The Origins of Our Discontents

Book - 2020
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"In this ... 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"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2020]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780593230251
Characteristics: xvii, 476 pages ; 25 cm


Featured Blogs and Events

CPL’s Most Popular Books of 2020

Before we completely close the door on 2020, we're looking back at the most popular books of the year as measured by checkouts and hold requests at Chicago Public Library. While the COVID-19 pandemic and election campaigns initially may have distracted from reading, many people later settled into social distancing and clearly started reading in a big way. As you check the lists for new… (more)

Isabel Wilkerson, Nate Marshall Receive 2020 Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson will receive the 2020 Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Chicago Public Library Foundation and Chicago Public Library. Poet, playwright and performer Nate Marshall will receive the 21st Century Award, and Donna LaPietra will receive the Foundation's inaugural Civic Award. The 2020 Library Foundation Awards, a free online event,… (more)

From Library Staff

2020 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, Nonfiction

August 2020 selection

Wilkerson's latest (after the One Book One Chicago selection The Warmth of Other Suns) blends research, hard-won insight, and the kind of first-hand anecdotal evidence that makes big ideas relatable into a work of rare acuity. Her bold thesis is that in order to truly perceive the function of rac... Read More »

Isabel Wilkerson's latest (after the One Book One Chicago selection The Warmth of Other Suns) blends research, hard-won insight, and the kind of first-hand anecdotal evidence that makes big ideas relatable into a work of rare acuity. Her bold thesis is that in order to truly perceive the function... Read More »

Isabel Wilkerson's latest (after the One Book One Chicago selection The Warmth of Other Suns) blends research, hard-won insight, and the kind of first-hand anecdotal evidence that makes big ideas relatable into a work of rare acuity. Her bold thesis is that in order to truly perceive the function... Read More »

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Apr 18, 2021

Awareness of the realities described in this book is a human responsibility. I learned the most from the section outlining the consistent features between American racial hierarchy, the Indian caste system, and Nazism in Germany.

Apr 16, 2021

An extraordinary evidence based look into the world we live in that everyone should read. The book provides insights into why societies continue to make the same tragic mistakes over and over. We can't hope for change unless we try and understand the reasons we all struggle and then learn from past mistakes. Will we ever be able to look beyond superficial differences to realize that we truly belong to each other and are fundamentally deeply a part of each other?

Apr 10, 2021

First impression. The idea that the Nazis were involved in a caste system speaks to poor research skills upon the author. Rosenberg is quite critical of the caste system that developed in post Aryan Hinduism.
The term Aryan is synonymous with the Germanic tribe and constitutes tribalism, which the author appears to find unappealing. I’ll need to finish the book but the first few pages have been less than impressive. I also see no connection between Nazism and racism. They are distinctly different giving that one represents a tribal survivalist nature versus poor thinking skills.

Apr 07, 2021

This book was amazing. I listened to the audiobook and it was very interesting and gripping. So relevant for the world we live in today. The author has done her research very well and laid it out in a very interesting to understand way. I recommend this book to everyone!

Mar 30, 2021

Every American need to read this book. Look at some of the negative comments to see how close she hits the mark.

Mar 20, 2021

After reading the first 100 pages I knew this was a book I wanted to own. So, I bought a personal copy on whose pages I could mark key concepts that I could go back to again and again. This is a book that will live on in my collection of what I consider to be "transformative" books. If you're not changed after reading this book, I have to wonder if your heart will ever open. And, thank you JoCo Pub Library for making books accessible.

LCPL_Vivian Mar 15, 2021

This was a topic briefly discussed in the classroom when I was still in school, and I'm sure it was only mentioned when the class talked about an event from a long, long time ago. I liked that Wilkerson discusses events that happened recently such as the United Airlines uproar in 2017. Caste is easy to read, and I'd even recommend the audiobook if you don't want to sit down and physically read it.

Mar 10, 2021

No matter what you think you know about racism, this presents so many challenges to your views.

Mar 01, 2021

A mix of research and personal info about the concept of "Caste." While reading, I thought about my background - I come from a "sundown" town (a small number of blacks can enter to go fishing in the rivers, but must exit the city limits by sundown) and can only recall having conversed with one black person prior to college and then only having talked to two more black people even after attended a metropolitan university with a student body of 10,000 (later found that the university had only 4 black students). My early life was a perfect example of the why the great novel "Invisible Man" is aptly titled.

Feb 27, 2021

Another stunningly stupid book written by an undereducated author who fancies herself highly erudite --- hardly!
Instead of seriously researching --- and studying (a nasty obscene word to the brazenly uninformed) --- voter demographics, the author chooses to express her OPINION of those who voted Trump instead of for the communists and their Maoist agenda!
Hmmmmm . . . the two Wall Street--designated choices: Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was the beneficiary of multiple fundraisers hosted for her at Martha's Vineyard by Lady de Rothschild and Jeb Bush, paid $1 million per year as a consultant to Barclays Bank, no doubt for Jeb's extensive nonexistent banking experience --- or because his brother, Neil Bush, is a nonexecutive (?) chairman of the PLA--financed Singhaiyi Group?!
Caste systems are, and have always, been the mainstay of human existence --- PERIOD!
Doesn't matter that many of us find this distasteful; water is wet and caste will exist, creating false narratives changes nothing! Equality derives from merit and meritocratic systems being attempted, however feebly. The purpose of "social equity" is to introduce communist systems, always leading --- and consciously so --- to neofeudalism -- what the planners are desiring!
The closest I have ever experienced of a merit-based system was the US military, but not really all that meritocratic. In Japan and South Korea, more homogenous cultures, academia or their school systems are somewhat more merit-based, but even then there are many discrepancies. Any who claim merit (or "math" like the Gates Foundation) is "racist" is stridently pushing the communist agenda, which both the CCP and Wall Street seek to make real!

View All Comments


Add a Quote
Feb 06, 2021

601 quotes posted in goodreads. Likely all my favorites are included:

Sep 25, 2020

“The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly. And the least that a person in the dominant caste can do is not make the pain any worse.” - p. 386

Sep 25, 2020

“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. It is about resources—which caste is seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumptions of competence—who is accorded these and who is not.” - pp. 17-18

Sep 25, 2020

“America is an old house. We can never declare the work over. Wind, flood, drought, and human upheavals batter a structure that is already fighting whatever flaws were left unattended in the original foundation. When you live in an old house, you may not want to go into the basement after a storm to see what the rains have wrought. Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see.” - pp. 15-16


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at CPL

To Top