by Tara Westover
I resisted reading EDUCATED for the longest time. I didn’t want to read about paranoid, backwoods survivalists.
I was so wrong about what this book is about.
It’s true that Tara Westover’s parents were survivalists living on a mountain top in Idaho. Her father ran a scrap yard and did small construction projects. Her mother was a midwife and herbalist.
Her earliest memory was not a memory, it was the internalizing of her father’s telling of the 1992 standoff between the Weaver family of Ruby Ridge, ID, and several federal agencies.
It was so vivid for Westover that she believed that her own mother was shot in her kitchen by strangers outside.
Westover is the youngest of seven children. While her oldest three brothers spent some time in public school, her father took his family off the grid after the Ruby Ridge standoff. The family vehicles weren’t registered or insured; children didn’t go to school; any health care was provided by her mother. Theoretically, the Westover children were being homeschooled. But between a father who needed the labor at the scrap yard and a mother running a household, raising seven children and taking care of her midwife clients, schooling was minimal.
It would be many years later, in a college psychology classroom before Westover learned about bipolar disorder and realized that her father showed most of the symptoms.
EDUCATED is the story of the modest — and heroic — steps that led her to reach out to the larger world, to seek a formal education and to aspire to more for herself than the tightly circumscribed world defined by her parents.
With no formal education and only the support of an older brother who had gone on to earn a college degree from Brigham Young University (BYU), Westover passed the GED, applied to attend BYU and gets enough begrudging support from her parents to allow her to attend.
There, hobbled by the beliefs she was raised with and handicapped by her lack of preparation to study, write papers, take notes or debate ideas, Westover begins to question her future. She had gone to BYU to study music and become a choir director. By the fall of her junior year, she’s finding herself taking classes in history, politics and public affairs.
She goes to speak with a professor of Jewish history and for the first time opens up about her background. The professor, Dr. Kerry, suggests that she should stretch herself and then suggests that she apply to a study abroad program that he organizes at Cambridge University.
That proved to be a turning point for Westover. She was awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, went on to earn a master’s degree from Trinity College, become a visiting fellow at Harvard University and then earn a doctorate in history from Cambridge in 2014.
Her pursuit of education puts increasingly intense pressures on her relationships with her parents. Ultimately, they refuse to have further contact. Westover realizes that she was no longer able to split herself into the 16-year-old who followed her parents’ edicts — and also be the 20-something woman who had studied what the great minds had to say about history. She had become another person.
“The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she [her 16-year-old self] would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self.
“You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.
“I call it an education.”
This is a deeply moving book. It will leave you amazed, stunned and hopeful.
The Author: Tara Westover (1986 – )
Raised in Idaho in a survivalist Mormon family, Tara Westover was 17 before she entered a classroom for the first time. She taught herself enough to pass the ACT exam and was accepted by Brigham Young University as a home-schooled student.
She earned a bachelor’s degree there in 2008, was awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and went on to earn a master’s degree from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009. The following year, she was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she earned a doctorate in history in 2014.
Educated was named by the New York Times one of the 10 Best Books of 2018.