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Caste: The Lies That Divide Us: The International Bestseller Hardcover – 15 September 2020
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Caste: The Lies that Divide Us
With unflinching rigour and moral urgency, Isabel Wilkerson makes the game-changing case that beyond race, class or gender, our lives and societies are shaped by caste. That is, arbitrary but deeply-entrenched hierarchies, which are imposed by the dominant group in a culture as it seeks to maintain its own power. Caste systems divide and categorize populations in many ways, but they always work to maintain the status of the dominant group, and suppress those ‘below’ it.
Through her original research, Wilkerson reveals how our world has been shaped by the ‘unseen skeleton’ of caste – and how its arbitrary hierarchies still divide us today.
Powerful and timely ... I cannot recommend it strongly enough -- Barack Obama
Magnificent. Profound. Eye-opening. Sobering. Hopeful. -- Oprah Winfrey
Caste forced me to rethink how deeply embedded our unexamined preconceptions are -- Bill Clinton
Extraordinary ... an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far ... It's a book that changes the weather inside a reader. -- Dwight Garner ― The New York Times
Such is Wilkerson's gift as a writer that she leaves you looking at the world differently. -- Afua Hirsch ― Vogue
Caste will spur readers to think and to feel in equal measure -- Kwame Anthony Appiah ― New York Times Book Review
Isabel Wilkerson's Caste is probably the most important piece of non-fiction published this year. -- Sarah Hughes ― i News
Surprising and arresting... Like a prayer for a country in pain, offering new directions through prophetic new language -- Bilal Qureshi ― Washington Post
A consummate storyteller ... Isabel Wilkerson has written important book that reminds us of a comradeship of interwoven histories. ― LA Review of Books
An expansive interrogation of racism, institutionalised inequality and injustice ... This is an American reckoning and so it should be. Wilkerson activates history in her pages, bringing all its horror and possibility to light. It is a painfully resonant book and could not have come at a more urgent time. -- Fatima Bhutto ― Guardian
Persuasive and unsettling ... The case Wilkerson puts forward is inspiring and hopeful ... caste can be dismantled, setting everyone free. -- Ashish Ghadiali ― Observer
Important and timely ... If repudiation of past assumptions is the first step towards healing, Wilkerson's book offers a powerful frame for this. It is essential reading for anybody who feels angry, guilty or threatened by the tangled issue of "race" in America today. -- Gillian Tett ― Financial Times
Searching, gorgeously crafted... Caste is a luminous read, bearing its own torch of righteous wrath in a diamond-hard prose that will be admired and studied by future generations. -- Hamilton Cain ― Star Tribune
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. -- Kenneth W. Mack ― Washington Post
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
Wilkerson's genius as a writer is her ability to tell you the big story of what happened, but to make that story matter by linking it to the lives of those who survived it ... What in the hands of another writer would feel like an abstraction attains, in her work, the vividness and emotional power of lived experience. -- Ezra Klein ― Vox
Haunting yet strangely consoling, in a world defined by its divides, Caste connects. It reveals the 'unseen skeleton' embedded in heinous acts of power but, in evocative prose that is full of poise, reminds us what's possible when people come together. I closed the book feeling enlightened and energised, ready to roll up my sleeves and get on with the good work. -- Johny Pitts
Propulsive ... Should be required reading for generations to come. -- Joshunda Sanders ― Boston Globe
A transformative new framework through which to understand identity and injustice. -- Justin Worland ― TIME
Wonderful ... Prepare to have your mind expanded, your heart break and your head slowly shake by Wilkerson's sublime combination of skilful, analytical dissection and raw, emotional testimony -- Allen Sleith ― Belfast Telegraph
Caste makes a convincing, often scorching case that caste was there at the birth of the nation, and we wrestle every day with that legacy. It upsets the already rickety national myth that anyone in the United States can be anything -albeit, without entirely abandoning that hope -- Christopher Borrelli ― Chicago Tribune
Vital, brilliant and necessary -- Kae Tempest
Destined to become a classic ... urgent, essential reading for all. ― Library Journal (starred review)
It should be at the top of every American's reading list. ― Chicago Tribune
This enthralling exposé deserves a wide and impassioned readership ― Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This is a brilliant book ― Booklist (starred review)
Wilkerson's book arrives at a key inflection point, an opening for us to imagine, and then create, a system that's better than the one we've inherited. ― Bloomberg
About the Author
Isabel Wilkerson is the author of the acclaimed bestsellers The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Her debut work won multiple awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. Cited as a best book of the year by thirty news organizations, Warmth was named to Time's list of the Ten Best Books of the Decade, and The New York Times's list of the Best Nonfiction of All Time. Her second book, Caste, was a No.1 bestseller and heralded in The New York Times as 'an instant American Classic.' It appeared on forty best of the year lists, more than any other work of nonfiction, and was honored by Time as the No.1 nonfiction book of the year. In choosing Caste for her Fall 2020 book club, Oprah Winfrey declared it 'the most important book I have ever selected.'
Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer and the first African-American to win for individual reporting. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal for 'championing the stories of an unsung history.' 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.
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- Publisher : Allen Lane (15 September 2020); Penguin Random House
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 496 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0241486513
- ISBN-13 : 978-0241486511
- Item Weight : 740 g
- Dimensions : 16.2 x 4.3 x 24 cm
- Country of Origin : United Kingdom
- Importer : Penguin Random House
- Packer : Penguin Random House
- Generic Name : Book
- Best Sellers Rank: #5,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from India
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By Madan Jadhav on 24 September 2020
By Pradeep Kumar on 19 August 2020
Author is unaware about condition of upper castes in present day. So called general caste like Bramhins, Khastriyas have become untouchable in Govt. sectors. 50% reservation are given to so called SC and ST, but in spite of that author is accusing India about treatment of Dalits.
Author mentions same old Purusha Shuktam and Aryan Invasion Theory to prove the supremacy of Bramhin caste. As author accepts that she has read India's caste system within very short period of time. So, Ms.Wilkerson must read that origin of Aryan or race Aryan is a complete myth and it is abolished by latest DNA research.
The work seems to agitate Indian Dalits to create ruckus like left sponsored Antifa movement of BLM.
Top reviews from other countries
To repeatedly compare the modern US, to Nazi Germany, is not only historical nonsense it is deeply offensive. If the case is being made that black people in the US are treated like Jewish people in Nazi germany, then it must be possible to imagine a Jewish Reichs Chancellor, Jewish people represented throughout the upper echelons of the legal profession and Jewish intellectuals, such as this lady, making a lucrative career of trotting round the world in the 1930’s criticising the German government. That is obscene.
This book’s entire premise is built on quicksand and will only exacerbate the growing racial tension being fomented by critical race theory. Real progress on race relations will be made in boring committee rooms where policy decisions are taken and laws tweaked. Those processes are set back hugely by this kind of grotesque exaggeration, which only increases polarisation.
If you want to understand the philosophy underlying this kind of tripe try Cynical Theory.
Horrendous examples of racist killings throughout its history are detailed and taken for granted by white people and white made law. The selling postcards of the hanging or burning of black people was so common and natural that the sending of them eventually had to be banned. They got around this by sending them in envelopes. It reminds me today of the black jogger who was killed by a father and son filmed by a friend of theirs. Because of the caste system created each individual is crow-barred into a role which each has to adhere to. Many examples are given of this including the class exercise made of the superior blue eyes and the inferior brown eyes kids in a school. This showed how they all fell into their roles and totally transformed the ways they related to each other. Africans who came to the States identified themselves as their tribe eg. Igbo, Akan etc.; however they were all lumped together as blacks. The same with Europeans who emigrated to the US as Italians or French, they were lumped together as whites. The roles becomes the norm and it looks to be the natural order of things.
IW goes into detail in India, and Germany of the 30s and 40s and compares their castes and how it functions to the US one. This shows the similarities and the end results being virtually the same. The wealthy, powerful white elite assume their dominant role in US society, as does the African-American subordinate role at the bottom to ensure their attitudes. The hierarchical structure becomes an enormous obstacle for all to move from. The Jim Crow laws ensured that this was maintained and led to crimes against humanity which were viewed as totally normal and natural. The author says that there are 8 Pillars of Caste and goes into all of them in detail which make up the Foundation of Caste. She talks of wolf packs and how hierarchical that is and that when the lowest wolf dies the pack grieves and are totally lost for a period. They have lost their substructure which was the glue which held them all up. With the 60s civil rights acts and a black president this caused a feeling of, “this equality feels like a demotion” to the lowest layer of white people in the structure.”
“History has shown that nations and groups will conquer, colonize, enslave, and kill to maintain their illusion of primacy”. She then goes on to talk of Erich Fromm and his theory of fascism and the narcissistic self. The white working class may feel, “even though I am poor and uncultured I am somebody important because I belong to the most admirable group in the world….Caste is more than rank, it is a state of mind that holds everyone captive, the dominant imprisoned in an illusion of their own entitlement….the ancient code for the subordinate caste calls upon them to see the world not with their own eyes but as the dominant caste sees it..the message of inferiority comes at you in whispers and billboards, it burrows into your identity”. She gives several examples of people keeping silent when racism is overt and puts forward Don Lemon’s argument that silence is not an option.
The premature aging of cells leads to the early onset of disease due to chronic exposure to such stressors as discrimination, job loss or obesity. African-Americans lead such a stressful life under the dominant caste that they suffer greatly which leads to all sorts of ill-health and the explanation of why they suffer more under such things as Covid 19. In 2012 Obama won 39% of white American votes, in Mississippi only 10% voted for him, in other words, he won despite the bulk of the white electorate. Census projections state that the white majority will end in 2042 which is frightening to many white people. Researchers, “the belief that undeserving groups are getting ahead while your group is left behind”. She compares Germany to US and how they treat their appalling histories totally differently. Germany feels guilt and shame whereas Confederate flags and statues are the norm in the southern states.
She looks at the data of things, such as infant mortality, and maths and reading, and the richest country comes out poorly. IW brings the book up to date with Covid 19 and the total shambles of the USA. She talks about Einstein who came to US and stood up against racism and wished more white people would. “the bottom caste, though it bears much of the burden of the hierarchy, did not create the system, and the bottom caste alone cannot fix it….caste is a disease and none of us is immune..for most of American history, the country was closed off from the talents of the bulk of its people of all colours, genders, and nationalities…a world without caste would set everyone free”
Today as I write this (19 Sept. 2020) Trump is trying to change the school curriculum to make it whiter than white. Also Alicia Keys says in an interview, “I am that person, she says, the one that wasn’t supposed to make it out of Hell’s Kitchen, who was supposed to end up being a prostitute, a young mother at 16, or addicted to drugs. I am the one who was supposed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get injured or killed”.
Early in the introductory chapter it is made clear that "Us" in the title means Americans only. In a style irritatingly familiar to others, the author clearly assumes that should be the approach to any form of reportage, without actually stating it. So this book describes only the American caste system, something familiar to educated observers from outside the US of A, but which much of American society has a tradition of denying. There is no mention of the peculiarities of caste in Britain, and the caste conflict of Rwanda and Burundi is mentioned en passant, misrepresented as it usually is as an inter-ethnic conflict.
The author makes attempts at comparison of the American caste system, with its obsession with skin colour and ancestry, with the traditions of India, and the doctrines of the short-lived Nazi regime in Germany. She makes multiple claims to having carried out a volume of research into the subject, recounting her multiple eureka moments, yet at the same time describes how previous writers have made the same comparisons generations ago. This was more than a century in the case of comparison with Indian caste conventions, and of course it is well known that the pseudo-science beloved of the Nazi regime has had a widespread following in the USA long before the world heard of Hitler, and long after his fall. This of course is not limited to the USA.
A verbose, overly decorative and repetitive writing style, with frequent literary digressions, is something of a tradition in American reportage, but to the majority of the anglophone world these things are a pretentious distraction, which frequently disguise superficial content.
One wonders what readership this author is writing for. That she is addressing only her fellow Americans is clear enough, but educated Americans, able to look dispassionately at their society, will be familiar with this material - they have seen and heard it before - , and will likely also be offended and alienated by the extravagant and sententious overstatement. Those wedded to their tradition of denial will reject it. It might be of value to some who are less convinced that caste cannot exist in American society and are open to persuasion that it does and needs to be addressed. The book is of no conceivable interest to anyone outside this very specific demographic. Although such a heavily padded tome is unlikely to be an effective tool for this purpose, it is impossible not to wish her some success in this endeavour, and this is the reason for the second star, which comes with more than a suspicion that that may be over-generous.