Educated: A Memoir - book cover
Community & Culture
  • Publisher : Random House; First Edition
  • Published : 20 Feb 2018
  • Pages : 352
  • ISBN-10 : 0399590501
  • ISBN-13 : 9780399590504
  • Language : English

Educated: A Memoir

#1 NEW YORK TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL, AND BOSTON GLOBE BESTSELLER • One of the most acclaimed books of our time: an unforgettable memoir about a young woman who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University
"Extraordinary . . . an act of courage and self-invention."-The New York Times
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW • ONE OF PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA'S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR • BILL GATES'S HOLIDAY READING LIST • FINALIST: National Book Critics Circle's Award In Autobiography and John Leonard Prize For Best First Book • PEN/Jean Stein Book Award • Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
"Beautiful and propulsive . . . Despite the singularity of [Westover's] childhood, the questions her book poses are universal: How much of ourselves should we give to those we love? And how much must we betray them to grow up?"-Vogue

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington PostO: The Oprah MagazineTime • NPR • Good Morning AmericaSan Francisco ChronicleThe GuardianThe Economist Financial Times NewsdayNew York PosttheSkimmRefinery29BloombergSelfReal SimpleTown & CountryBustlePastePublishers Weekly Library JournalLibraryReadsBook Riot • Pamela Paul, KQED • New York Public Library

Editorial Reviews

"Westover has somehow managed not only to capture her unsurpassably exceptional upbringing, but to make her current situation seem not so exceptional at all, and resonant for many others."-The New York Times Book Review

"Westover is a keen and honest guide to the difficulties of filial love, and to the enchantment of embracing a life of the mind."-The New Yorker

"An amazing story, and truly inspiring. It's even better than you've heard."-Bill Gates

"Heart-wrenching . . . a beautiful testament to the power of education to open eyes and change lives."-Amy Chua, The New York Times Book Review

"A coming-of-age memoir reminiscent of The Glass Castle."-O: The Oprah Magazine

"Westover's one-of-a-kind memoir is about the shaping of a mind. . . . In briskly paced prose, she evokes a childhood that completely defined her. Yet it was also, she gradually sensed, deforming her."-The Atlantic

"Tara Westover is living proof that some people are flat-out, boots-always-laced-up indomitable. Her new book, Educated, is a heartbreaking, heartwarming, best-in-years memoir about striding beyond the limitations of birth and environment into a better life. . . . ★★★★ out of four."-USA Today

"[Educated] left me speechless with wonder. [Westover's] lyrical prose is mesmerizing, as is her personal story, growing up in a family in which girls were supposed to aspire only to become wives-and in which coveting an education was considered sinful. Her journey will surprise and inspire men and women alike."-Refinery29

"Riveting . . . Westover brings readers deep into this world, a milieu usually hidden from outsiders. . . . Her story is remarkable, as each extreme anecdote described in tidy prose attests."-The Economist

"A subtle, nuanced study of how dysfunction of any kind can be normalized even within the most conventional family structure, and of the damage such containment can do."-Financial Times

"Whether narrating scenes of fury and violence or evoking rural landscapes or tortured self-analysis, Westover writes with uncommon intelligence and grace. . . . One of the most improbable and fascinating journeys I've read in recent years."-Newsday

Readers Top Reviews

This is an absolutely riveting book that I couldn’t put down until finally I had finished it in the small hours of the morning. Tara Westover tells the story of her childhood and upbringing with such descriptive narrative that it’s easy to see the farm and mountain where she grew up and to imagine what it must have been like to be a young girl in her family house. When the first incidents start to appear one is held in a kind of shock. This is horrible, so wrong, so very wrong that she is treated like this and we wait for someone to recognise the abuse and intervene and put a stop to it. But the interventions never come and with each successive incident of abuse, violence and gross neglect we read on in increasing disbelief and horror that no one has stopped these people, called them out on what they are doing and stepped in to protect the victims. Tara tells her life story so skilfully, she somehow allows us to experience what she went through and yet disassociate from the worst parts simultaneously in the same way she did. It’s such brilliant brilliant writing technique to tell us and yet show us in the same sentence. Offering narrative of what her future self came to understand was happening to her, she relays at the same time perfectly how the young girl she was then lived it. With either carefully crafted intention or from therapeutic necessity (or maybe both) she leads the reader to flow through the story narrative smoothly and expertly and then stop abruptly when an incident happens. The way she writes and explains each incident forces a rereading of the paragraph more than once, for suddenly there’s a change in pace here and it’s relayed from a disassociated perspective whilst still remaining in the first person. I can’t help thinking that this emulates in part the way she herself must have visited and revisited these same incidents repeatedly in her head and in her journal to try to make sense of what has happening to her. Except she somehow found a way to normalise it so she could continue to survive and function in such a dangerous hostile environment. Truly it’s such marvellous intelligent writing and all the more painful for it. We feel a truer impact of her painful incredible story and feel for her in a way that is at once frustrating because we are powerless ourselves to step in and save her from the people who are her family. Or even perhaps to save them all from themselves. It’s interesting that this is domestic abuse and violence in full flow but Tara never calls it that in the book, save a indicative third party reference in the end. She reaches for instead repeatedly, an understanding of why her family behaved the way they did. Her love for them and need not to unfairly label them, even whilst recalling such pain, is obvious even here. In some ways the second an...
A remarkable book , written by a remarkable person. Brought up by parents who were fanatical Mormons, she had to suffer threats and aggression from a dysfunctional brother, a childhood without any formal education and repeated pronouncements that the end of the world was nigh. Despite spending much of her pre- pubertal years as an unpaid labourer, she contrived to turn her life around and ended up as a scholar in both Cambridge and Oxford. Inevitably, she had great difficulty in maintaining relationships largely because core facts about history and life outside the teachings of the Mormon Church were a blank page to her. She had never heard of the Holocaust; knew nothing of the World Wars and was told that the authorities had murdered members of another Mormon family because of their faith. Despite all of these encumbrances, she became a highly respected academic. Her success was bought at the price of her family relationships but she came to accept that cost. The book can be a little fragmentary with no continuous chronological line, but it is a compelling read which I will not easily forget.
Usually I take issue with someone younger than me churning out a memoir. On this occasion I’m all for it. This is a stonker. I couldn’t believe that it’s based in the late 20th and early 21st century. I kept slipping into an assumption that it was 1960s America. I read a review in a broadsheet that mentioned Westover’s author’s voice being distant and a little cold. I didn’t feel this at all. I felt it was all the more powerful for not being doused in flowery descriptions. It was clear and real and honest. I like the references to how reliable a storyteller is, how our memories differ and how, in real life we have to find a way of weaving varying recollections to find a truth. It’s an anthem to the power of education and knowledge. Fascinating and incredibly readable. The numerous accidents felt like the tense moments in an episode of Casualty. You know whenever there’s a scene with a tractor that something horrific is going to happen. It's a 4 for now but more of a 4.5..
TasaKMrs. S. ThorneB
Yes, I believe the abuse and also the gaslighting from her parents and family members. But a lot of her story rang false to me. Questions/problems: 1. Tara Westover grew up in the 1990s (not the 1890s) and much of this memoir covers that time period. Although her family had a television, telephone and computer, she describes her family in this TV-folksy way as if took place around the time of "Little House on the Prairie." Her father's dialogue alone: He refers to school as "book learning" and at one point asks to know "about them classes." She calls her mother "Mother" yet in a quoted email toward the end of the book she calls her "Mom," which is a lot more likely for someone born in 1986 (not 1886.) Her father says Tara is getting "uppity" when she decides she wants some of that thar book learnin'. 2. Tara is playing the lead in the town's musicals as a young teen and taking dance and piano classes yet she is so naive about clothes and has so few that we are treated to the following scene, a la Laura Ingalls, when "Mother" takes her to Aunt Angie's house to get a dress: "Angie... laid out an armful of dresses, each so fine, with such intricate lace patterns and delicately tied bows, that at first I was afraid to touch them.... "You should take this one," Angie said, passing me a navy dress with white braided cords arranged across the bodice. I took the dress, along with another made of red velvet collared with white lace, and Mother and I drove home." What, no butter churn? Remember, Tara is not isolated "off the grid." She's in town playing the LEAD in "Annie" as a kid, around other kids who presumably weren't so "isolated." Yet at 15 she's saying she thought Europe was a continent and didn't know where France was. Then again she's careful to say her father only watched "The Honeymooners" reruns on TV -- even though her father, who is in his mid to late 50s, was not even born when "The Honeymooners" originally played on TV. Tara Westover grew up in the same era as Vanilla Ice, "Beverly Hills 90210," "Saved by the Bell" and MC Hammer but apparently none of those other "book learning" kids in town mentioned this. Pretty much the only pop culture references in the book involve Ralph and Alice Kramden. 3. Harrowing, near-fatal accidents appear in what to seem to be every other chapter. The injured family members hardly ever go to the hospital, emerging from unconsciousness, brain injuries, bloody limbs, or burns and more fairly unscathed a few months later each time. Her mother is left apparently brain damaged after one terrible car accident. She never sees a doctor despite weeks of migraines and a lot of time spent in the darkened basement. She recovers, of course, enough to run a lucrative, essential oils business, Butterfly Quality Essential Oils, that employs many in the Westov...

Short Excerpt Teaser


I'm standing on the red railway car that sits abandoned next to the barn. The wind soars, whipping my hair across my face and pushing a chill down the open neck of my shirt. The gales are strong this close to the mountain, as if the peak itself is exhaling. Down below, the valley is peaceful, undisturbed. Meanwhile our farm dances: the heavy conifer trees sway slowly, while the sagebrush and thistles quiver, bowing before every puff and pocket of air. Behind me a gentle hill slopes upward and stitches itself to the mountain base. If I look up, I can see the dark form of the Indian Princess.

The hill is paved with wild wheat. If the conifers and sagebrush are soloists, the wheat field is a corps de ballet, each stem following all the rest in bursts of movement, a million ballerinas bending, one after the other, as great gales dent their golden heads. The shape of that dent lasts only a moment, and is as close as anyone gets to seeing wind.

Turning toward our house on the hillside, I see movements of a different kind, tall shadows stiffly pushing through the currents. My brothers are awake, testing the weather. I imagine my mother at the stove, hovering over bran pancakes. I picture my father hunched by the back door, lacing his steel-toed boots and threading his callused hands into welding gloves. On the highway below, the school bus rolls past without stopping.

I am only seven, but I understand that it is this fact, more than any other, that makes my family different: we don't go to school.

Dad worries that the Government will force us to go but it can't, because it doesn't know about us. Four of my parents' seven children don't have birth certificates. We have no medical records because we were born at home and have never seen a doctor or nurse.* We have no school records because we've never set foot in a classroom. When I am nine, I will be issued a Delayed Certificate of Birth, but at this moment, according to the state of Idaho and the federal government, I do not exist.

Of course I did exist. I had grown up preparing for the Days of Abomination, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood. I spent my summers bottling peaches and my winters rotating supplies. When the World of Men failed, my family would continue on, unaffected.

I had been educated in the rhythms of the mountain, rhythms in which change was never fundamental, only cyclical. The same sun appeared each morning, swept over the valley and dropped behind the peak. The snows that fell in winter always melted in the spring. Our lives were a cycle-the cycle of the day, the cycle of the seasons-circles of perpetual change that, when complete, meant nothing had changed at all. I believed my family was a part of this immortal pattern, that we were, in some sense, eternal. But eternity belonged only to the mountain.

There's a story my father used to tell about the peak. She was a grand old thing, a cathedral of a mountain. The range had other mountains, taller, more imposing, but Buck's Peak was the most finely crafted. Its base spanned a mile, its dark form swelling out of the earth and rising into a flawless spire. From a distance, you could see the impression of a woman's body on the mountain face: her legs formed of huge ravines, her hair a spray of pines fanning over the northern ridge. Her stance was commanding, one leg thrust forward in a powerful movement, more stride than step.

My father called her the Indian Princess. She emerged each year when the snows began to melt, facing south, watching the buffalo return to the valley. Dad said the nomadic Indians had watched for her appearance as a sign of spring, a signal the mountain was thawing, winter was over, and it was time to come home.

All my father's stories were about our mountain, our valley, our jagged little patch of Idaho. He never told me what to do if I left the mountain, if I crossed oceans and continents and found myself in strange terrain, where I could no longer search the horizon for the Princess. He never told me how I'd know when it was time to come home.

*Except for my sister Audrey, who broke both an arm and a leg when she was young. She was 
taken to get a cast.