Book Summary - Educated by Tara Westover
Raised in a Mormon family, Tara Westover grew up at Buck’s Peach in the mountains of Idaho. Her father, Gene, ran a junkyard. Faye, her mother, worked as a midwife and herbalist.
His father despised the government and thought that it brainwashed and manipulated people. He believed that schools were little more than brainwashing facilities, allowing the government to turn children into cogs in the machine, and that woman’s place waste home. Getting a formal education was not a priority. To him, college doesn’t teach the practical skills to support a wife and kids. He was deeply religious and raised his family as faithful Mormons. He prepared the family for the End of Days, stockpiling food, and weapons in an emergency bunker he’d dugout in the field.
In Educated, Tara Westover tells her story living as a young girl in a deeply religious community, continuing to the culture shocks of college, and eventually earning her Ph.D. from Cambridge University.
Westover did not go to school. To the state of Idaho, she didn’t exist because she was born at home and lacked a birth certificate until the age of nine years old. That said, because of her family’s beliefs, Westover had to educate herself. Her education consisted of watching her mother blend oils, doing manual labor with her siblings, and listening to music.
Tyler’s decision to go to college encouraged Tara to do the same thing. She started to study by reading the Book of Mormon and the New Testament and writing essays about faith and sacrifice.
She lived a life of abuse. Her father was manipulative and controlling, his moods changing drastically between the summer and winter. Eventually, in college, Westover realized that her father was bipolar.
When the world did not end on January 1, 2000, Gene’s faith was badly shaken. To lift his spirits the family decided to go on a road trip to Arizona, where Westover’s grandparents lived. Her brother, who was driving, lost control of the car, injuring members of the family. Her parents refused medical care, instead of relying on God to help. His accident was the prelude to many accidents to come as Westover and her siblings suffered injuries from various activities. For example, her brother, Luke caught fire. Because their parents mistrusted medical care, these injuries were often treated with herbal or alternative remedies.
Tara was often abused by her brother Shawn. One night, he grabbed her hair and dragged her out of her room, violently accusing her of being a whore. Her parents ignored Shawn’s outbursts.
Tara tried to move away from her insular life. She tried to understand Mormonism. She read religious texts and 19th-century books. She wrote essays. She babysat children. She played the piano and took dance classes. She also played the musical lead on Annie in a community play.
Eventually, she attended Brigham Young University in Utah though she never attended high school. She had trouble with her studies at first. Though her classes were all intro classes, they were hard for her. She had trouble with terms such as “Scottish enlightenment,” and felt lost. That didn’t discourage her though, she kept studying and though she didn’t do well the first time around, she eventually got good grades. To her, college was a shock. It challenged her faith as she came across other Mormons who were less religious. Her studies about the holocaust and slavery shocked her especially because she lived in a white world where racial slurs were common. She lived with roommates and had a boyfriend. Though it took her a long time to overcome her distrust of the medical establishment, Tara agreed to see a doctor and took antibiotics. When she went back home and suffered from an earache, her friend persuaded her to take Ibuprofen, and she took it though her parents filled her head with warnings about how poisonous pharmaceuticals were. When she had trouble paying for school, a bishop encouraged her to apply for a grant.
She learned to find her own strength and to believe in herself. She learned to be strong and to have her own voice. She learned to stand up for herself. She took a Psychology 101 course, which made her realize her father was bipolar and suffered from mental illness. She realized that her whole family has been brainwashed by her father’s strange beliefs, which made them live a life of anxiety and fear. She decided that she would never let others dim her light and that she would always try to preserve her own freedom.
She followed her passion for politics and history. She studied abroad at Cambridge University, where she was assigned the renowned Holocaust expert Professor Jonathan Steinberg, who helped her write well. Steinberg provided her recommendation to the graduate program. She was the third student from BYU to win the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned a master's of philosophy at Trinity College, Cambridge, and later completed her Ph.D. at Cambridge in 2014.
While completing her graduate studies, Westover started opening up more. She drank wine for the first time. She felt safe enough to work on her interpersonal skills and join others for coffee even though the Mormon Church forbids coffee. She was more open to her friends, recounting her life story to them.
She continued to have trouble at home. Her brother Shawn kept being abusive. He abused his wife and killed his dog. Westover was frustrated when her parents ignored his behavior especially given that Shawn was also abusing her sister. According to her father, Tara had been taken by Lucifer and he must now offer her a priesthood blessing. This will “heal” her and cast our her demons. Tara refused her father’s delusions of grandeur and refused to accept his twisted reality. She had become enlightened. She could now identify religious fanaticism and how to dismantle it. She wanted to keep moving forward. Her trials to change her family led to a mental breakdown; her boyfriend helped her improve her spirits.
Meanwhile, the new family business, selling a line of medicinal oils, was doing well. Her father was offered $3 million for his company, but he refused.
Eventually, Westover separated from her family and learned to control her own mind. She wrote to her father calling him a “thug” and a “tyrant” and asking for time to heal. Today, she has a good relationship with some members of her family but has been estranged from her parents for a while.
About the Author
Tara Westover is an American memoirist, essayist, and historian. Her memoir, Educated, was #1 on The New York Times Bestseller list. The New York Times named Educated one of the 10 Best Books of 2018. She was chosen as one of the most influential people by Time magazine in 2018.
Born in Clifton, Idaho, she was the youngest of seven children. Her parents mistrust doctors, hospitals, public schools, and the federal government. She was delivered by a midwife and never received a birth certificate until she was 9 years old. When it comes to injuries, her mother treated her with herbal and alternative remedies.
She received a makeshift education. Her older brother taught her to read and she studied the scriptures The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She never attended school, wrote an essay, or took exams.
Nevertheless, she eventually took the ACT and started her studies at Brigham Young University even though she never attended high school. Though life and studies were difficult for her at first, she eventually adjusted and graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge at Trinity College as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. She was a visiting fellow at Harvard University in 2010. She earned a Ph.D. at Trinity College, Cambridge in intellectual history in 2014. Her thesis is about "The Family, Morality and Social Science in Anglo-American Cooperative Thought, 1813–1890.”
In 2009, she recounted her abuse at the hand of her brother to her parents, but they ignored her. She wrote Educated, which describes her struggle to liberate herself through education and separate herself from the family’s rigid lifestyle and beliefs.
Educated was added as part of President Obama’s summer reading list. He described it as “remarkable.” Bill Gates included it on a list of his yearly list of favorite books, “It’s even better than you’ve heard.”
As of February 2020, Educated has spent two years on the hardcover New York Times bestseller list.