If you are trying to understand the racial and class divisions in the United States today, this would be an excellent first book. It is well-organized and researched; but just as importantly, it is readable and interesting. Wilkerson’s first book, *The Warmth of Other Suns*, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction and was a best-seller. *Caste* is one of the best basic books for you to understand not just racism but the many ways in general that human societies set up hierarchies. In a hierarchy, some people are higher and some people are lower. In a *caste* hierarchy, those roles are set up from birth; so no matter how smart or beautiful or successful or rich individuals may be, they can never completely go beyond their caste level.
For most of us, the word “caste” evokes the formal class divisions in the Hindu society of India, where anyone born as a Brahmin takes precedence over all other levels. But it is not just India. The United States clearly has had such a caste system for more than 400 years. The system has been set-up so that the artificial class of “whites” are the upper caste, with various “lower forms” of “near-whites” (Italians, Irish, etc., depending on the time period), Asians, Hispanics, and Jews, fighting for spots in the middle. But always on the bottom are the Native Americans and the African Americans. As much as we try to deny it and as much as many people have tried to reform the system, it continues in mutated form today.
For me, the biggest surprise from Wilkerson’s book is that the early planners of Nazi dominance in Germany before World War II modeled their own caste system – where Jews were placed in the outcaste roll – on their visits to the United States to study the Jim Crow system of the 1920s and 1930s. Apparently the German leadership was later mystified about why Americans called the Germans prejudiced and actually joined the Allies.
This book will make you look at yourself and our country in a very different way.