86 pages 2 hours read

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2020

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Preface-Part 1, Chapter 3

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 1: “Toxins in the Permafrost and Heat Rising All Around”

Preface Summary: “The Man in the Crowd”

Wilkerson describes a famous photograph from the era of German history known as the Third Reich—Adolph Hitler’s years in power, from 1933-1945. It depicts shipyard workers in Hamburg, gathered together and all “heiling in unison” (xv). The photograph is famous for the one man in it who is not participating. The man has been tentatively identified as August Landmesser, who, though he had once been a Nazi, came to reject the party. He did so because of his close relationship with a Jewish woman, illegal under German law at the time. Unlike others, he knew that Jews “were German citizens, human as anyone else” (xvi). This situation allowed him to see more clearly than his countrymen. Wilkerson notes that while most of us wish that we would be like Landmesser in the face of injustice, this is “numerically impossible” in the face of historical reality. 

Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary: “The Afterlife of Pathogens”

Wilkerson opens with an event in the summer of 2016: a heat wave in Siberia. Far above the Arctic Circle, wildfires raged in heat above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, the “indigenous herdsmen” of the region because sick with a mysterious illness. Russian scientists eventually determined that the illness was anthrax, released when melting permafrost unearthed the dead bodies of reindeer who had succumbed to the disease decades before.

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