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The Literacy Guild

Review: ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

I’ve always valued education, but I realized I never really appreciated how transformative it can be.

“Educated,” the autobiography of historian and writer Tara Westover, tells the story of her experiences moving from living on a rural farm in Idaho to attending prestigious colleges, including Brigham Young University and the University of Cambridge.

Although this may not sound like a monumental achievement, it was life-changing and drastic by any standard because of the unusual life and family she came from. Westover’s parents were very conservative Mormons, who believed that the government was a part of a hidden society called the Illuminati and modern medicine was an evil creation.

Going to university completely transformed her.

Westover spent much of her childhood on a farm in Idaho, helping her parents with odd-jobs around the house and only had rare encounters with formal education. Her father was an extremely radical Mormon fundamentalist, who spent nearly all of his time preparing for the “Days of Abomination” to arrive by storing immense amounts of everyday necessities underground. Westover’s mother was equally conservative and spent her days concocting homeopathic remedies and working as a midwife. 

During Westover’s childhood, her family encountered many unfortunate and terrible accidents. On multiple occasions, her family had experienced car crashes, which left Westover’s mother with severe brain damage. Many other accidents occurred while they were working in their junkyard.

Despite the many accidents and injuries, Tara’s parents were adamant about treating every injury at home with natural oils and essences. 

After reading this book, I was very shocked by the extreme beliefs that both of Westover’s parents strongly followed. It was unimaginable for me for there to be people who could truly believe that the rest of the society is all a temptation of evil. 

The most disturbing beliefs were those about modern medicine. I was perplexed to learn that Westover had grown up believing that doctors were evil socialists and that medical drugs never left your body and would slowly rot you from the inside for the rest of your life.

Her parents didn’t only have strong opinions about medicine and the government. They prohibited drinking Diet Coke, not because it’s bad for your health, but because it was apparently “a violation of the Lord’s counsel for health.” 

I was also very astonished by how Westover was able to overcome her strongly opinionated family and was able to redesign her life through a transformative education. In addition to being a social outcast growing up, Tara was often treated extremely harshly by her older brother, Shawn. He was always quick to threaten her with harsh actions, and, as he got older, even threatened to shoot her with a gun.

Westover wrote this book in three distinct sections, the first about her life with her family, the second about her experiencing society for the first time at Brigham Young University and the third about her completely new lifestyle after her transformation. This structure allowed me to really see how much Westover changed, all through the power of getting an education.

Aside from being astonished by her very unusual family and home life, it was amazing to learn how Westover was able to teach herself everything she needed to know in order to take the college entrance examination ACT.

I found the second section of the book about her college experience to be very inspirational and empowering. Her experience at college was the greatest turning point of her life, where she finally came to the realization that the ways of her family were preposterous and the way that her family had treated her is seen as absolutely unacceptable by the rest of society.

College was a totally new and refreshing experience for her. She was constantly learning new things about the “norms” of society and eventually realized how irrational her father’s beliefs about the connections between the government and doctors and the Illuminati were.

It was motivating to read about how Westover was constantly conquering new challenges that she faced, being in such an unknown environment.  

Against all of the discouragement she received from her parents, she was able to completely redesign her life — she reflects back on both her life and her transformation in the last part of the book. 

As revealing and inspiring as her story is, it would have been even more revealing if Westover had written more about her reflection on everything she had experienced and what it is like for her to look back at her past. She provided to the reader a very detailed description of her life, allowing for the reader to really understand her experiences from her perspective. 

The last chapter of the book though, was a short piece of Westover looking back at her childhood and her reflections of her past.

I would have liked more of this, perhaps so that she could explain to the reader what she now thinks of the ways her parents chose to raise her and her siblings. Now that she lives a completely different life from the one she was brought up in, it would be intriguing to hear her opinions about not having a birth certificate as a child and being told that the government is an evil society. 

Overall, “Educated” by Tara Westover left me with a new understanding of how an education can so greatly transform someone’s life and how valuable education really is.

I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy reading biographies of people who experienced life-changing events. This autobiography allowed for me to have a totally new view of the importance of education and the ways that education can so greatly change lives.