Educated: a Memoir by Tara Westover


  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (February 20, 2018)
  • Review copy, courtesy of Amazon Vine


Growing up sheltered from the outside world, her home birth unreported out of fear her father’s imagined “Illuminati” (i.e., the U.S. government) would swoop down and morally corrupt her, Tara Westover was the child of devout Mormon survivalists, marooned in the mountains of Idaho.

Physically and mentally abused by her father and brothers, semi-neglected by a mother brain-damaged by an automobile accident, she grew up with little to knowledge of the outside world. She had never heard of the Holocaust, knew nothing of historical events save the warped, grossly inaccurate versions fed to her by her father.

Tara was not allowed to attend school. Treated solely by her herbalist mother, she never saw a doctor.

Her resilience saved her. Taking control of her education, in her early teens she began buying text books. Despite no formal schooling, she met the requirements to enter Brigham Young University. Boosted by scholarships and sympathetic, influential people, eventually she would graduate from Cambridge with a PhD.

Educated is about gritty determination. All is laid bare, yet the telling is balanced. It’s an emotionally difficult read. I cringed so many times, caught up in the horror of beatings she took, horrific injuries sustained by herself and family members. She saw her brother’s severe burns fusing jeans to his legs, the same brother with a hole cracked in his skull exposing his brain, her father’s melted faced from fire he shouldn’t have survived.

Treated by her herbalist mother, survive they did.

The prose style is matter of fact, detached. This is not a negative. It avoids the distraction of emotional outbursts, tempering justifiable rage and fear. She does not allow the characters to be villainized. As in life, none are without redeeming qualities.

Despite what she endured, Tara Westover loved her family.

I wanted her to hate them. Infuriated by what she endured, my visceral wish was to see the innocent avenged. She knew best, keeping a calm head even when I couldn’t. I wondered how can she keep going back? Why is she risking her safety?

Unconditional love for family, that’s why.

Educated is Tara Westover’s story of personal strength, without the slightest bit of self-righteousness. Very like Jeannette Walls’  The Glass Castle, it’s not as lyrical but no less forthright and moving.

At its conclusion inspirational, even hopeful, Educated is one of the finest memoirs I’ve read.

3 thoughts on “Educated: a Memoir by Tara Westover

  1. Pingback: January in Review: Books and Bitchery – Bluestalking Journal

  2. How do we know, given the army of people attacking the J.D Vance memoir, that much of this tome isn’t BS. I trust her academic credentials. But, I trust Vance graduated from Princeton too.

    I recently heard Tara on an NPR interview and it just did not seem credible. If true, despite her education she must be a seriously emotionally burdened human being. I feel sorry for her despite her success.

    Who fact checks these people? Especially when there is that subtle political agenda.


    • By their very nature, memoirs are subjective. It’s not a formal autobiograpny, it’s more Tara’s version of her story. No one can argue her perception.

      It’s impossible to know the truth if you weren’t there. I read it with interest, and found it mostly entertaining. That’s all I ask of the memoir genre.


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