Educated (book)

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Educated: A Memoir
Educated (Tara Westover).png
First edition cover
AuthorTara Westover
Audio read byJulia Whelan
Cover artistPatrik Svensson[1]
CountryUnited States
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
February 18, 2018
Media typePrint (hard & paperback), e-book, audiobook
Pages352 pages
Awards2019 Alex Award
ISBN978-0-399-59050-4 (First edition hardcover)
270.092 B
LC ClassCT3262.I2 W47 2018

Educated (2018) is a memoir by the American author Tara Westover. Westover recounts overcoming her survivalist Mormon family in order to go to college, and emphasizes the importance of education in enlarging her world. She details her journey from her isolated life in the mountains of Idaho to completing a PhD program in history at Cambridge University. She started college at the age of 17 having had no formal education. She explores her struggle to reconcile her desire to learn with the world she inhabited with her father.

As of the September 13, 2020, issue of The New York Times, the book had spent 132 consecutive weeks on the Hardcover Non-Fiction Best Seller list.[2] It won a 2019 Alex Award and was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, PEN America's Jean Stein Book Award, and two awards from the National Book Critics Circle Award.[3]


The memoir is told in three parts. The first part describes Westover's life beginning on Buck's Peak, a mountain located in rural Idaho, until her acceptance into Brigham Young University (BYU). Her parents, Gene and Faye Westover (pseudonyms) lived in isolation. Her father was paranoid about hospitals, the public school system, and the government, due in part to the 1992 events of Ruby Ridge. Westover's mother undertook most of the children's loose homeschooling and her father taught the children the "rhythms of the mountain".

Tara's attempts to attend school or seek other normality in her life were denied by her father. Gene becomes depressed when his prophecies about the Y2K apocalypse did not occur. When Tara suffers a neck injury from a car accident, her father refused to take her to the hospital for treatment. Tara's estranged brother Shawn helped her and the two initially grew closer. However, Shawn started physically abusing her after she became close to Charles, a boy she met while performing in theater. Another of Tara's brothers, Tyler, learned of the abuse and encouraged her to leave home and take the ACT to be able to apply to Brigham Young University. Westover was later admitted to BYU and given a scholarship. She and Shawn became close again after he stood up to their father on her behalf. When Shawn has a serious motorcycle accident, she takes him to the hospital.

Part two covers Westover's studies at BYU and King's College, Cambridge. She received financial awards that allowed her to attend Cambridge. She describes the stress she felt from the pressure of having to maintain her grades in order to keep her scholarship, as well as the issues she runs into due to her alienation from the outside world and lack of formal schooling. Later, Tara also reconnects with Charles, but feels like she cannot act romantically towards him because of her conservative upbringing. She also questions the abuse she endured from her father and Shawn, which results in her breaking off her relationship with Charles.

Westover realizes that she no longer feels at home in Idaho, and worries that her father may have bipolar disorder. She cuts ties with him, but reconnects after he expresses interest in her life at school. After Shawn marries Emily, a young woman he was dating, Tara worries about Emily who previously expressed fear of Shawn. Interested in history and politics, Westover confides to one of her professors about her family. Her professor encourages her to apply for the study abroad program at the University of Cambridge. After arriving at King's College, Tara is assigned to work with Professor Jonathan Steinberg. Both of her professors encourage her to attend graduate school. Westover applies for and wins the Gates Scholarship. She also makes a temporary truce with her father, after the two had a falling out over how she spoke about her past to local news outlets as well as her decision to attend school in England.

In Part three, Westover writes about her life in Cambridge and completing her PhD. She takes steps to be part of the world, including getting immunized for vaccinations her family rejected. She occasionally returns to Idaho where she learns that Shawn is still abusing Emily. Her sister, Audrey, learned about Shawn's behavior, but their mother did not believe her. Eventually, Tara and her mother take up email correspondence. During this period, her mother suggests that Gene is mentally ill and writes about how they plan to get Shawn the help he needs. On another trip home, Shawn briefly shows signs of change, but later accuses Audrey of lying about his abusive behavior and threatens to kill her. Gene and Faye do not take Tara seriously when she tells them about Shawn's threat.

Tara encounters Shawn with a bloody knife on another visit home. Terrified, Tara lies and claims that her father lied about Shawn's treatment to Audrey. Later, she realizes that her mother had never been on her or Audrey's side. After returning to England, Shawn threatens her life. Audrey also cuts ties with Tara, claiming she is under Satan's control. Westover then begins graduate school at Harvard and her parents briefly visit and try to convince her to come home.

After returning home again, Westover discovers that an ex-girlfriend of Shawn's wrote to her mother that she was delusional and demonizing her brother. Westover returns to Harvard and eventually England. After suffering panic attacks, she ends contact with her parents for a year in an effort to recover. She struggles in her studies, but is encouraged by her brother Tyler. She successfully completes her PhD. Years later Westover returns to Idaho for her maternal grandmother's funeral. She is reunited with Tyler and his wife, as well two maternal aunts. She is also reunited with her siblings, most of whom still take their father and Shawn's side. At the end of the memoir, Tara is in touch with only a few family members and comes to accept that she needs to be away from the mountain.

People featured in the book[edit]

Westover family[edit]

  • Tara Westover: Youngest child and writer of memoir.
  • Gene Westover (pseudonym): Tara's father, who did not believe in public education or doctors. He owns a metal scrapyard in Idaho.
  • Faye Westover (pseudonym): Tara's mother, a midwife and herbal specialist. She teaches her children at home.
  • Tyler Westover: Tara's older brother, the third brother of the seven siblings. Tyler is the first to go to college, and he encourages Tara to take the ACT so she can apply and go, too. He supports her against their parents and brother Shawn.
  • Shawn Westover (pseudonym): Tara's older brother, the second brother of the siblings. Shawn was physically, mentally and emotionally abusive toward Tara, and later to his wife.
  • Richard Westover: Tara's older brother, fifth of the brothers. Richard remains loyal to the Mormon religion, but gives up isolation. He pursues higher education and marries.
  • Luke Westover: Tara's older brother, the fourth brother. Luke is depicted as the brother who caught fire in the scrapyard and Tara had to help her mother nurse him back to health.
  • Audrey Westover (pseudonym): Tara's only sister. She helps their mother with the herbal business. Although not close, Tara and Audrey together confront their mother about the abuse they suffered from Shawn. Audrey later cuts Tara out of her life, fearful of being disowned by their parents.
  • Tony Westover: Tara's oldest brother and first child. He is noted only as working with their father at the scrapyard.
  • Grandma-down-the-hill: Gene's mother. She often disagrees with Gene about his family, and encourages Tara to get an education and escape so she can live a normal life.
  • Grandma-over-in-town: Faye's mother. A prim and proper woman whom Tara didn't really connect with when she was growing up. She doesn't approve of Gene and became estranged from her daughter Faye after her marriage.
  • Aunt Debbie: Faye's estranged sister. After Tara distanced herself from her family, Debbie accepted Tara and Tyler with open arms. She helped Tara get her passport so she could study abroad.
  • Aunt Angie: Faye's other estranged sister. Angie was cast out of the Westover family after filing for unemployment when she was fired from the family business. Gene thought Angie was trying to put him on a government watchlist.

Other major people[edit]

  • Charles: Tara's first "boyfriend". Clouded by Tara's father's teachings, Tara is never able to get intimate with Charles. She ends up distancing herself from him when Shawn's abuse gets worse and he tries to tell her that Shawn's behavior wasn't normal. They remain friends to this day.
  • Drew: Tara's boyfriend during the third part of the memoir. He is the first boyfriend whom she tells about her family and her upbringing.
  • Dr. Kerry: A professor of Tara's at BYU. He helps Tara get a spot in the study abroad program to Cambridge and encourages/supports her in her academic career.
  • Dr. Jonathan Steinberg: An advisor of Tara at Cambridge. He finds her talented and takes an interest in her education.
  • Erin: One of Shawn's ex-girlfriends. Tara reaches out to her in hopes she will help corroborate Tara's timeline of Shawn's abuse. While she "helps" Tara, she also is communicating with her mother Faye, saying that Tara is "demonizing" Shawn.
  • Sadie: Another of Shawn's ex-girlfriends. She also suffered from Shawn's psychological abuse.
  • Robin: Tara's second-year roommate. She helps Tara adjust to living with strangers and other aspects of life off the mountain.
  • Emily Westover: Shawn's wife, who is nearly a decade younger than he. Westover describes her as "compliant", and predicts that Shawn will abuse and manipulate her.
  • Stefanie Westover: Tyler's wife. She helps him transition into the larger world. She supports Tyler when he confronts his parents about Shawn's abuse of Tara.
  • Kami Westover: Richard's wife.
  • Benjamin: Audrey's husband.


Of her upbringing, Westover has said, "My father created our reality in a really meaningful way because we were so isolated. He would say these things about public education and doctors and the government and we didn't know any better. We didn't go to school so as far as we knew the world was exactly the way our father described it."[4] Westover got her undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University and her PhD at Cambridge.

Westover decided to write the book after she confronted her parents about her brother's abuse, and the resulting conflict led to her becoming estranged from some members of her family. She began searching for stories to help her understand what had happened. In 2018, she told The New York Times, "I wrote the book I wished I could have given to myself when I was losing my family. When I was going through that experience, I became aware of how important stories are in telling us how to live — how we should feel, when we should feel proud, when we should feel ashamed. I was losing my family, and it seemed to me that there were no stories for that — no stories about what to do when loyalty to your family was somehow in conflict with loyalty to yourself. And forgiveness. I wanted a story about forgiveness that did not conflate forgiveness with reconciliation, or did not treat reconciliation as the highest form of forgiveness. In my life, I knew the two might always be separate. I didn't know if I would ever reconcile with my family, and I needed to believe that I could forgive, regardless."[5]

Westover has said that she set out to explore the complexity of difficult family relationships. In an interview with The Irish Times, she said, "You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them, and you can miss someone every day and still be glad they're not in your life."[4]

Her parents' attorney has said that "Her parents raised their family in what Tara described as an extremist mindset, but what they felt was self-sufficiency."[6] They maintain that there is only a "little germ of truth" in her book.[6] Their attorney said Westover's parents were hurt that Westover would write a book that slanders her upbringing and that she would accuse her brother [Shawn] of the abuse described.[6] Westover has not responded directly to these claims, but per the book's acknowledgements, prior to publication it was professionally fact-checked by Ben Phelan of This American Life and GQ.[7][8][9]


Educated was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller, and was positively reviewed by the New York Times,[10][5] The Atlantic Monthly,[11] USA Today,[12] Vogue,[13][14] and The Economist,[15] among others. The book was also nominated for a number of national awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, PEN America's Jean Stein Book Award, and two awards from the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Educated spent more than two years in hardcover on the New York Times bestseller list[16] and is being translated into 45 languages.[17] The New York Times ranked Educated as one of the 10 Best Books of 2018,[18]  and The American Booksellers Association named Educated the Nonfiction Book of the Year.[19] As of December 2020, the book had sold more than 6 million copies.[20]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Westover's book earned her several awards and accolades:


  1. ^ Tara Westover (February 20, 2018). Educated: A Memoir. Random House Publishing Group. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-399-59051-1.
  2. ^ "Hardcover Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers". The New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  3. ^ "Book". Tara Westover. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Conroy, Catherine. "'You could miss someone every day and still be glad they're not in your life'". The Irish Times. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  5. ^ a b Jordan, Tina (March 2, 2018). "Spinning a Brutal Off-the-Grid Childhood into a Gripping Memoir". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Seamons, Necia P. "'Educated' should be read with grain of salt, says family's attorney". The Herald Journal. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  7. ^ Westover, Tara. Educated : a memoir. New York. p. 331. ISBN 0-399-59050-1. OCLC 986898537.
  8. ^ Glass, Ira (May 4, 2020). "We Just Won the First Ever Pulitzer Prize for Audio Journalism!". This American Life. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  9. ^ "Benjamin Phelan - Bio, latest news and articles". GQ. Retrieved August 28, 2020.
  10. ^ MacGillis, Alec (March 1, 2018). "Review: 'Educated,' by Tara Westover". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  11. ^ Hulbert, Ann (February 13, 2018). "'Educated' Is a Brutal, One-of-a-Kind Memoir". The Atlantic. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  12. ^ Peters, Sharon. "In 'Educated,' the inspiring story of an isolated young woman determined to learn". USA Today. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  13. ^ Freeman, Hadley. "Tara Westover on Turning Her Off-the-Grid Life Into a Remarkable Memoir". Vogue. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  14. ^ MacSweeney, Eve. "Tara Westover's Educated Is Already Being Hailed as the 'Next Hillbilly Elegy'". Vogue. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  15. ^ "A riveting memoir of a brutal upbringing". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  16. ^ "Best Sellers". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  17. ^ "Curtis Brown". Retrieved September 22, 2020.
  18. ^ "The 10 Best Books of 2018". The New York Times. November 29, 2018. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  19. ^ "Authors Honored at 2019 Indies Choice and E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards". the American Booksellers Association. May 31, 2019. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  20. ^ "Barclay agency profile". Retrieved December 31, 2020.
  21. ^ "The Indie Biography & Memoir Bestseller List". American Booksellers Association. March 17, 2021. Retrieved April 4, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) (January 10, 2019). "2019 Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults". American Library Association. Retrieved April 4, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) (February 14, 2020). "2019 OBCB Arts and Humanities". American Library Association. Retrieved April 4, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  24. ^ "Educated: A Memoir | Awards & Grants". American Library Association. Retrieved April 4, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ "2018 The National Book Critics Circle Award". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved April 4, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  26. ^ "The Best Books of 2018". Archived from the original on September 2, 2019. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  27. ^ Cummings, William. "'Factfulness' and 'Educated' among the titles on Obama's summer reading list". USA Today. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  28. ^ Elkins, Kathleen (December 3, 2018). "Bill Gates says these are the 5 best books he read in 2018". CNBC. Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  29. ^ Gates, Bill. "Educated is even better than you've heard". Retrieved July 25, 2020.
  30. ^ "Seattle Arts & Lectures \ Tara Westover". Seattle Arts & Lectures. Retrieved July 25, 2020.