“An education is not so much about making a living as making a person.”PROVOSTUPDATE//TWITTER

Educated is Tara Westover’s extraordinary memoir about the transformative power of education. It traces her struggle to reconcile the radical world created by her father, the world she called home, with her desire to learn.

It is clear from the very first page of the book that Westover is a gifted writer. She paints the backdrop to her story – the farm, with its wheat fields dancing in the wind, and the dark form of the mountain looming behind it – with an almost poetic command of language. Yet, her early life offered no glimpse of the brilliant academic future that lay ahead.

Growing up in a Mormon survivalist family in the mountains of rural Idaho, Tara never went to school. Her father was deeply paranoid of the US government and believed that the family should have as little interaction with the health and education systems as possible. Instead, Tara spent her childhood preparing for the End of the World, stockpiling food and working on her father’s scrapyard. Her upbringing was far from idyllic: harrowing injuries often went untreated, and her older brother’s increasingly violent behaviour raged on unchecked.

“Instead, Tara spent her childhood preparing for the End of the World”

Largely isolated from the rest of society, her worldview was entirely shaped by her father. She had never been home-schooled, and the whole family listened to her father’s fundamentalist lectures as though they were fact. It wasn’t until she stepped into a classroom for the first time at Brigham Young University, after teaching herself algebra and trigonometry, that she realised that there were other perspectives outside the ones that she had been surrounded with from a young age.

She paints the backdrop to her story – the farm, with its wheat fields dancing in the wind, and the dark form of the mountain looming behind it – with an almost poetic command of language. TARA.WESTOVER//INSTAGRAM

Her venture into the world of academia would take her from the mountains of Idaho, across continents, to the halls of Harvard and Cambridge.

This is as much a story about Tara’s escape from an abusive, controlling home as it is about education. There have been several memoirs in recent years recounting upbringings that most of us would find unimaginable – Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox is one in particular that comes to mind. However, for me personally, Educated hit much closer to home, as it made me realise once again how fortunate I am to be at Cambridge, and to have received the education that I have.

Westover’s memoir forces you to think about what an education actually is, what it offers you – namely the opportunity to learn about the world for yourself and form your own opinions about it, the freedom of self-invention.

“it made me realise once again how fortunate I am to be at Cambridge”

“Everything I had worked for, 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.”

I discovered this book in the middle of a particularly gruelling Cambridge term, and quickly became engrossed. It’s written in a series of short anecdotes, and so each chapter is only several pages long. This meant that it was the perfect book to read before bed each night, after a long day of essay writing and supervisions. But, more importantly, it is a testament to human resilience that I found truly inspiring.


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I think many people have experienced ‘imposter syndrome’ at some point during their time at Cambridge. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Tara to step into a classroom filled with people who had an additional 13 years of education, while knowing that every minute she spent there would widen the gap between her and her family until this gap was perhaps unbridgeable. Her childhood must have given her a sort of toughness, an ability to persevere in spite of painful experiences which was truly astonishing to read about.

Educated is a book that beautifully captures the resilience of a women throughout a wrenching process of self-discovery, making it a valuable read for everyone, no matter what genre you usually pick up.