Suns was outstanding. This book, though, as mentioned by other comments was a chronicle of abuses and warped attitudes displayed in slave holding states, carried over for years after the Civil War. The barbs against President Trump without the balance of the administration's positive financial improvement of African Americans seemed politically motivated. The last chapter was the only ray of hope in the book. The abuses will bring tears to your eyes and it is a call to examine our hearts and minds personally. And the story motivates to awareness and responsibility to create a loving community of respect for all. I would also recommend a book that deals with Immigration called Welcoming the Stranger that is also in this library.

Sep 25, 2020

This is a good history book on institutionalized systemic racism, casteism, etc... in general, not only as an institution of the the USA, but also from India, for example. Provides verifiable context for not only America's crime, but Hitler's Germany and India's system as well. It does not necessarily provide one with the answers to how we solve, mitigate, etc... this issue... again, its more of a history book that allows all of us context to move forward.

Sep 25, 2020

CASTE is a sobering, thought-provoking, gut-wrenching masterpiece. Hard to read at times, it is impeccably researched and presented by author Isabel Wilkerson. Blending historical research, individual stories, and personal experience, Wilkerson makes the case that America has long operated under a powerful caste system that shares some of the same qualities of the infamous caste systems of India and Nazi Germany. Brilliant, timely, and current in its scope, CASTE is one of my top reads of 2020.

Sep 24, 2020

I know that I will be in a tiny minority but after The Warmth of Other Suns I found this book disappointing and at times irritating. It's not about the subject matter which seems to be something of a shocker or new info for the major reviewers. Really? Unless you have your eyes and mind closed to the reality of this country - origin stories and currently - she put it all together well but would prefer The End of the Myth.

What I find irritating is what is evidently the "thing" now - run text in pages of italics. And never refer to specific people - early on with Trump and Clinton by name. As I said in the beginning, I gave The Warmth as a gift to friends on several occasions - black and white friends - and couldn't wait for this one. Great information, all pulled together, but missing her high mark.

Sep 22, 2020

From the author of "The Warmth of Other Suns," this book, which compares the racial structure in America with the caste system in India and the Jews under Nazi Germany, is sure to provoke and start conversations. She submits everything to her thesis and there are some weaknesses in her arguments, but her mix of personal anecdote, scholarship, and striking examples, this is a book for our moment. Might consider reading this "Stamped from the Beginning."

Sep 19, 2020

One of the must reads of 2020 and every year for that matter for every single American no matter what your race is. You cannot understand what it means to be American without the perspective this book provides. To know that we are literally the only country on earth in human history to have built its caste system based on color of ones skin is mind blowing, sad and frankly disgusting. I was blown away by how our country has literally been built politically, socially and economically on slavery and racism, and that to this day black people everywhere are still fighting it. No wonder their is anger, pain and suffering. I would be pissed, too!!! Discontent is too soft a word. Superbly written, researched, fact-based, with both real world and also personal experiences living as a black woman in America, this is captivating, sobering book on being black in America that will keep you thinking long after you put it down. It will change the way you see things for good. And that's the only way, if we all read books like this and become aware of the workings of the caste system in America, we have any hope of atoning and moving forward. Don't expect the election of 2020 to make a difference, to be the answer to all of our race problems. The one thing that I wish that this book did provide was more of a blueprint on how we could actually move forward as a country. She does provide some potential solutions towards the end, much like they did in Nazi Germany, but you are left feeling at the end that hope is going to be hard to come by.

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Sep 25, 2020

“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly. And the least that a person in the dominant caste can do is not make the pain any worse.” - p. 386

Sep 25, 2020

“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. It is about resources—which caste is seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumptions of competence—who is accorded these and who is not.” - pp. 17-18

Sep 25, 2020

“America is an old house. We can never declare the work over. Wind, flood, drought, and human upheavals batter a structure that is already fighting whatever flaws were left unattended in the original foundation. When you live in an old house, you may not want to go into the basement after a storm to see what the rains have wrought. Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see.” - pp. 15-16


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