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Educated is the unforgettable, thought-provoking memoir of a woman’s formal and informal education growing up as the daughter of a fanatical, survivalist father.  It’s the type of book that leaves the reader yearning for so much more even years after reading it, and it is definitely one of the best books set in school as well as one of my top suggestions for book clubs.

This post shares an Educated by Tara Westover summary and review with quotes to guide your reading experience.

educated by tara westover with book and pencils.

Summary and Review

  • #1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Boston Globe bestseller
  • Named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review
  • One of President Barack Obama’s favorite books of the year 
  • Bill Gates’s holiday reading list
  • Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s Award In Autobiography
  • John Leonard Prize For Best First Book
  • PEN/Jean Stein Book Award
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Educated is a #1 New York Times bestseller that was one of my favorite non-fiction books of all time.

It’s downright fascinating, whether you believe the many hyperbolic tales within it or not.  That’s a loaded sentence, isn’t it?  Below is my Educated by Tara Westover summary:

The book is a memoir (which works as a great audiobook memoir) by a woman who was raised in the mountains of Idaho as a member of a survivalist Mormon family. Her mother was a midwife and natural healer, and her father ran a junkyard. In his free time, he was a religious fanatic preparing to survive an apocalypse. 

They didn’t believe in doctors or hospitals, and they barely conducted homeschooling.  Tara didn’t even have a birth certificate.  Tara’s version of events was that, more or less, she began educating herself as a teen, and she first stepped foot into a classroom as a college student at Brigham Young University.  She later studied at Harvard.  In one of the most memorable scenes in the book, she asks what the Holocaust was during class.  

There were so many hard-to-believe tales in this book that they were, well, somewhat unbelievable.  There were times in which Tara even admitted her family remembered these tales differently and so, the reader was left trusting an unreliable narrator.

That being said, Tara did not come across as a liar to me — she seemed to just remember what she remembered, how she remembered it.  And there was so much trauma in this book, from surviving the family’s survival of horrifying accidents and injuries to Tara and her siblings falling prey to an abusive older brother, that I wondered how PTSD may have affected what was remembered — and perhaps even not remembered –in the writing of this story.  

I viewed Tara and her siblings as victims of abuse at the hands of a mentally ill father. I saw much of Educated the same way, and Tara did delve into how mental illness may have played a role in her upbringing.

That being said, it seemed to me that Tara had to have received a better childhood education than she let on.  I found it hard to believe she picked up calculus on her own as a teenager and breezed right into a well-respected institution and, later, one of the most well-respected institutions in the world. 

And every time she was miserably failing a class, she somehow miraculously finished with an “A.”  I had a hard time reconciling that aspect of this memoir. 

I also couldn’t figure out whether modern amenities like cars and telephones and computers were forbidden in the family.  They seemed to appear without a struggle from her fanatical father throughout the book.

As Tara grew up and left the confines of her home, she was torn between choosing her family and finding herself, which could not co-exist.

Of note, Educated did not seem to aim to disparage the Mormon religion, and I personally did not take that away from this book or form any such negative opinions from reading it.

No matter your opinion on what’s “true,” Educated is guaranteed to make you think and leave you gasping.  Educated is, quite simply, difficult to read and impossible to put down. 

Quotes

an education is not so much about making a living as making a person. educated by tara westover.

An education is not so much about making a living as making a person.

you can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them. educated by tara westover.

You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main idea of Educated by Tara Westover?

The main idea of Educated by Tara Westover is that education gives one power to control their destiny. It also makes a statement that education can come in different forms, from self-teaching to formal schooling and beyond.

Is Educated by Tara a true story?

Yes. Educated by Tara Westover is a non-fiction memoir based on the author’s experience of growing up in a survivalist family without a formal education for most of her life.

What are the issues raised in Educated?

Educated by Tara Westover raises many issues that were part of growing up in a survivalist family, including various forms of abuse and neglect.

Why is the book Educated so good?

Educated by Tara Westover is a popular book with readers because it is so shocking and fascinating to learn what it was really like to grow up in a survivalist family, which is not often discussed publicly.

What is an important quote from Educated by Tara Westover?

The most important (and popular) quote from Educated by Tara Westover is: “An education is not so much about making a living as making a person.”

Conclusion

Educated by Tara Westover is a compelling memoir that navigates the intricate interplay between family loyalty and self-identity. It gives readers a raw insight into a life steeped in a strict, survivalist upbringing, juxtaposed against the transformative power of education. Westover’s journey from the mountains of Idaho to the hallowed halls of college is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the quest for self-discovery.


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