Educated (2018) Book Summary and Insights

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Book Title: Educated

Subtitle: A Memoir

Publication Date: 2018

Author Name: Tara Westover

Book Summary

Educated tells the heart-warming tale of the author who defied all odds to attain a successful run through college.

Raised by a survivalist family in the most isolated of conditions, Tara Westover did not have many of the privileges and rights, many young children are freely given.

In her memoir, Educated, Westover details exactly how she made the huge leap from isolated Mormon living to getting a Ph.D. from Cambridge.

Who is This Book For?

This book is for anyone curious about Mormonism, interested in memoirs about survival, and anyone with an interest in extreme fanaticism.

About the Author

Tara Westover is an American author who lives in the UK. Raised in rural Idaho under deprived, survivalist conditions, Westover defied her Mormon family to pursue her educational dreams.

Westover is now the proud holder of a BA from Brigham Young University, a MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge and a PhD in history from Cambridge.

Educated: A Memoir is her first book.

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Book Insights

The Early Days

Religion is the bedrock of many of our choices and the very first settlers on American land went searching for a safe place to practise their religion freely.

With the awareness of the freedom to practise our beliefs as we please, comes some questionable stretches of this freedom.

People practice Mormonism in the United States as a religion, formed in the 1800s. The Mormons are a closed-off sect of people who live as survivalists, disbelieving everything having to do with the government and healthcare systems.

Tara Westover was born and raised in one of such families, in the mountains of Idaho. Her father’s biased views on the government caused the family to lack; especially the children.

Tara grew up in a family of seven children, the youngest of them all. Their population was not the only thing unorthodox about the Westover family. Tara went through her childhood days without having ever set foot in a school or making a hospital trip. Her father’s goal of making the government unaware of the children’s existence was successful.

The Westover patriarch, Gene Westover, believed that school was a conspiracy by the government, set up to corrupt the minds of the little children. He preferred that his children be versed in the skills of survival and home in on their natural skills. He taught Tara and her siblings that there was nothing one could not teach them self. This mantra being drummed into Tara at her early ages caused her to become adept at bottling and storing peaches.

It might seem like a hard life no young child should be forced to face but, when presented with the opportunity of leaving with her grandmother, Tara turned down the offer after much contemplation.

Tara was well suited to the deeply religious, strict life that Gene laid down, and she carried on that way. Her mother, Faye, was equally happy with the life of a proper Mormon wife, and took her place as a homemaker, caretaker, and home school teacher with no complaints. 

Tara’s father encouraged his children to explore the world on their own and define their own education and, to an extent, this method worked. Tara picked up her reading skills with the coaching of her older brother, and some maths skills through her own curiosity.

The family went on living this way, safe in their isolated bubble, until Tara’s older brother, Tyler, turned eighteen and went to college. His father met his decision with some hostility and opposition but; the boy persisted and soon was waving goodbye to his Mormon family.

Gene raved about the agents of darkness awaiting Tyler on the other side but, her brother’s bold move caused the faintest stirrings of curiosity within Tara.

The Early 2000s

The family number began to dwindle as Tara got older and by age 11, there were barely any children left in house Westover. The lack of hands to run the farm caused Tara’s father to abandon the family farming business and move towards junkyard scrapping.

A thirst for a world outside what she knew drew Tara to escape some hardships her life posed. This urge led her towards finding and securing her first job – working as a babysitter. She willingly went through with the job, not because the pay was overly attractive, but because even at that young age, she thirsted for a freedom which she could never attain under her father’s 24-hour watch.

Her little jobs brought more opportunities to Tara, and soon, she became involved with the theatre, much to her father’s dismay. Tara kept exploring herself and soon, she was singing beautifully in the church choir and holding parts in stage plays.

This time was a fairly mild, enjoyable period in Tara’s life but, there is always a calm before the storm hits. 2000 ushered in a multitude of new things; and also served as an incentive for Gene’s madness. He believed that the Days of Abomination were upon the world, and the turn of the century ushered the age in.

Tara might have found a reprieve from her father’s fanatical rule back home but, his disillusionment still caused her many sufferings.

January 1, 2000, came and went uneventfully, and Gene’s lifelong stash of emergency food and weapons remained untouched.

The family took a huge blow when they got involved in a car accident, leaving some of them injured. However, Gene still refused to take his family to the hospital. He had nursed them successfully back to health from a previous car crash, and he believed that the same natural remedies would help with this one.

This wasn’t the only accident that scarred Tara’s teen years. Her brother, Shawn, was prone to violence and had physically threatened her frequently. The family accepted Shawn’s violent tendencies as something that came with him and made constant excuses for his bad behaviour.

ACT Exams

Tara’s life had not been a smooth one so far but, she still had visions of a better, educated future.

There seemed to be limited opportunities for her to branch out. Her father already had a corner of the farm mapped out for her to raise her future family, with plans for her to learn herbal medicine from her mother.

Tara got the idea to sit for the ACTs from her elder brother, Tyler, who had already passed his and left for college. Tara studied hard and eventually got a good enough score to get admitted to a Mormon College, Brigham Young University.

She had successfully scaled exams but now, the greater task was here; convincing her father to let her leave the house to college. He went as far as using a supposed spiritual revelation to threaten her.

Faye Westover, however, encouraged Tara’s decision and accompanied her to BYU just before her 17th birthday.

Brigham Youth University

Tara had defied all odds so far and had now made it into college. But, her trials were far from over.

Fitting into BYU proved to be more than a little difficult for Tara – a young Mormon girl from a simple background who had little to no prior exposure to the outside world. Her first shock came when she met with her scantily dressed roommate – Shannon; and a Sabbath defying Mary.

Her roommates caused the first doubts in Tara – she began questioning if she was ready for the outside world with its incessant noise and confusing traffic. School work caused another bump in her facade of confidence. English, Religion, Western civilization, and American history were some introductory courses she took. Tara definitely did not expect the shock the entire class expressed when she bravely asked the teacher to explain the meaning of the word “Holocaust”.

Hard work, a curious mind and dedication saw Tara through her first year in college successfully. But Tara learned that college is not just about the academic education. She might not have fully known of it yet but, she had opened her mind little by little to the things outside what her father had drummed into her and her siblings.

When she got sick with an earache, she took the advice of a childhood friend and swallowed some Ibuprofen, which eased her pain quicker than she could have imagined. This didn’t mean she had completely cleared her distrust of modern medicine and doctors, though.

However, she had to swallow her fears and pride when medical crises arose, requiring the consultation of a medical practitioner. Tara then had to accept financial aid from the government and medical aid from a doctor.

Psychology 101

More years spent in college meant more time for Tara to understand how twisted her father’s ideas really were.

Tara had now got past some of her most immediate problems – school, money, and freedom. Now, she was able to question more things about her past that just made little sense.

Her Psychology 101 class allowed her delve deeper into the workings and complexities of the human mind. It was during this course that she learned about “bipolar disorder”, and learned that her father probably suffered from this mental illness, and how badly the entire family had been affected.

Because she had never been fully exposed to society and sent to school, her father shaped Tara’s entire mindset. Taking courses in history and philosophy caused her to open her mind more to the world and trust her own judgments.

In the middle of her growing anger at her father’s tyranny, she received the shattering call that her father had been in a car accident and was in a life-threatening condition. Gene’s heart stopped twice that night, but he lived to see the morning and slowly but surely got better.

With her father’s health dealt with for the time being, Tara went back to her studies and excelled. Her research led her to a graduate program that took her to the prestigious King’s College, England, where she met with Professor Jonathan Steinberg. He met her final research with only praise and assured her of a smooth sailing through graduate school. She won the Gates Cambridge Scholarship to attend Cambridge University’s Trinity College, making her the third person from BYU to do so.

Trinity College

Trinity College proved just as beautiful as King’s College but, Tara was glad to feel more at home here after the hard years of orientation at BYU.

Here, she opened up more and relaxed enough to build a close circle of friends. She allowed herself try out new things, including coffee, wine, and even talking about her many experiences with her father.

Back home, things had taken a turn for the worse as her sister Audrey called to complain about their brother, Shawn’s violent behaviour towards her.

Tara had just begun delving into feminism and Mormonism in her college research and, she was seeing a lot of things in a new light. She realised how she had previously seen women as having more subdued, dictated roles. This was clear in the way her parents dealt with Shawn’s physical threats to her and Audrey. In their eyes, Tara was a troublemaker and Shawn was innocent of any accusations.

Tara’s spectacular research work was taking her places, and she finally earned her PhD from Cambridge. This time would prove most stressful for her as her family pulled all the last stops to get her back under their control but, she declined all offers. Tara slowly but surely detached herself from her family, severing all connections with some of them.

Tara’s life path forced her to make the difficult choice of cutting herself off from her family’s toxic influence, or insulting her enlightenment by going back to live under her father’s fanaticism. Tara chose the former, and although she suffered a great deal for it, she forged forward to complete her education and carry on in life.

Key Quotes

Here are some key quotes from the book:

“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.” 

“You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them,” she says now. “You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.” 

Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me.

I began to experience the most powerful advantage of money: the ability to think of things besides money.

I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant. I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others—because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.


Tara Westover’s tale is one of extreme courage, an exposure of her early years and life in a Mormon family. She also summarises the challenges she faced transitioning from isolated rural living into the impressive world of Brigham Young University, then Harvard, and finally, Cambridge.

While living under the watch of her extremist, paranoid father, Tara and her siblings were deprived of educational and medical privileges. Growing up, Tara escaped the isolated life she was used to, and attain enlightenment.

Surviving her early years against the odds and battling through the unfamiliarity of University all build Tara up into the woman she is today.

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Content created by: Tracy

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