Tara Westover’s father was a committed anti-government survivalist. They lived near "Buck Peak" in Idaho. His paranoia deepened with the coming of Y2K and with the news of the news of Ruby Ridge in the early 1990’s. He wanted to be off the grid and didn’t believe in doctors or birth certificates. Her mother was committed to her husband, or at least afraid of him. She was an unlicensed midwife and herbalist.
The family attended the Mormon church, but were not mainstream, and they mixed many of the fathers beliefs into their religious viewpoint. An Authors Note page points out that the book is not about Mormonism, or any other religious point of view.
The author starts out a chapter titled “Educated” saying: “When I was child I waited for my mind to grow, for my experiences to accumulate, and my choices to solidify, taking shape into the likeness of a person.” The book does just that. It is a unique look at the strength of the individual, and likewise the strength of environment.
Tara's first school experience was BYU where she earned a BA on the strength of claiming she was home-schooled, and her ACT score. She graduated magna cum laude.
She went to Cambridge for a summer program, a professor saw in her the strength of her intellect, and likely he could see the real advantage that not attending public schools had been for her. He encouraged her to apply, and she was awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
She was invited to Trinity College where she gained a MPhil Degree, which is a postgraduate advanced research degree with the prerequisites required for a Master of Philosophy degree. Then she received her PhD in history, in 2014 from Cambridge.
Cambridge, Brigham Young Univeristy, Trinity Collage
Tara’s family was split down the middle. 3 of the children earned PhD’s and 4 had no high school diploma. The 4 became dependent on the family business.
Tara, as a girl growing up, was not just a tom-boy, she was doing the work of a man from childhood. She could drive a fork lift before she could drive a car. The family lived during those years off the junk yard that surrounded their house. The father did construction work and the children were required to help. It was dangerous and the work they did would scare anyone. Tara’s transition into a young woman, with the years of being on the crew, are interesting and her intellectual look at herself about this time was insightful.
After Tara left, and after her father’s life changing accident, her mothers herbal business took off and became a major area employer. It was a good example of how a little scripture can really sell a product.
This is one of the best memoirs you may read. The writing is excellent, and the purity of thought and honesty is a powerful reason for why this book is so important.
"Getting an education had changed me. I couldn’t go forward, because my parents couldn’t go forward with me, and I couldn’t go back, because that person didn’t exist any more."
"An education isn't about making a living; it's about making a person."
“Choices, numberless as grains of sand, had layered and compressed, coalescing into sediment, then into rock, until all was set in stone."
“First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.”