Caste Book Summary - Caste Book explained in key points
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Caste summary

The Origins of Our Discontents

4.5 (279 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson explores the history of caste system in America and its impact on current social structures. The book provides insights on how caste can cause social inequality and how to work towards a more equitable society.

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    The longer structural problems persist, the harder they are to fix.

    Imagine you’ve inherited an old house. You give it a new roof and a new coat of paint, but you soon notice that something’s wrong with the ceiling. At first, it’s just a small spot where the plaster is cracking. Maybe it’s nothing important, you think. But then it grows worse. 

    When a specialist shows up, you’re given the diagnosis: stress cracks in the foundation are causing the walls and ceilings to bend and warp.

    It’s fair to say that these problems aren’t your fault. You didn’t build the house. You may not even know the person who did. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t your responsibility. It’s your house now. And until it’s fixed, it’s a hazard that puts everyone in danger. 

    The key message here is: The longer structural problems persist, the harder they are to fix.

    America is over three hundred years old. And these days, the stress fractures are readily apparent – drastic income gaps, ongoing police violence, and a pandemic that threw the problem of health care access into stark relief.

    To answer such questions as how we got here and why the symptoms of systemic racism have been so resistant to change, we need to look at things from the perspective of caste. Caste is a system of social hierarchy in which people enjoy varying degrees of superiority or are subject to subjugation based on the caste to which they belong.

    When you hear the word “caste,” you may think of India first. This makes sense, since India’s caste system is thousands of years old. But American society also meets the criteria for a caste system, and the author isn’t the only one to have noticed this. Many writers and other bright minds have suggested that America has indeed been living under a caste system since day one.

    Removing a society’s caste system is difficult, to say the least. India has attempted to pass legislation to reduce discrimination. But the Dalit people, who make up the lowest caste, and are regarded as “Untouchables,” continue to be subjected to acts of violence and treated as outcasts in their own country.

    In America, African-Americans were long ago relegated to the lowest caste. When a group of people has spent hundreds of years in such a position, change is hard to come by – especially when the dominant caste of white Americans have repeatedly fought to maintain a status quo within the system.

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    What is Caste about?

    Caste (2020) takes a revealing look at the caste system that continues to exist in American society, and its disturbing similarities to caste systems in India and WWII-era Germany. It explains how the attitudes of the dominant castes have become ingrained, on conscious and subconscious levels, through generations of subjugation. You’ll find out what it takes to maintain a caste system as well as what can be done to break free from it.

    Caste Review

    Caste (2020) by Isabel Wilkerson is a profound exploration of the hidden barriers that shape our society and perpetuate inequality. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers eye-opening historical and contemporary examples that expose the deep-rooted nature of caste systems, encouraging readers to rethink their assumptions.
    • Explores the intersectionality of caste with race and class, providing a comprehensive understanding of how these systems affect individuals and societies.
    • With its thought-provoking analysis and eloquent storytelling, the book challenges conventional perspectives and encourages meaningful, empathetic conversations.

    Best quote from Caste

    No one was white before he/she came to America, James Baldwin once said.

    —Isabel Wilkerson
    example alt text

    Who should read Caste?

    • People interested in American politics
    • History buffs
    • Those curious about how inequality can persist in a society

    About the Author

    Isabel Wilkerson is a writer and journalist whose work for the New York Times won her a Pulitzer Prize. She has also been a professor of journalism at Emory University, Princeton University, and Boston College. Her previous work includes the award-winning book The Warmth of Other Suns.

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    Caste FAQs 

    What is the main message of Caste?

    Caste examines the invisible system that influences our lives, offering insights into power, privilege, and the potential for change.

    How long does it take to read Caste?

    Reading time for Caste varies, but the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Caste a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Caste is a thought-provoking and essential read. It sheds light on deep-rooted social structures and encourages introspection.

    Who is the author of Caste?

    Isabel Wilkerson is the author of Caste.

    What to read after Caste?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Caste, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
    • The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt
    • Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
    • The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
    • Sovereign by Emma Seppala
    • Why I Am a Hindu by Shashi Tharoor
    • Lagom by Linnea Dunne
    • Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo & Alexander Bennett
    • The Problem with Change by Ashley Goodall