The Origins of Our Discontents

Book - 2020
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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, [this book] 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"--
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2020]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780593230251
Branch Call Number: HT725.U6 W55 2020
305.5122 Wilkerson
Characteristics: xvii, 476 pages ; 25 cm


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Sep 25, 2020

This is a good history book on racism, casteism, etc... 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.

Sep 18, 2020

As an initial skeptic to the concept of caste, this book surprised me and shone a light on some of my most deeply held assumptions about myself, my own interactions, and my own place within the U.S., even as a middle caste person, about which the book speaks relatively little. Every time I've tried to avoid tanning out of a dislike of looking darker, cheerfully told a stranger my parents' heritage to satisfy his/her curiosity of where I'm "really from," or been surprised about someone presenting a certain way or having a certain kind of job/education/status - I am casteist and have been swimming in a sea of casteism.

Admittedly, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents focuses more on theory, persuasive rhetoric, and insightful storytelling than data and practical solutions, which may turn off some people. Yet for me, it's the first explanation that really encompasses why we act and think the way that we do, often subconsciously, in relation to other American castes to preserve our designated rank/place. What a paradigm-shifting game changer.

debwalker Aug 31, 2020

Down to the roots of racism.

Aug 24, 2020

Rather unsubstantiated claims on Nazi Germany and USA similarity. Only someone who haven't lived in Nazi country or socialist country could make such claims.

Aug 10, 2020

In her newest project, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson provides us with a new terminology to diagnose America's race/class oppression: caste. She weaves three strands of history to argue her case: the long-existing and most recognizable caste system in India, Aryan supremacy and the subordination of Jews in Nazi Germany, and the infrastructure of inequality and inequity that has persisted in the United States since the transatlantic slave trade.

Something I learned from this book that I don't want to forget is that the Nazi regime initially looked to the United States for guidance regarding discrimination and race-based laws. The Nazis observed that the U.S. was succeeding in maintaining the racial caste system during Jim Crow, and traveled here to research miscegenation, housing discrimination, and disenfranchisement laws.

Once again, Wilkerson has built us a lens through which we can analyze, atone for, and improve our society -- and so we best use it. This is an essential history book that challenges and replaces the falsehoods of our education.

Aug 10, 2020

Compares the sorting of people into castes in America, India and Nazi Germany, looking at the causes and consequences for those cast to the lower end of the hierarchy.

Another fine work of social history and good reading for the times we are living in. While I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know, it was fascinating seeing the parallels described and compared in one setting. Reading this gives me another way of viewing the American scene. My hope is that my own awareness grows. I thought we were better than this.

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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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