I’m excited to announce our October pick for The Notable Woman Book Club – Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson.
I had the pleasure of meeting Isabel Wilkerson during her book tour for The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. At the time, I was working at Riverside Church, a social justice church housed in a gothic, beautiful building in Morningside Heights in New York City. I have absolutely no idea how I heard that Wilkerson was speaking at the Church that day, and I had not yet read her book. But what I did hear about her and the event intrigued me so even though I was exhausted after a long day in the theatre, I went to the talk. Wilkerson did not disappoint. She was a delight, a wealth of knowledge, and opened my eyes to a part of US history that I did not know anything about. I’m forever changed from her talk that day, which is why her new book has me so excited.
What’s Caste about?
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.
Oh my gosh, right? You know this is going to be good.
And who is Isabel Wilkerson?
Isabel Wilkerson, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Warmth of Other Suns. Her debut work won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and was named to Time‘s 10 Best Nonfiction Books of the 2010s and The New York Times‘s list of the Best Nonfiction of All Time. She has taught at Princeton, Emory, and Boston Universities and has lectured at more than two hundred other colleges and universities across the United States and in Europe and Asia.
What are people saying about this book?
“Magnificent . . . a trailblazing work on the birth of inequality . . . Caste offers a forward-facing vision. Bursting with insight and love, this book may well help save us.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Extraordinary . . . one of the most powerful nonfiction books I’d ever encountered . . . an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far. . . .Caste deepens our tragic sense of American history. It reads like watching the slow passing of a long and demented cortege. . . . It’s a book that seeks to shatter a paralysis of will. It’s a book that changes the weather inside a reader.”–Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“[Caste] should be at the top of every American’s reading list.”—Chicago Tribune
“Wilkerson’s book is a powerful, illuminating and heartfelt account of how hierarchy reproduces itself, as well as a call to action for the difficult work of undoing it.”—The Washington Post
We’ll be discussing this book in The Society of Notable Women. You can request to join here.
Looking forward to chatting books with you!