Book Review: “Educated” by Tara Westover – From Isolation to Illumination


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Book review: "Educated" by Tara Westover

When does a tale of self-discovery become a revelation? It’s when it takes you on a journey you didn’t know you needed to embark upon.

Tara Westover’s “Educated” is one such mesmerizing tale. It made me realize that not all classrooms have four walls and that education goes beyond degrees and certificates; it’s about unearthing the reality beneath the veil of ignorance.

"Educated" by Tara Westover

Total Score: 4.5/5













What gives “Educated” its unique edge is Westover’s incredible journey from being a child in a survivalist family in the Idaho mountains, without any formal education, to earning a PhD from Cambridge University.

Her story is a testament to the indomitable spirit of human will, a manifesto of education’s power to liberate.

As I devoured the pages, a profound change occurred in my understanding of what it means to be “educated”. Westover’s story shook me from the inside out; it shattered my preconceived notions and allowed me to look at education from a fresh perspective.

This is not a book that you merely read, it’s a book that consumes you, leaving an indelible impression on your very being.

And in a world where formal education is often seen as the be-all and end-all, this book dares to redefine education, to deconstruct it, and to elevate it beyond mere academia.

It’s both a wakeup call and an invitation to explore the depths of our own lives, our own educations. Of course, I had to include it on my list of best inspirational books for women.

Content Overview

From the recesses of rural Idaho to the prestigious halls of Cambridge, Tara Westover’s memoir, “Educated,” carries readers along on an unprecedented journey of self-discovery and empowerment.

This is a book that goes beyond traditional genre definitions.

It’s not merely a memoir—it’s a testament to the transformative power of education, a haunting exploration of familial bonds, and an unflinching depiction of the human spirit’s resilience.


“Educated” is a memoir, a haunting coming-of-age tale that juxtaposes the power of education against the backdrop of a radically unconventional upbringing. But it also falls under the category of ‘Bildungsroman,’ a genre dedicated to the protagonist’s moral, psychological, or intellectual growth.

Themes and Topics

Westover expertly delves into themes such as the power and value of education, the resilience of the human spirit, and the complex dynamics of family ties. Furthermore, she explores the concept of identity, the struggle between selfhood and familial loyalty, and the impact of mental health and physical abuse.

Plot Structure Analysis

The narrative structure of “Educated” is linear but with subtle layers of flashbacks, providing readers a thorough insight into Westover’s upbringing, her struggles, and her journey to self-discovery. This clever structuring allows the memoir to slowly reveal the transformation of Westover, gradually building the suspense and engaging readers more deeply in her journey.

Book Summary

“Educated” is the captivating story of Tara Westover, who, born into a survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho, never steps into a classroom until she’s seventeen. Despite her father’s paranoia about the government and her abusive brother, Tara finds solace in books and yearns to discover what lies beyond her mountains. Her thirst for knowledge leads her to Brigham Young University and later to Harvard and Cambridge for postgraduate studies. But with every step she takes towards intellectual freedom, she battles the pull of her past and the emotional toll it takes on her.

Character Analysis

Tara Westover, the memoir’s heart and soul, is a character of immense strength and determination. Her evolution from a young girl under the shadow of her family to a woman standing tall in her individuality is awe-inspiring. Her father, with his fanatic beliefs and survivalist mentality, plays a critical role in shaping her early years. Her mother’s journey, from a submissive wife to a somewhat independent woman, is also noteworthy.

Standout Quotes

“You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.”

“It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.”

“First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.”

Historical and Cultural Context

Written against the backdrop of rural Idaho, the book offers insights into life in a survivalist household, the religious fanaticism prevalent in such circles, and their disconnection from mainstream society.

This isolationism echoes the larger trend of anti-government sentiments, common in certain sectors of American society. It also provides a lens into the mental health struggles in such contexts, often exacerbated by a lack of awareness and access to care.

Writing Style And Tone

Tara Westover’s writing is as powerful as it is poignant. Her prose is candid, evocative, and hauntingly beautiful. She paints a vivid picture of her life, her family, and the Idaho mountains with precision and a profound sense of introspection.

“Educated” feels like a catharsis, an open wound gradually healing itself, page after page. Reading this book is akin to walking through a storm, only to find clear skies on the other side.

Writing Technique

Westover uses vivid and precise descriptions to paint the stark landscape of her childhood and the chaos that resides within it. She frequently employs metaphorical language, using the motif of the mountain as a symbol of both her confinement and her strength.

Her use of dramatic irony is compelling, the readers often possess more understanding of her circumstances than she does as a child, amplifying the sense of tension and impending crisis.

Narrative Perspective

The book is written in the first-person narrative perspective, immersing readers directly into Westover’s shoes.

This personal narrative establishes a deeper emotional connection with readers, allowing them to experience her struggles and triumphs firsthand, rendering her transformation more profound.


“Educated” is not a book you rush through. Its pacing is slow and deliberate, often pausing for moments of reflection and introspection. However, it never feels tedious.

Instead, it provides the necessary space for readers to process Westover’s tumultuous journey, her resilience, and the transformation that unfolds. It’s this pacing that allows for a detailed exploration of characters and the complex dynamics of the Westover family.

Reader’s Compass: Mapping the Journey

As we go deeper into the intricacies of “Educated,” let’s examine the practicalities and nuances that make this book a unique read.

This section is dedicated to assessing the book’s suitability for different reader demographics, its reading difficulty, emotional impact, and educational value.

Best for (type of reader)

“Educated” is a tale of self-discovery that speaks to anyone who values personal growth, resilience, and the transformative power of education. If you’re a fan of memoirs, Bildungsromane, or stories of human triumph against adversity, this book is for you.

It will particularly resonate with those who have walked the rocky path of breaking away from oppressive circumstances and yearn for freedom.

Reading Difficulty

Westover’s narrative is direct and accessible, making it an engaging read. Her story unfolds gradually, her writing style is clear and fluid, and her use of vocabulary is precise but not overwrought. The pacing is slow and deliberate, providing space for reflection.

This book isn’t a breezy read, but it’s one you willingly surrender to, lost in its profound depth.

Emotional Impact

“Educated” carries an enormous emotional heft. It’s impossible not to feel a visceral reaction as you navigate through Westover’s hardships and achievements.

Her story elicits empathy, courage, and inspiration, and is bound to leave an enduring impression long after you’ve turned the final page.

Educational Value

This book isn’t just about education in the academic sense, but the education of life itself. It teaches resilience, the power of self-belief, and the courage to break free from toxic environments.

Moreover, it offers insights into mental health, religious fanaticism, and the effects of abuse, shedding light on often misunderstood issues.

Content Warnings

While “Educated” is a powerful and inspirational story, it does contain accounts of physical and emotional abuse, as well as occasional instances of self-harm.

These episodes might be distressing for some readers.

About the Author

Tara Westover is an American author, born to a radical survivalist Mormon family in Idaho. Before her formal education, her life revolved around preparing for the End of Days and assisting in her family’s junkyard.

Remarkably, she taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to get accepted into Brigham Young University, eventually earning a PhD from Cambridge University.

Her journey from an isolated life in the mountains to academic success forms the backbone of “Educated”.

Author’s Inspiration and Influence

“Educated” is Westover’s personal journey, chronicling her struggles with her family’s extremism and her thirst for knowledge. Her escape from her repressive environment and the triumph of her personal enlightenment over her difficult past serve as the heart of her memoir.

The book gives us a glimpse into her resilience and the transformative power of education that changed her life.

Impact and Reception

“Educated” was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2018 by the New York Times Book Review. It won the 2019 Audie Award for Autobiography/Memoir and was a finalist for several awards, including the LA Times Book Prize.

It has also enjoyed a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list for more than a year.


“Educated” has been endorsed by numerous renowned figures such as Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Other prominent authors like J.D. Vance and Amy Chua have sung its praises, affirming its place in contemporary literature.

Quotes and Opinions About The Book

“Educated” has drawn praise from across the literary world. Some of the commendations include:

“A heart-wrenching memoir that leaves you marveling at how much a single person can overcome.” – The New York Times

“A thought-provoking ruminative on the limits and power of education.” – Bill Gates

“An astonishing, uplifting story about the power of education.” – The Guardian

Impact and Legacy

Since its publication, “Educated” has left a significant impact on readers and critics, sparking widespread discussion about education, family ties, mental health, and religious extremism.

It has inspired countless book club discussions, and its themes have found resonance in many readers who’ve faced similar challenges.

Similar Recommendations

If “Educated” captivated you, here are three other memoirs you might enjoy:

  1. “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls
  2. “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance
  3. “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang

Final Verdict

In the annals of memoir literature, “Educated” by Tara Westover stands out as a beacon of resilience, personal growth, and the transformative power of knowledge.

It’s a story of triumph against adversity that compels us to question our understanding of education, family, and self-identity. If you’re a fan of poignant memoirs, a seeker of inspirational tales, or just a fervent reader, “Educated” should sit proudly on your bookshelf.

This book isn’t just well-written—it’s vital. It’s the kind of book that shakes you up, changes you, and stays with you long after the last page has been turned.


About the author

A literary aficionado and caffeine connoisseur, brewing stories and coffee while navigating life with my trusty feline sidekick, Mr. Spot. When I'm not lost in the pages of a novel, you'll find me hunting down the perfect pen and mug combo!