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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, 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"--
Publisher: New York :, Random House,, [2020]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780593230251
Branch Call Number: 305.5122 W652c 2020
Characteristics: xvii, 476 pages ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

First place for Best History and Biography

Nonfiction nominee. "The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions."

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💰Be prepared for the author to explain everything in terms of similes, metaphors, and fables drawn from various traditions. No doubt she has noticed that people are more likely to believe a good story, than some kind of logical argument. There's little straightforward exposition in simple declarative sentences. Much interpretation is called for. The author sees caste, or race, as the explanation for most of the injustice in the world. I tend to have a more Marxian (Marxist?) interpretation, by which I mean that the right explanation relates to what we all most sincerely and deeply believe in. I refer of course to money. But the book is worth reading, nevertheless.

Dec 09, 2020

The first forty or fifty pages feel like a gloss on Kendi’s “Stamped From The Beginning,” but Wilkerson expands well beyond that. She does not review racist history or the origins of “whiteness” that Kendi does in his book. Instead, she looks at the origins of caste, describes the underlying principles that she calls pillars and then discusses the application, maintenance, and consequences of these principles. Her study is extensive and many of her examples are drawn from her personal experiences as a woman of color in this country and as an observant visitor in other countries.

Her Pillar Number 6 (Dehumanization and Stigma) was of particular interest to me. Having read Arendt’s “Eichmann In Jerusalem,” Chiaverini’s “Resistance Women,” and Neumann’s “When Time Stopped” in the last several months, I feel this chapter did an excellent job of explaining the Nazis’ ascendance. Reading that last sentence, it seems my reading has taken a turn toward the dark in the last year or two; but then, so has my country. Incidentally, and not entirely tangentially, chapter 20 is a good description of Trumpism.

Satchel Paige is the topic of chapter 18. Satchel Paige was probably the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball. His skills were sidetracked because he was Black, which is the point of her discussion. It is likely that every positive MLB pitching record would list Paige if he had been allowed to play in the majors before he was fifty years old. I was lucky enough to see him pitch for the Miami Marlins when I was a senior in high school. The Marlins played a game in my hometown in the AAA International League (my recollection is that Havana and Montreal had teams, hence the identifier). Although I would like to report that excellent baseball was played, there was a lot of showmanship involved, so there was an aspect of minstrelsy to it. My first stab at typing this paragraph started with “On a lighter note,” but there is no lightness to it.

An excellent book.


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