The Origins of Our Discontents

The word "caste" is a term Americans generally associate with other countries. Author Isabel Wilkerson uses the concept to help readers gain new insight into how some of the deepest injustices in our own nation have come to be. Race is rarely mentioned in this book, but readers will gain new perspectives on racism in the United States. 

496 pages. ©2020.
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Reader Reviews for this Book


Review posted January 26, 2023


This book is a bit dry for my tastes, but is an important read. I think it could’ve been better organized and explained so that it’s easier to get through, especially since it’s quite long as well. I did learn a lot about our history and current day United States that put it into perspective in a way I hadn’t thought of before.


Review posted January 25, 2023


This was a challenging book to get through. A lot of great information.


Review posted December 5, 2022


Very important read!


Review posted November 8, 2022


A powerful book that I am so glad I found. The topics are complex and often ones that I have found are not discussed in public - the writing was extraordinary and I felt connected to the author as she broke down so many topics interwoven with her personal experiences. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone open to learning from the past even if it’s not our own personal one. It is not an easy read and it you might want to put the book down, but don't it is a history that has to be known, whether it is to our discontent.

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Review posted November 8, 2022


This is a bery thought-provoking book that makes one go back and re-examine all of the history we were taught way back in the last century!!


Review posted October 15, 2022


This book is an insightful, powerful look into the all controlling caste. Reading this was the first time I embodied the horror of slavery, as well as a fresh start as it ended with a call for empathy.


Review posted October 13, 2022


This book is amazing, horrifying, makes one feel empowered and ashamed all at the same time. A deep dive that gives you the facts, background and understanding of why and what the caste system in the United States is and how it was created. Now of us will truly be free until we comes to terms with this history.

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Review posted September 19, 2022


Reading CASTE was life-changing. Wilkerson’s writing pulled me along quickly, so I didn’t get bogged down by length. If I had to close the book for awhile to absorb new information, I picked it up to keep going! I have recommended CASTE to family and friends and participated in a book study group on Zoom.

Nyla McCarthy

Review posted August 14, 2022


Caste was a hard read at time. Mostly because, as a white person who grew up in poverty, seeing myself as a member of a privileged caste is a bit of a cognitive disconnect. However, Wilkerson paints the picture, stroke by stroke, which fills in the outlines for her readers. Focusing on caste rather than race makes sense. Class/caste inequity is one of the realities too many people are afraid to consider. The political changes such a reckoning will drive is one of the reasons I encourage everyone to read this book with an open mind, then contemplate how to engage in making a difference.


Review posted August 13, 2022


I read the book "Caste: The Origins of our Discontents," by Dr. Isabel Wilkerson to fulfill the continuing education requirement as a Lane County CASA. This book was outstanding and supported what I already thought was a problem in America, particularly for people who live in poverty and minorities. The author of this book is brilliant and discussed in length how the powerful Caste system in America influences lives and behavior on a day-to-day basis. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the Caste system in America and how it influences and affects each and every one of us.


Review posted August 11, 2022


This book is very good at breaking down what the topic is into easy to read chapters. It gives very insightful information that I did not know about caste and race in America and how it's seen in other places in the world during different times. It's eye opening how new racism is into the world and how it all started in the US. Definitely a must read.


Review posted June 30, 2022


Wilkerson’s writing and rhetoric is simply phenomenal. She so capably crafts her argument, reframing the way we see the world of human interactions. The claims she’s making are written with such rhetorical style that they seem lacking in novelty: it is easy to accept her word as truth, for it is “merely” (in no way discounting the power) a new way of viewing the truths that are laid bare before us. Her argument lies in the angle from which we look at reality, not in the reality itself. This is an intense read, compelling and convicting. I have grown immensely by redefining my understanding of caste.

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Review posted June 13, 2022


This is an excellent read for any American longing to better understand our history and the struggle between race and social class. Wilkerson says race and caste "can and do coexist in the same culture and serve to reinforce each other. Race, in the United States, is the visible agent of the unseen force of caste. Caste is the bones, race the skin.” This will book will lead to better understanding of the struggle.


Review posted June 7, 2022


This is a powerful, deeply impactful book about our historical and present day caste system and the roots of racism. It was eye opening, heart-breaking, shocking, and confirming on so many levels. Critical reading. It took me time to digest and fully take in this book.


Review posted May 9, 2022


Lots of research has gone into this book. It is a bit of a tough read, but you can learn a lot from it.


Review posted May 3, 2022


So well written. I honestly have no words. Just HIGHLY recommend you read this. Powerful and deep.


Review posted May 2, 2022


Isabel Wilkerson is a great writer. She makes her material interesting, relevant, engaging.


Review posted April 11, 2022


This beautifully written book reads more like a compassionate history book and I am a better human for reading it. Here's some takeaways: we are the heirs to rights and wrongs - you can't fix a problem unless you see it - we have a fixed and embedded ranking of human value - to create abiding connections across these manufactured divisions is a testament to the beauty of the human spirit - silent complicity to castes - groups shut out of wealth accumulation for generations and those that have a leg-up have a distorted view as to how each group got to where they are - just by being in a caste system we breathe it and absorb the message of feeling supreme - when awakened we then have a choice to put in the work to educate ourselves and listen to another's perspective - we are not responsible for what happened in the past but we are responsible for recognizing that what happened in the past set the stage for where we are now whether it's an advantage or a burden


Review posted April 6, 2022


This book enlightened me in the history about the people of America past and present. I would recommend it to anyone interested in how the American people came to be who they are today, and why racism is still so prevalent in our society!


Review posted March 20, 2022


This is a tough book to read and I am so glad I found my way through it. It has taken me a couple months to finish, at times it felt like I was fighting with it. Ms. Wilkerson has done an amazing job of researching her theory, looking at the caste system in place in the US and India, and how caste was created and implemented in Nazi Germany, and presenting the information in a way that makes sense to the reader. I found it very difficult to read about the horrific treatment of human beings by other human beings as caste was developed and sustained. These descriptions are necessary to understand how caste works and its impact, and what we need to do to develop and sustain an inclusive and egalitarian community. The last two Sections, "Backlash" and "Awakening", along with the Epilogue, are very helpful for gaining insight and ideas on building a community where everyone can be on an equal level. What I plan to do now is re-read the book (more of a purposeful skim) so that I can highlight and note what I feel are important and useful quotes and insights for moving forward as a better prepared member of my community.


Review posted February 8, 2022


Good read that ties different caste systems together. How one can be used to against another


Review posted February 8, 2022


Caste was such a profound read that I would only allow myself one chapter at a time, wanting to extend the experience as long as possible. Wilkerson compares three caste systems: India, Nazi Germany, and America's race-based caste system. I resisted the parallels at first. How could the United States' treatment of African Americans be similar to the Nazi genocide of 12 million Jews, Romani, homosexuals, the physically and intellectually disabled, and others? The author's extensive research disabused my resistance to the truth. Although I have seen (and experienced to some extent) the racism, misogyny, classism, and other -isms in the United States, I had never before framed the systems of inequality as indicators of an overarching caste system. Wilkerson made such a compelling case that I can see it now, and my perspective has permanently widened.


Review posted January 31, 2022


Thank you for including this book as an option in Select Books. I believe it should be required reading for any student, as it takes on the issue of systemic racism in a comprehensive, history-based, and rational way. My mother-in-law had been suggesting this book to me for months, and she was right about it. In fact, my office has adopted it as our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Book Club selection for this season. Thank you for providing this quality text.


Review posted January 28, 2022


Excellent book, well written and informative. should be required reading.


Review posted December 9, 2021


This book is full of wisdom and insight, and should be required reading for all.


Review posted December 8, 2021


Such a great glimpse into different thinking about segregation and racism.


Review posted December 7, 2021


Isabel Wilkerson delivers another award-winning read that is at once thought-provoking, well-researched, balanced, and inclusive. A moving, deeply emotional chord runs through the entire work, as Wilkerson whisks the reader along on a personal and often challenging journey of reawakening. Highly recommended.


Review posted November 15, 2021


"...caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy," Wilkerson writes. We were taught in school that America was not created with a hierarchy, when in fact, it was. The legal, systemic oppression built into the organization of our government and judicial system has lasting, violent manifestations in our citizens, specifically Black and Indigenous Americans. Wilkerson offers a well written and eye opening analysis regarding how we are hurting our own people.

Heather L

Review posted November 6, 2021


This book is well-written and engaging. Wilkerson goes beyond the history of slavery in identifying racism in the United States as a caste system that continues to shape policy and our daily lives, and which stands in the way of democracy and the best interests of humanity.


Review posted October 31, 2021


Such an important perspective that gave me a lot to think about.


Review posted October 11, 2021


Wow, this is an amazing book and a must read! I learned so much about the caste system and how it operates in every part of the U.S., whereas before I just thought it was a term that just applied to India. The book is filled with little known history lessons, including horrifying comparisons between Nazi Germany and the U.S. systems of slavery and caste. Throughout there are also personal stories from the author and others, which is a welcome change of pace. Beautifully written, even on this very serious topic. The book ends on a note of hope and action.


Review posted October 3, 2021


Caste had been on my reading list for months, and it did not disappoint! I would love to see this book on reading lists for schools across the country for the clarity in language, thoughtful analysis, and parallels drawn between race in this country and others. It is powerful, eye-opening and a book that deepens our journey about the power of privilege.


Review posted September 24, 2021


I worried that the book would disregard what I know about white supremacy and institutional racism. The way I ultimately read it only reinforced my view. Wilkerson clarified my confusion by stating that “Race does the heavy lifting for a caste system that demands a means of human division.” She goes on to illuminate the distinct caste system in the US with “caste as the bones and race as the skin”. There is a relationship between race and class and their roles are different and intertwined. Wilkerson explores Nazi Germany and India’s caste systems and ultimately proves that ours in the US may be less obvious and still exists.


Review posted September 19, 2021


Well written and informative.


Review posted August 9, 2021


From the book, "the challenge of our era is not merely the social construct of black and white but seeing through the many layers of a caste system that has more power than we as humans should permit it to have." This book has made me see this, and more. I had to pause and step back in-between chapters to reflect and acknowledge the disgust, fear, anxiety, and anger I felt from the historical and present-day examples and research by the author. Although the settings were mainly in the US, Germany, and India, I could see this caste system operating in other countries. It's a sobering thought, and a call for action on what each one of us can do from where we are to lessen this system's power. The book does provide some optimism and hope, and we need to keep doing this important advocacy.


Review posted July 26, 2021


such a well written and informative book. would recommend that everyone read this.


Review posted July 19, 2021


The book makes the case that the treatment of Black people in the US is similar to that of the Untouchables in India and the Jews of Germany during WWII. This comparison is to give credibility to Black suffering, and the fact that this needs to be done is the most horribly enlightening part of reading the book. The best parts are when the author focuses on the various everyday indignities to which Black people are and have been subjected. As a white person, these stories still startle me and are an indication that my education is far from complete.

Kathleen McCann

Review posted July 8, 2021


Articulate, eye opening, well researched and scholarly but eminently readable and accessible.This work backs her thesis on Caste with well chosen and apt historical references and stories. I'm so happy to be able to lend this book to my friends.


Review posted June 25, 2021


This book was amazing. The writing was brilliant, and the parallels the author drew between other caste systems and the U.S. was such a unique perspective. I had never heard of it before but feel like it makes so much sense to conceptualize the U.S. as having a caste system. I highly recommend this book.


Review posted June 22, 2021


A profound history of the USA. Wilkerson's storytelling style is riveting. The scenes from all eras of black history will stick with me for a long time. Read this book to gain insight into the depths of the race problems we find ourselves in today.


Review posted June 22, 2021


An extraordinary book on the origins of inequality and how it perpetuates unabated through history. Ms. Wilkerson sets up a framework in which the reader can understand the development of identity and injustice in America. She offers a compelling account on the deep roots of racial hierarchy that transcends region and time. An excellent read and highly recommended.


Review posted June 11, 2021


This should be required reading. Beautifully written.

KathiSue Summers

Review posted June 5, 2021


This was a very intriguing book for me to read. There where portions that I agreed with in terms of feeling injustice and then other times feelings of myself being viewed as a white, privilege individual. Lots of emotions flowed while navigating this book.


Review posted June 5, 2021


I received this book on a Friday night, and could not put it down. I finished it that weekend. I will read, and refer to it, again and again. It was well researched, and it made me think as well as feel. It showed that there is always more to the story, and the value of collective hope and action.


Review posted June 1, 2021


A great review on America's history of racial inequality and inequity, especially focused on black lives. For those who want to be allies, this is a solid book.


Review posted May 31, 2021


This book is amazing. It will open up your heart to the terrible history of this country. But we must face these difficult truths if we want to heal as a nation and overcome the ongoing suffering we see everyday with mass shootings, unacceptable levels of wealth inequality, poverty, violence, substance abuse, greed, discrimination, racism, profiteering, disenfranchisement, etc. This book discusses the hard truth that the founders of this country intentionally built a white dominating system that still continues to erase black and brown people. The author expertly shows how even the Nazi government based their anti-jewish system on the U.S. system used against BIPOC people. They even thought that some of the Jim Crow era laws went too far! She compares the US apartheid system to that of India, all the while using real world examples of the trauma, harm, and evil that has been perpetuated ever since the first Europeans decided to invade the Americas. Everyone must read this book!

Karen Carnival

Review posted May 26, 2021


This is a devastating and critical account of the fundamental systemic injustice that our society is based on. It took me a long time to read this, to really take in the examples of racist brutality enacted throughout American history and to try to comprehend the cruelty that we are capable of. There can be no systemic change without understanding. Reading this book, the dawning of comprehension begins.

Kate A. Wilkinson

Review posted May 24, 2021


This book is amazing and should be required reading for every American. She explains the history and use of caste in America and how it underlies everything. I feel much better able to understand the history of our country and how to make change. READ IT!


Review posted May 19, 2021


This is a great book that explains caste systems and how they overlap with racism. This book is informed by a lot of research and explores different caste systems. It is an important book as it lays out how these caste systems depend on dehumanizing other people. I believe understanding the history of our systems helps us be aware of the flaws and find a way to fix them.

Rachel Nelson

Review posted May 6, 2021


This book should be required reading for all. This book clearly lays out three major caste systems in the world--India, Blacks in America and Jews during the Holocaust. The information is shared in a way that does not feel academic and is very approachable.


Review posted April 30, 2021


I found this book so enlightening. I have been on a kick reading WW2 books lately and I really found it eye opening how the author tied in the Nazis ideology with the Indian caste system and the American institutions of racism and slavery. This author reveals how the Nuremberg Laws were modeled after the US! This was astonishing. I learned many thing and began to see the world differently after reading this book.


Review posted April 2, 2021


Such an amazing book. Every white person should read.