10 min read ⌚
What if you were born in a family with radical religious beliefs?
And what if you didn’t have a birth certificate until the age of 9 and were not allowed to go to school until 17 (and even then)?
Could you earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge?
This book reads as if a barely believable novel.
And yet – it is a memoir.
Who Should Read “Educated PDF Summary”? And Why?
It will be even more interesting to those who’d like to understand the ways of life of a Mormon survivalist family.
Finally, it should prove a thought-provoking read for anyone who is interested in the power and necessity of knowledge and education.
Tara Westover Biography
Tara Westover is an American writer.
Born in rural Idaho, into a Mormon survivalist family, she spent her childhood wholly isolated from the outside world.
Since her father didn’t believe in schools (or hospitals), Westover didn’t have a chance to visit one until she was in her late teens. Even so, she managed to earn a Ph.D. from Cambridge.
Educated, her first book, tells this story.
Find out more at https://tarawestover.com.
Being a Child in a Mormon Family
Tara Westover was born in a small Idaho farming town, the youngest of the seven children of Gene and Faye Westover (actually Val and Laree), Mormon survivalists with, well, let’s just (for lack of a better, inoffensive adjective) distinctive personalities.
For starters, Tara was born at home, and she was not issued a birth certificate; in fact, until she was 9, she might have just as well not been born, and nobody would have noticed.
In addition, Gene firmly believed that schools are just a way for the socialist government to brainwash individuals into obedient slaves of the system, which is why neither Tara nor her six siblings ever had a proper chance to experience education.
He didn’t believe in hospitals either, meaning even Tara’s concussions or burns were treated with herbs and home medicines.
He did believe in a Mormon God, though, and this God (like, unfortunately – and for some reason – most of the Gods) didn’t seem to be that fond of women. Their place was in the house, which is where Faye was all of the time.
Tara’s grandmother wanted a proper education for her youngest granddaughter, and, one day, when she was 7, she offered her a chance to escape to Arizona and go to school.
Tara stayed: not that surprisingly, even today she has fond memories of her family and her childhood.
Tyler’s Decision and the Effect on Tara
Three years later, Tara’s mindset suddenly changed.
It happened when her brother Tyler, the Westover’s third son, announced, soon after his 18th birthday, that he wanted to go to college.
Gene, of course, objected.
Both because Tyler’s older brothers Tony and Shawn were not that much around the house anymore, and because, well, school teaches you nothing about how to support a wife and quite a few kids.
And, also, because – well, the Illuminati and the Communists would want you to go to school.
However, Tyler persisted, and this inspired Tara – 10 at the time – to spend some more time reading, mostly the New Testament and the Book of Mormon.
Opening Herself to the World
Soon after Tyler, Tara’s older sister Audrey also left the house; and the only ones who stayed there were Luke, Richard, and her.
Due to the lack of helping hands, Gene had to move away from farming and Tara had to help him. So, already at 11, she was scraping old cars for parts.
However, she felt that she could do better, so one day, she posted a flyer at the local post office, offering her services as a babysitter.
This opened her to the world.
One of her clients, Mary, offered Tara an opportunity to visit a dance school; Tara enjoyed it, but Gene soon forbade it, believing dancing was immodest.
And you thought the premise of Footloose was wacky!
However, the dancing lessons led to voice lessons, and these were something even her father could find nothing wrong with.
Especially since they helped Tara wow the congregation at the local church on Sundays; she even got a part in a play at the local Worm Creek Opera House!
It’s the End of the World… as We Know It
As far as her father was concerned, Tara’s 13th birth should have been her last.
Not because she did something that drove him mad, but because it happened sometime during September 1999, and January 31st, 1999, should have been the last day for everybody on this planet.
Once again: he was not merely a Mormon, but also a Mormon Survivalist.
And as Hobbes feared nothing is worse than people who think they have had a revelation: no argument would convince them in the opposite.
Case in point: even when the end of the world didn’t come with the year 2000, Gene didn’t change his beliefs.
However, they were visibly shaken, so the family left Idaho for Arizona to visit Tara’s grandmother.
On the way to there, their van spun off the road and crashed into a field. Everyone survived, but Tara was badly hurt, even losing her consciousness for a while.
That mattered not one bit to Gene: it was still God’s and Nature’s job to cure Tara; and not doctors’.
Fortunately, even though Tara’s neck frequently locked up on her, eventually, she got out of it safe and sound.
However, untreated head injuries such as these may have contributed to the very unstable condition of Tara’s brother Shawn, who continually abused her and her sisters.
Prone to violence and as fanatic as his father, he once violently attacked Tara, waking her up from her sleep and dragging her by her hair from the bed.
Tara had started wearing makeup and spending time with a guy named Charles.
Apparently, that is not appropriate for a 15-year-old girl.
A little short of “way to go, son!”
Encouraged by her brother Tyler, at 16, Tara finally decided to take the ACT Test (in case you don’t know, another standardized test for college admission in the US, similar to the SAT).
And she failed it, scoring 22 out of the 27 points she needed to get into Brigham Young University (BYU), a Utah-based university entirely owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormons.
Considering the fact that she barely knew math, it wasn’t such a bad score; however, it was in relation to her dreams.
After her mother helped her figure out algebra and stuff, Tara retook the ACT.
Time to go to BYU!
Well, not exactly, said Gene. Apparently, God had told him personally that Tara would greatly displease Him if she went to college.
However, three days before her 17th birthday, she did, driven to BYU by her encouraging mother, Faye.
And there – she experienced shock after shock.
For example, her roommate Shannon wore pants that had the word “Juicy” on them; and Mary dared to shop on the Sabbath!
Oh, the blasphemy, the horror!
And the classes somehow seemed even scarier!
Tara took English, American history, Western civilization, religion, and music. As you might guess, she didn’t have that many problems with the latter two, but, to her, Western civilization was probably what Einstein’s theories are to you and me.
She barely understood the words in it.
A quick example: once, she stood up in her class before everyone only to ask her professor to explain to her what the word “Holocaust” meant.
The Education of Tara Westover
But Tara didn’t want to back down. She studied hard and, after the initial problems, eventually aced almost all of her exams.
The only exception was Western civilization.
Now, if you are like most people, you would probably interpret this along the lines of “OK, that’s probably not something for me.”
However, in the case of Tara, this basically meant the exact opposite: “I don’t know enough about this; maybe I should try and change that.”
And in time, she did.
And even though she had come to college to study music, she kept signing up for classes related to history and politics.
Her professors noticed her enthusiasm, and one of them referred her to a study-abroad program at the University of Cambridge.
Tara applied and, soon enough, she headed to King’s College, Cambridge, to study a course under Jonathan Steinberg.
Up to just a while ago, she didn’t even know the word “Holocaust,” and now Steinberg, a Holocaust-expert, was grading her words and ideas.
And he had only nice things to say about them, telling her that her final essay was one of the best he had ever seen in his long career. Because of this, he promised her to help her with her graduate application.
And that’s how Tara managed to win the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, only the third person to do so from BYU.
A student at the prestigious Trinity College, she became a celebrity back in Idaho, revered by almost everyone who had known her.
Everyone but her father Gene and her brother Shawn that is.
Everything was going well after Tara returned to England, this time as a graduate student.
So, well, in fact, that Tara started feeling as if a new person, one who was allowed to drink coffee and wine, and even tell stories of her fabulously strange upbringing.
However, back at home, things were as curious and as dark as ever.
First, Gene suffered an accident which almost killed him and left him with severe burns all over his body; however, he refused medical help once again and, somehow, stayed alive.
Then, Tara received a letter from her sister Audrey, telling her that she was planning to confront her parents about the abuse from Shawn.
Tara stood by her side and came back home to testify in her favor.
However, Gene and Faye were left unconvinced by the claims of the sisters, even though Shawn had explicitly threatened them to kill them.
He repeated the threat by phone even after ceremoniously hugging Tara during the discussions with their parents.
Simply put, he was all but beyond treatment. As was Tara and Audrey’s father, who, as she learned during her psychology classes, suffered from a severe case of bipolar disorder, getting worse with every day.
If his gradually growing misogyny wasn’t enough of a proof for you, get this!
In the meantime, he and Faye had started a line of medicinal oils, a business which brought them not only a lot of money but also a lot of interest from big companies.
One of them offered Gene $3 million to buy the receipts.
Gene declined the offer.
The Meeting of the Two Taras
Her trips back to her house opened Tara’s eyes to one crucial thing: that there were now two Taras.
And as her parents were trying to get her soul back from England to fit her in the body of the 16-year-old Tara that once left Idaho, Tara’s soul was soaring to very new and different heights.
Much more importantly, through Wollstonecraft and Mill, Tara had finally realized that women are just as good as men:
I carried the books to my room and read through the night. I loved the fiery pages of Mary Wollstonecraft, but there was a single line written by John Stuart Mill that, when I read it, moved the world: ‘It is a subject on which nothing final can be known.’ The subject Mill had in mind was the nature of women. Mill claimed that women have been coaxed, cajoled, shoved and squashed into a series of feminine contortions for so many centuries, that it is now quite impossible to define their natural abilities or aspirations.
Even more, that she had been lied her whole life about so many different things, from schools to hospitals to religion.
She started reading about Mormonism much more fervently and with a much different mindset, and realized that, in relation to many other intellectual and religious movements, Mormonism was downright radical.
Speaking of –
When during her Ph.D. research, Tara won a visiting fellowship at Harvard, her parents (after somehow finding out) quickly appeared at the doorstep of her dorm room.
Apparently, Gene had another revelation: that Tara has been taken by Lucifer and that the only way for her to save herself was accepting his blessing and coming back to her hometown.
Educated PDF Summary Epilogue
“Everything I had worked for,” writes Westover, “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.”
And she goes on:
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.
That was a price she wasn’t interested in paying.
And though she suffered a mental breakdown in the process, spending day after day watching TV and doing nothing else, she persevered.
She decided to leave her family behind her and finish her thesis.
And it all came down to one not-that-very0good day, when, watching herself in the mirror, Tara realized that her old self had finally left her:
The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self.
You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.
I call it an education.
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“Educated PDF Quotes”
Our Critical Review
There are really not enough superlative adjectives to describe Educated.
Alluring, courageous, heartbreaking, heartwarming, beautiful, propulsive, best-in-years, one-of-a-kind, fascinating, extraordinarily evocative… – these have all been used by numerous different reviewers.
And all justly.
A unique memoir, it’s undoubtedly an autobiography of a type you’ve never had the chance to even imagine, let alone read.
And yet, as a Vogue review noted, “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?”
“Fit to stand alongside the great modern memoirs” – wrote The Sunday Times.
And they are not exaggerating.