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An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University
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 [Tara 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
“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
|Publisher:||Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Tara Westover was born in Idaho in 1986. She received her BA from Brigham Young University in 2008 and was subsequently awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014. Educated is her first book.
Read an Excerpt
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.
Table of Contents
Author's Note xi
1 Choose the Good 3
2 The Midwife 13
3 Cream Shoes 24
4 Apache Women 31
5 Honest Dirt 41
6 Shield and Buckler 54
7 The Lord Will Provide 67
8 Tiny Harlots 76
9 Perfect in his Generations 84
10 Shield of Feathers 92
11 Instinct 98
12 Fish Eyes 104
13 Silence in the Churches 112
14 My Feet No Longer Touch Earth 122
15 No More a Child 132
16 Disloyal Man, Disobedient Heaven 142
17 To Keep it Holy 153
18 Blood and Feathers 160
19 In the Beginning 167
20 Recitals of the Fathers 174
21 Skullcap 182
22 What We Whispered and What We Screamed 187
23 I'm From Idaho 198
24 A Knight, Errant 207
25 The Work of Sulphur 216
26 Waiting for Moving Water 223
27 If I Were a Woman 228
28 Pygmalion 235
29 Graduation 244
30 Hand of the Almighty 255
31 Tragedy then Farce 265
32 A Brawling Woman in a Wide House 274
33 Sorcery of Physics 279
34 The Substance of Things 284
35 West of the Sun 290
36 Four Long Arms, Whirling 297
37 Gambling For Redemption 306
38 Family 314
39 Watching the Buffalo 320
40 Educated 327
A Note on the Text 333
Reading Group Guide
1. Many of Tara’s father’s choices have an obvious impact on Tara’s life, but how did her mother’s choices influence her? How did that change over time?
2. Tara’s brother Tyler tells her to take the ACT. What motivates Tara to follow his advice?
3. Charles was Tara’s first window into the outside world. Under his influence, Tara begins to dress differently and takes medicine for the first time. Discuss Tara’s conflicting admiration for both Charles and her father.
4. Tara has titled her book Educated and much of her education takes place in classrooms, lectures, or other university environments. But not all. What other important moments of “education” were there? What friends, acquaintances, or experiences had the most impact on Tara? What does that imply about what an education is?
5. Eventually, Tara confronts her family about her brother’s abuse. How do different the members of her family respond?
6. What keeps Tara coming back to her family as an adult?
7. Ultimately, what type of freedom did education give Tara?
8. Tara wrote this at the age of thirty, while in the midst of her healing process. Why do you think she chose to write it so young, and how does this distinguish the book from similar memoirs?
9. Tara paid a high price for her education: she lost her family. Do you think she would make the same choice again?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Read and experience what her life has been so far and her story. Please listen to the interview she gave on NPR. Very interesting.
I stayed up last night even though my alarm is set for 5 a.m. telling myself just one more page...and then I'd reach the next chapter and think just a little more! How often does that happen with nonfiction?
I kept having to remind myself that this was non-fiction. My mind is blown that there are people living like this in our society. This womans strength and perseverance to get an incredible education is amazing. I hope she continues pushing and I really would love to see her give lectures on the dangers of extreme religion.
Spent a whole day reading. No chores were accomplished today.
This memoir is riveting, better than any fiction . I won't attempt to count the levels this book resonates with me. There are just too many. Highly recommended!
A heart wrenching and triumphant account of breaking away from an oppressive childhood. A true success story.
I was captivated by Tara's story & the challenges she overcame. Fantastic read! I don't usually enjoy non-fiction, but I found myself fully caught up in her well-written account about her life.
Amazing true story. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. Terrifying. Uplifting. Healing.
I couldn't put it down.
I highly recommend this book about a girl whose childhood began on a beautiful mountain in a narrow world created by her father’s anti-establishment mindset of fear Take 20% off coupons from 100promo.com
Sometimes difficult to read because of her family experiences but always engaging and very inspiration.
4 frightening sad stars The human spirit is oftentimes resilient and given the life that Tara Westover lived as a child and teenager, she had to be just that. How she survived the horrible psychological abuse she was give by her religious fanatic parents and the physical and emotional abuse thrown onto her by her brother, Shawn, is surely a testament to her nightmare of a childhood. In this family, many of them seemed to be walking examples of mental illness. Unfortunately, according, to the tenets of their Mormonism and the parents belief that there were conspiracies galore with intent to kill people, they did not go to doctors or schools, and only practiced, courtesy of the mom, holistic medicine. Both parents were psychologically ill, the father with bi polar/schizophrenia, and the mother with dependency personality issues believing everything the father and son did to be the will of god. The son Shawn was a bully, enjoying the physical torturing of his siblings while also seeming to be involved in the killing of animals. He was in all intents and purposes a sociopath with tenancies towards being a psychopath. Even now, he is married and the father of two. Who knows what abuse his family is suffering? However, with no help from anyone or any outside agency, Tara and two other of her siblings were able to escape the abuse but probably never the trauma of what they experienced. Tara went onto to become quite accomplished, gaining admittance to prestigious schools of higher learning, even though never having attended any lower schools before. The children who escaped the mountain area in which they lived, seem to have moved forward in life recognizing what the world really is and how to succeed in it. Tara was cut off from the remaining family and accused of being the devil. Seeing her parents or other family members was not ever to be. One can only hope that this continues for Tara never to return home or to that abusive environment where unfortunately some of her nieces and nephews are being raised today. What truly surprised me was that not one single person stepped forward to plead for these children, not a grandparent, an aunt, uncle, churchgoer, friend, neighbor etc. They all seemed to think that the rules of living in the Westover household were normal. The parents to this day, now quite wealthy due to the holistic medicine and essential oil business set up by the mother, think Tara made everything up. She and her other two brothers know the truth. After finishing this book, I had to wonder if Tara and her brothers who escaped would ever really escape the years of abuse they suffered.
Tara’s story is of course unique, as we all have our own lives with individual crises and triumphs. What sets her tale apart is the rarity of the circumstances surrounding such an unusual and ultimately inspiring journey. Kudos to Tara for finding the courage to overcome mental abuse, which in many ways appeared to be far more difficult than earning her doctorate. Indeed, it appears that education provided the perspective that ultimately saved her sanity and allowed her to find her own path in this complex world of ours.
Powerful, moving, sad, hopeful. Thank you!
I am more than halfway through this book and can’t wait to pick it up again. I covered most of my reading on a flight from Amsterdam Germany to Washington DC. An amazing story of perseverance, innocence, loyalty, and strength.
If I didn't know this was a memoir I would have thought it a beautiful work of fiction. Everyone should read this book. To acknowledge that others live lives we can't even imagine, in ways we'll never understand.
Sometimes there are books that you merely read to be reading, forgetting most of the information a short time after completion. This is not one of those books, this is a book that can transform your view on education in our world and stay with you forever. I highly recommend this book and I might add that Tara's writing style is one of the best I have ever been privileged to read. Enjoy!
I'm not quite sure how I came to be reading this book... did someone recommend it ? Did I peruse the back cover and write the title down 'to check out later?' Did I stumble across it by accident? Did I think it was the story of something else? . Well, whatever that reason was, it is dwarfed by my immense gratitude that this story opened its pages before me. . I could neither relate to the peasant, nor the scholar... my life was fairly average... but her journey of doubt, perseverance, and self-idenity drew me into her chaos, her hurricaned life. . How could such a background happen in the 1980s, modern time? How did noone have the power to rescue this family from themselves? . My jaw opened in protest many times. It was like those horror movies where you scream at the screen for the characters to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! . Yet, at the same time, I saw such humanity in the retelling of her life. I could see her mother, her siblings, her father. . I couldn't believe her transformation at first, surely she, what? Exaggerated? Misremembered? But the details of each step in her life, each self examination, converted me, and pulled me with her through her growth and transformation. . Read this book. It's great.
This book captures an unbelievable story of a family who chooses family loyalty and religious fanaticism over loving kindness and acceptance of each other’s differences. It is well written and captivating in the details of a person’s life that no fiction rendition could match.
Very moving recounting of a dysfunctional family, bipolar disorder, a mother who cannot stand up to her husband, a father who is a radical Mormon, abuse, and the effect it has on the author and other members of her family. A very good read.
It’s a difficult read, the continual abuse in this day and age, knowing it shouldn’t have occurred in Idaho, or any other state. But watching her and her brothers wrench themselves from this cycle of abuse is enlightening. Hooray for her! She made it and gained some normal family!
Amazing read. Brilliant mind. Harrowing story. Real life psychological thriller. I hope Dr. Westover has a good therapist still.
A highly complex study of the strength of the human spirit, the power of family and the triumph of accepting who we are in relation to our parents. Written in a simple, truthful voice intended to impress no one and to still love those who so grievously wound us in an attempt to raise us. A triumphal and mind boggling masterpiece.
Really loved the book. Amazing how our upbringing can influence our whole lives and our feelings about ourselves no matter how hard we try to change. Definitely thought provoking.