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.
...elegant and persuasive ... She has, in particular, a masterly command of the complex extended metaphor ... What distinguishes Wilkerson is her grasp of the power of individual narratives to illustrate such general ideas, allowing her to tell us what these abstract notions have meant in the lived experience of ordinary people ... The dexterity with which she combines larger historical descriptions with vignettes from particular lives, recounted with the skill of a veteran reporter, will be familiar to readers of The Warmth of Other Suns ... Caste will spur readers to think and to feel in equal measure. Its vivid stories about the mistreatment of Black Americans by government and law and in everyday social life — from the violence of the slave plantation to the terror of lynchings to the routines of discourtesy and worse that are still a common experience for so many — retain their ability to appall and unsettle, to prompt flashes of indignation and moments of sorrow. The result is a book that is at once beautifully written and painful to read.
It’s an extraordinary document, one that strikes me as an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far. It made the back of my neck prickle from its first pages, and that feeling never went away ... Caste lands so firmly because the historian, the sociologist and the reporter are not at war with the essayist and the critic inside her. This book has the reverberating and patriotic slap of the best American prose writing ... Wilkerson’s usages neatly lift the mind out of old ruts. They enable her to make unsettling comparisons between India’s treatment of its untouchables, or Dalits, Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews and America’s treatment of African-Americans ... Wilkerson does not shy from the brutality that has gone hand in hand with this kind of dehumanization. As if pulling from a deep reservoir, she always has a prime example at hand ... Wilkerson has written a closely argued book that largely avoids the word 'racism,' yet stares it down with more humanity and rigor than nearly all but a few books in our literature.
[In] the manner of an anthropologist, she argues that the best way to understand a phenomenon (be that racism in America or anything else) is to step back and view it with a wider, comparative lens, instead of merely on its own terms ... Wilkinson concedes it will not be easy to change this situation. One problem is the lack of awareness ... But she does offer one faintly hopeful note: caste systems can sometimes crumble ... 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.