Educated (book)

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.

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 (hardcover, 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

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 LA 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 from her birth on Buck's Peak, a mountain in rural Idaho, until she was accepted at Brigham Young University (BYU). Her parents, Gene and Faye Westover (pseudonyms) had decided to live 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. The mother undertook most of the children's very loose homeschooling. Their father taught the children the "rhythms of the mountain". Tara describes sneaking away to visit her paternal grandparents. Although her mother received a serious brain injury, her father refused to take her to a hospital for treatment.

Tara's attempts to attend school or seek other normality in her life were denied by her father. He became depressed when the Y2K apocalypse did not occur. When Tara suffered a neck injury from a car accident, he refused to take her to the hospital. Her estranged brother Shawn helped her with that, and the two initially grow closer. But Shawn started physically abusing her after she began to grow close to Charles, a boy she met while performing in theater. Her brother, Tyler, learned of the abuse. He encouraged her to leave home, and to take the ACT in order to apply to Brigham Young University. Westover was 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 her opportunity to study at King's College, Cambridge and receives financial awards that will allow her to remain there. 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. She manages to get high enough grades to receive a half-scholarship and Westover reconnects with Charles, with whom she begins a relationship that she cannot act romantically/physically upon because of her conservative upbringing. She also begins to question the abuse she continues to receive from both her father and Shawn, abuse that results in breaking off her relationship with Charles. Meanwhile Shawn begins to date a younger girl, Emily. Westover discovers that one of her teeth is rotting, the pain from which causes her to fall behind in school. She initially refuses any financial assistance from her church and suggestions that she apply for government assistance but later chooses to seek out assistance after returning to Buck's Peak for Christmas.

Westover realizes that she no longer feels at home at Buck's Peak; she worries that her father may have bipolar disorder. She cuts ties but reconnect after he expresses interest in her life at school. Shawn marries Emily, and Westover worries because the younger woman has expressed fear of her brother. Interested in history and politics, Westover confides to one of her professors about her family. Dr. Kerry encourages her to apply for the study abroad program at the University of Cambridge. After arriving at King's College, Westover is assigned to work with Professor Jonathan Steinberg. Both he and Kerry encourage her to go to graduate school at either Cambridge or Harvard. Steinberg offers to pay her fees at Cambridge. Westover applies for and wins the Gates Scholarship. She also makes a temporary truce with her father, as the two had a falling out over how she spoke about her past to local newspapers and news outlets and her decision to go to school in England. He worries about her being too far from family help.

In Part three, Westover writes about her life in Cambridge and after completing her PhD. She makes more steps into the world, getting all the vaccinations her family rejected. She occasionally returns to Buck's Peak, where she learns that Shawn is still abusing Emily. Her sister Audrey learned of this, but their mother did not believe her account. Westover and her mother take up email correspondence, and her mother suggests that her father has a mental illness. She says the parents will get help for Shawn. On another trip, Shawn briefly shows signs of change, but later accuses Audrey of lying about abuse and threatening to kill her. Westover's parents do not take her seriously when telling of this threat.

She meets Shawn brings with him a bloody knife that Westover later discovers he used to kill his family's dog while his son watched. Terrified of what he would do, Westover lies and claims that her father lied about what was said. She also later realizes that her mother had never been on her or Audrey's side. After returning to England, Shawn makes a threat to Westover's life and her parents begin to deny the existence of the knife. Her sister Audrey also cuts Tara out of her life, as she is going to forgive Shawn. She claims that Westover was being controlled by Satan, and the young woman feels as if she has lost her whole family. She begins graduate school at Harvard and her parents briefly visit her, trying to pull her back.

She becomes depressed and returns to Buck's Peak. Once there she discovers a betrayal by one of Shawn's ex-girlfriends, whom she had thought supported her when she discussed her brother's abuse. The young woman instead had written to Westover's mother that Westover was being delusional and demonizing Shawn.

Westover returns to Harvard and eventually returns to England. After suffering panic attacks, she tells her parents she is ending contact for a year until she can recover. She struggles in her studies, but is encouraged by supportive emails from 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. Westover says at the end of her memoir that she is in touch with only a few of her family. She has finally accepted her need to be away from the mountain.

People featured in the bookEdit

Westover familyEdit

  • 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 peopleEdit

  • 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: brother Richard's wife.
  • Benjamin: sister 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 resulted in 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 LA 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 recognitionEdit

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". The New York Times. Retrieved 2020-09-10.
  3. ^ "Book". Tara Westover. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  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 2020-07-25.
  5. ^ a b Jordan, Tina (2018-03-02). "Spinning a Brutal Off-the-Grid Childhood into a Gripping Memoir". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  6. ^ a b c Seamons, Necia P. "'Educated' should be read with grain of salt, says family's attorney". The Herald Journal. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
  7. ^ Westover, Tara. Educated : a memoir. New York. p. 331. ISBN 0-399-59050-1. OCLC 986898537.
  8. ^ Glass, Ira (2020-05-04). "We Just Won the First Ever Pulitzer Prize for Audio Journalism!". This American Life. Retrieved 2020-08-28.
  9. ^ "Benjamin Phelan - Bio, latest news and articles". GQ. Retrieved 2020-08-28.
  10. ^ MacGillis, Alec (2018-03-01). "Review: 'Educated,' by Tara Westover". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  11. ^ Hulbert, Ann (2018-02-13). "'Educated' Is a Brutal, One-of-a-Kind Memoir". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  12. ^ Peters, Sharon. "In 'Educated,' the inspiring story of an isolated young woman determined to learn". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  13. ^ Freeman, Hadley. "Tara Westover on Turning Her Off-the-Grid Life Into a Remarkable Memoir". Vogue. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  14. ^ MacSweeney, Eve. "Tara Westover's Educated Is Already Being Hailed as the "Next Hillbilly Elegy"". Vogue. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  15. ^ "A riveting memoir of a brutal upbringing". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  16. ^ "Best Sellers - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  17. ^ "Curtis Brown". Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  18. ^ "The 10 Best Books of 2018". The New York Times. 2018-11-29. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  19. ^ "Authors Honored at 2019 Indies Choice and E.B. White Read-Aloud Awards". the American Booksellers Association. 2019-05-31. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  20. ^ "Barclay agency profile". Retrieved 2020-12-31.
  21. ^ "The Indie Biography & Memoir Bestseller List". American Booksellers Association. 2021-03-17. Retrieved 2021-04-04.
  22. ^ Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) (2019-01-10). "2019 Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults". American Library Association. Retrieved 2021-04-04.
  23. ^ Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) (2020-02-14). "2019 OBCB Arts and Humanities". American Library Association. Retrieved 2021-04-04.
  24. ^ "Educated: A Memoir | Awards & Grants". American Library Association. Retrieved 2021-04-04.
  25. ^ "2018 The National Book Critics Circle Award". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved 2021-04-04.
  26. ^ "The Best Books of 2018". Archived from the original on 2019-09-02. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  27. ^ Cummings, William. "'Factfulness' and 'Educated' among the titles on Obama's summer reading list". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  28. ^ Elkins, Kathleen (2018-12-03). "Bill Gates says these are the 5 best books he read in 2018". CNBC. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  29. ^ Gates, Bill. "Educated is even better than you've heard". Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  30. ^ "Seattle Arts & Lectures \ Tara Westover". Seattle Arts & Lectures. Retrieved 2020-07-25.