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Publisher's Summary

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The 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.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.

©2018 Tara Westover (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Powerful, moving, brave, naked, and completely at home in its form, Tara Westover's Educated gives us homegrown American originals, who find their Mormon congregation too conventional, and raise their children on a western mountain, refusing them birth certificates and not allowing them to attend school. This is a daughter's story of how she grew into herself and comes to understand her home. This book would be far less harrowing if it were a novel." (Mona Simpson, author of Casebook and Anywhere But Here)
"A punch to the gut, a slow burn, a savage indictment, a love letter: Educated somehow contrives to be all these things at once. Tara Westover guides us through the extraordinary western landscape of her coming of age and in clear, tender prose makes us feel what she felt growing up among fanatics." (Claire Dederer, author of Love and Trouble)

"Narrator Julia Whelan's performance is outstanding. She expresses author Tara Westover's naïve trust in her father's conviction that the world will end at Y2K; incredulity at the constant freak accidents of children being gashed, set on fire, or concussed while working in a junkyard (God will protect); and mortification at discovering her ignorance of the Holocaust and Martin Luther King in her freshman year at Brigham Young University. Whelan conducts a master class in the fear, dread, and self-doubt wrought by domestic violence as Westover recounts her older brother's terrorizing all while spewing religious righteousness." (AudioFile)  

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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Gripping Read


There is no doubting that Tara Westover's survival and achievement is nothing short of an amazing feat and she is to be applauded for her strength and determination. You don't have to read between the lines to know very early in this book that this young girl (the author) is being neglected and abused on many levels, in the home of seemingly well-intentioned, loving parents. It creeps in and feels as blatantly incongruent and ugly as a blot on a peaceful bucolic scene. All the more insidious as a wide range of mental disorders throughout the family become obvious and are dismissed and justified -- denial.

I've had to sit back and reflect on this book and the author, as well as allow myself to read the reviews of other readers in order to be objective with Educated. True, it is a story of a miraculous survival and achievement by the author. It is also a sad account, to add to hundreds of accounts we've had to hear, about the destructive effects of abuse and mental illness. I've mentioned before in my reviews I worked with patients that sadly have had very similar stories and they are all heartbreaking so it is nice to read that Ms. Westover is on top of her ordeal. Healing and recovery is a challenging process and I felt Westover, at times, compartmentalized her experiences, speaking from the authority of her academic status.

Her voice in this narrative seems to waiver a bit between assuredness and doubt, which is natural for a recovering person. I could not help wondering -- which is why I waited to read other's reviews to see if I was being too clinical -- if this story was premature in that it felt like the road still reaches out far in front of her journey. It is my hope that in telling her story, feeling the support of readers that themselves gain strength from her fight and acknowledge her accomplishment, Ms. Westover can continue her fight with courage and grace.

*In spite of its capacity to foster compassion, humanness, and understanding, throughout the ages religion has at times been a source of abuse, persecution, terrorism, and genocide. These problems continue today across the world, as illustrated by religiously-based terrorism, clergy sexual abuse, and religiously-supported genocide.* Ms. Westover makes the distinction that her family is Fundamentalist Mormons, which are sects that have separated themselves from the LDS Church. This is a very interesting time in the world culture, and I suspect that by giving voice to abuse on so many different levels, Ms. Westover has added her voice to a brave force that is demanding long needed positive change in all areas where there has been abuse.

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14 of 14 people found this review helpful

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I highly recommend this book!

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I just finished listening to Educated. Parts of the book left my crying. I grew up in the same high-demand religion. While my family was not as fundamentalist, isolated or controlling, the similarities were there. As a gay man, I didn’t fit in and had to make my break from the culture and set up appropriate boundaries with family. I also had to develop my family and friends of choice.

Any additional comments?

Tara tells the story of fundamentalism, patriarchy and an apocalyptic view of the world intertwined with bi-polar mental illness. The story is inspiring but shows how hard it is to separate yourself from the world view of your childhood and family. She overcame some very limiting views of how the world works.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Couldn't stop listening!

I finished this book in two days flat. Tara's writing transports you into the story completely. Her vulnerability and downright astonishing history of her life is unforgettable. I recommend this book for anyone struggling in relationships dominated with control and abuse. Her bravery is catching.

20 of 23 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Memoir about a woman w/ crazy parents who gets...

...educated!

I was halfway through this when I heard Westover on NPR and was rather surprised at how she...justified...her father's behavior. She doesn't really do that in the book that much. Yes, she speculates that he's bi-polar, but in the book when she describes the many times he puts his kids in situations that can get them killed (yes, really), and they all end up injured--some quite badly--she just lays it out there without much reflection, internal thoughts, etc. As a result, the reader comes to his/her own conclusion. And I'm guessing that many people's conclusion is that the man is bat shi* crazy.

I had this on my wish list for so long that I didn't re-read the synopsis so I wasn't quite expecting a memoir that essentially boils down to: Woman raised as a survivalist and fundamentalist Mormon, works like a dog from the time she's a little kid, doesn't go to school and gets no education at all, has 2 crazy parents who believe all medicine and doctors are evil among other beliefs that seem utterly insane, who has an abusive brother, yet somehow finds it within herself to get herself into to college (BYU) at age 16.

I guess one can read this as an amazing success story (and it is) but it's a litany of struggle (no surprise there). Once she goes to college, good things do happen to her, but her self-esteem is so low, that she can't even be the tiniest bit happy.

The strangest thing was all the people who bent over backwards to help her. She mostly refused their help and I found myself getting annoyed. Yes, yes, she explains why she refuses, but still. I don't know anyone who has ever been offered THAT much help--or anyone that unwilling to take it.

Fifteen years ago, I probably would have rated this 4 or 5 stars. So my 3-star rating is more of a reflection of not wanting to read such bleak stuff. Yes, things sort of turn out in the end (she definitely gets very educated), but how does one really overcome a childhood like that? The parents don't change, the abusive brother doesn't change. The three who do change are the three who got out, and one of those three is her.

Really, the most amazing thing is that she goes from a level of ignorance I can't even fathom (she didn't know about the civil rights movement or the holocaust, doesn't know the most basic things--like washing your hands after using the bathroom) to someone exceedingly educated in a ten-year span.

49 of 62 people found this review helpful

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What an education!

This is my first full review. I laughed, I cried real tears, and I got very angry.

Tara: if you read this know that I am rooting for you! No child should ever go through what you have endured! I am so proud of you for learning it is not your fault.

For the reader: I have just sent the last hours captivated by this story. I’ve read a number of books about ex Mormons - mostly people who escaped polygamists. As a recovering catholic I rebel against any and all religions that force people to leave their families because their beliefs are incompatible. But this is more than Mormonism, it is about an extreme uneducated bipolar man, his violent bipolar son, a submissive mother and an intelligent woman’s recovery.

It is quite shocking to discover how people live and the courage it takes to escape. I found it interesting that the three who escaped have PhDs and the four who remain don’t even have. GED. Thinking broadly, in every country, and all societies, the importance of a good education remains the key to independence.

20 of 25 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 03-28-18

The Other Side of Idaho's Mountains

"Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs."
- Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir

This book feels like it was written by a sister, a cousin, a niece. Tara Westover grew up a few mountains over from my dad's Heglar ranch. I don't know her. Don't know her family. She grew up about 70-80+ miles South East as the crow flies, but realistically, it was a 1.5 hours drive difference, and a whole planet of Mormonism over.

I didn't grow up in Idaho. I was born there and returned there yearly. But this book is filled with the geography, culture, behaviors, mountains, religion, schools, and extremes I understand. She is writing from a similar, and often shared space. I didn't just read this book, I felt it, on every page.

This book reads like a modern-day, Horatio Alger + 'The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography'. However, it isn't just a book about how a girl with little formal education from a small town in Idaho makes it to Cambridge. It is also a tale of escape, and a historiography. Westover is using her own life to do a popular memory study on herself. She is looking at how she viewed her religion, her background, her parents, and her education. She explores how those memories and narratives change and reorient based upon proximity to her family and her father.

I bought a copy and before I even read it, I gave it to my father to read (He grew up in Heglar, ID). Then I bought another couple and yesterday and today my wife and I raced to finish it. We bored our kids talking about it over two dinners. We both finished it within minutes of each other tonight.

Tara Westover's memoir hit me hard because of the struggle she has owning her own narrative. Through many vectors I related to her (we both graduated from BYU with Honors, were both were from Idaho, both have preppers in the family). My family, while sharing similar land, a similar start, and a similar undergraduate education, however, are not Tara's. And that is what made this memoir so compelling. It was like reading a Dickens novel, but one that was set in your neighborhood. It was moving, sad, and tremendous. In the end, I was attracted by how close the story felt, but I was also VERY grateful her story wasn't THAT close.

16 of 20 people found this review helpful

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Mostly depressing and irritating

I couldn't figure out what the book is supposed to be about: Intolerance, the rigidity of some fundamentalist Mormonism, ignorance, an innate desire to learn, overcoming obstacles, mental illness, trying to justify passivity in the face of evil?

What struck me most about the story, and what I found most outrageous, was the passivity of the author. Yes, I know she was suffering from the accumulated weight of familial dysfunction, brainwashing and oppression, and resulting mental illness and personality disorders, but her story is so uneven it often doesn't make much sense. She was meek and held back by her family, which refused to let her go to school, yet she went on to go to college at the age of 16 because she managed to teach herself enough to be admitted and then her family seemed fine with this. The thread of the Mormon religion ran through this yet was never explained or examined or even brought in, in any meaningful way.

She knew her brother was a sadist and a bully and exhibited the same personality traits as her father, whom she had informally diagnosed as bipolar, yet even with evidence that he abused his timid fiancee she passively kept quiet, knowing he would abuse her and their children. She constantly made excuses for the depravity of her family, right up until the end of the book, without ever finding a moral compass for herself or them. Her brother abused her, often violently, he tortured and killed a family dog, he repeatedly threatened to kill her, and she remained passive and refused to admit he was mentally ill, instead constantly returning to him even when she knew the pattern would be repeated. If this had been related to the pattern of abused women in other relationships it might have had some value. As it was, she simply came across as clueless and stubborn and inexplicably passive.

Even when she was an accomplished scholar, getting advanced degrees, traveling around the world, being exposed to ideas and undergoing counseling, she was bullheaded in her determined passivity, and I found myself rather disliking her, as she watched chaos and pain and misery developing around her and refused to take any action, clinging instead to a delusional dependence on a family that was toxic to its core. No amount of time in the outside world, no level of education, no experience with counseling, made her see the insanity of her home life for what it was, as she rushed home to participate in an absolutely bizarre treatment of her injured father, which she never seemed to find odd.

She related example after example of behaviors that were alarming, violent, vicious, dangerous and cruel, with a curious dispassionate distance, as if relating oddities discovered in a book about an old civilization. Her father put his children at risk of severe injury and even death? Hmmm. Her brother probably sent her allegedly beloved horse off to a slaughterhouse? Oh, well. Her mother enabled cruel and abusive behaviors by her husband and son? So what?

I didn't find the book inspirational, just very depressing, and about a person I found to be increasingly unlikable in her selfishness and willingness to stand by and watch others suffer. I stuck with it, hoping for a resolution that would make me happy she had gained some inner strength and self-knowledge, but it never really happened. The only resolution, such as it was, just kind of happened around her, because she remained mute and indecisive.

As someone from a dysfunctional family, with family members whose pathology resulted, finally, in separating from them, and as someone with friends from families with other but very severe pathologies, I had a hard time justifying the author's choices and noticed that she never took responsibility for them, she just drifted through them.

38 of 50 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding

This story, the telling of it and the narrator were all excellent. I could not stop listening. I was compelled to finish in one day.

12 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Gripping and insightful

The most complete and articulate description I've ever read of what it is like to come to grips with the realization of one's self existence, desires, and beliefs.
I come from a similar background. Reading this was very helpful. I found myself asking new questions and reevaluating events of my own past.

9 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Engrossing at first, but then...

EDUCATED: A MEMOIR had me fully hooked from beginning to end. And then I started to wonder....

Why would this seemingly brilliant person keep going back to an abusive situation; the advanced education just didn't add up; and how did the abusive brother get away with his actions for so long. The author at least did give more than one version of a situation via both her recollection and her sibling(s). Memory is a tricky thing.

The narrator was ok, but her male voices were awful and difficult to differentiate, though I don't think this had much to do with my questions regarding the events in this memoir.

There is an excellent review of this book in Goodreads along with some similar questions given by Marialyce 3/2/2018.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful