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Educated by Tara Westover.
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Educated is the autobiographical story of Tara Westover’s journey from being the child of extreme anti-government, anti-science, and religious fundamentalist Mormon parents to becoming a Cambridge- and Harvard-educated PhD.

Born in her family’s isolated home in the mountains of Idaho, Tara was denied a proper education as a child. Her father, Gene, believed that public schools were a tool of the “socialist” U.S. government, meant to “brainwash” people. As such, he kept his children out of school and relegated them to a dubious homeschooling curriculum designed by his wife, Faye, who lacked any proper credentials for educating children. There were no tests or exams at Faye’s rudimentary school, and Tara mostly learned to read and write by studying the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon. Because of this, Tara had enormous gaps in her knowledge—she barely knew the basics of elementary math and was deeply ignorant on key historical facts about the U.S. and the world.

Her father was also deeply hostile to what he termed the “Medical Establishment,” believing that modern medicine was a plot cooked up by the government to poison people. A key part of his religious fundamentalism was his belief that God had provided all the medicine one would ever need in the form of natural herbs. He and his wife were committed to homeopathy, alternative medicine practiced in the home.

Faye believed herself to be a gifted healer, far more effective than any actual doctor (though she lacked any medical training). Thus, the family treated colds, sore throats, and even severe cuts, bruises, burns, and concussions with homemade concoctions of lobelia, skullcap, and eucalyptus. Hospital visits were simply out of the question. As Tara recalls, these remedies were almost never effective and they subjected her and her siblings to needless and easily-preventable suffering throughout their childhood.

When she was a teenager, Tara began to be abused by her older brother Shawn. On several occasions, he beat her, dragged her across rooms by her hair, stuck her face in the toilet, and even broke her wrist, toes, and ankles. Tara was tormented by the abuse and manipulated into believing that it had been her fault. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their patriarchal worldview and deeply anti-feminist beliefs regarding women’s sexuality and role in the home, Tara’s parents turned a blind eye to Shawn’s violence and...

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Educated Summary Educated Guide Shortform Introduction

Educated is an autobiographical journey. It takes us through Tara Westover’s struggles growing up in a survivalist household on a remote mountain in Idaho, and her eventual liberation from her family’s extreme ideology, religious fanaticism, and cycle of physical and emotional abuse. Eventually, Tara manages to matriculate at Brigham Young University, where she excels and goes on to a prestigious academic career that takes her to Cambridge and Harvard.

Her story exposes us to a community with which most readers wouldn’t be familiar: the world of extreme, anti-government, American survivalists among whom Tara grew up. Her childhood was marked by:

  • A total lack of formal education, stemming from her father’s paranoia that “socialist” government agents were using the school system to “brainwash” the population.
  • Near-total isolation from the world outside her family and the small mountain community where they lived—Tara didn’t even have a birth certificate until she was nine years old. On paper, she didn’t even exist.
  • **Religious fundamentalism, misogyny, and messianic...

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Educated Summary Educated Guide The Mountain, Part One

Tara Westover was one of seven children born into a family of hardline, anti-government survivalists who lived on a remote mountain in rural Idaho. A Mormon fundamentalist, her father was an adherent (and active promoter) of an extreme ideology that welded together strands from the militia, anti-vaccination, and evangelical Christian movements.

His adherence to these views subjected his family to a number of privations.

  • Tara was born at home and didn’t see a doctor or nurse until her adulthood.
  • She didn’t attend any school growing up, public or private.
  • She didn’t have a birth certificate, and the state of Idaho had no official record of her existence until she was issued a Delayed Certificate of Birth at the age of nine.

The Voice of God

The family lived at the base of Buck’s Peak, a mountain in Franklin County, Idaho. Her father, Gene, had free reign to impose his beliefs on the rest of the family from this remote, isolated location, free from interference (or intervention) from the outside world.

(Shortform note: Westover has changed the names of the principal characters in the book, since they are real people, many of whom vigorously contest the...

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Educated Summary Educated Guide The Mountain, Part Two

Growing up in the Westover home, Tara experienced more than just ideological extremism. Her parents’ beliefs had real-world consequences for the children, which frequently put Tara and her siblings in grave danger. Whether it was through near-death experiences in car crashes or maimings in the junkyard where Gene forced his children to work, it was a constant struggle for survival on Buck’s Peak.

Happy Birthday

Tara had no birth certificate, because she hadn’t been born in a hospital or delivered by a licensed medical professional with a witness present. Her family had chosen not to register her birth with the courthouse in town. Officially, the state of Idaho had no record of her existence. Even today, her actual date of birth cannot be determined with 100 percent certainty.

When Tara was nine, Faye decided that she should obtain birth certificates for all her children. This proved more difficult than expected, as she had no documents that could prove her children were, in fact, her own. The only documents for Tara were her christening and her baptismal records, each of which had a different birth date. Eventually, Tara was only issued a Delayed Certificate of...

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Educated Summary Educated Guide The Mountain, Part Three

Tara’s final years living full-time under her parents’ roof brought new challenges. As she matured into her teenage years, she saw that there would be new attempts by the highly patriarchal men in her life to control her body and sexuality. She also experienced a painful lesson in how crucial a role violence played in her family dynamic.

Song and Dance

By the time Tara was 11, she knew she wanted to get away from the junkyard. Following her older sister Audrey’s lead, Tara decided to get a job in town.

She went to the local gas station and posted a card advertising her services as a babysitter. Soon, she had her calendar filled with babysitting jobs. Of course, she was available at all times since she didn’t go to school herself. These jobs gave Tara a strong feeling of accomplishment and some real autonomy. She had some money of her own, where she’d had none before.

Through another babysitting contact, Tara learned of a dance class that took place in the back of the local gas station/convenience store. When she showed up to participate, she saw that this new activity would clash with her father’s stern, paternalistic morals regarding women and sexuality. She...

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Shortform Exercise: Breaking Down Your Background

Explore what made your upbringing unique.


In a few sentences, describe something you were taught to believe growing up.

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Educated Summary Educated Guide Higher Education, Part One

Life at college would bring new opportunities, as well as new challenges for Tara. She began wriggling free from her family’s dogma, but was constantly reminded of just how profound an effect Buck’s Peak had on her. Her new experiences at college would force Tara to look at her old life on Buck’s Peak in a whole new light.

Fish Out of Water

On New Year’s Day, Faye drove Tara to her new life at BYU. What struck Tara immediately was the noise in Provo, Utah, where the university was located. Growing up on Buck’s Peak, she had been accustomed to constant silence. Here, however, there was noise from crosswalk signals, motor traffic, and people on the streets. It was her first small taste of culture shock.

She received an even bigger shock when she met her roommates. One of them wore clothes that her father would have surely decried as frivolous and indecent, like tank tops with spaghetti straps and pink pajama bottoms with “Juicy” written on the back. They also shopped on the Sabbath and, overall, appeared to lead highly secular lives.These were the exact kind of women that her parents and Shawn had told her to stay away from.

Tara quickly clashed with these...

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Educated Summary Educated Guide Higher Education, Part Two

Tara’s academic career was about to take her to new heights of intellectual and personal discovery, taking her to places she’d never dreamed she would go. But the chaos and extremism of Buck’s Peak would continue to exert a powerful hold.

Tara’s Wish is Granted

Even back at BYU, the spectre of Shawn’s abuse hung over Tara. It became clear to the bishop at the university that Tara was experiencing severe emotional trauma. She was also suffering from an infected tooth, for which she could not afford to seek treatment. Over the course of several meetings with him, she told him the truth about everything her brother had been doing to her over the years.

The bishop told her not to return home and assured her that the church would help her pay her rent and get the necessary funds together to remain in school and earn her degree. His only condition was that she honor her promise to never again work for her father. Tara was incredulous. How could she afford tuition and housing without working in the junkyard during the summer and on holiday breaks?

The bishop’s solution was simple: a government grant. This, he explained, was different than a student loan. Tara wouldn’t...

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Shortform Exercise: Examining Education

Think about the challenges of education.


Describe a time where you felt ignorant or stupid for not knowing something that everyone else around you seemed to know.

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Educated Summary Educated Guide Self-Emancipation, Part One

Tara continued to excel as a student, liberating her mind from the ideological constraints into which it had been placed for her entire life. She was thinking for herself and exploring her mind’s true potential. But she would soon be forced to confront the true ugliness of her family’s inner dynamics.

Brave New World

When Tara returned to Cambridge as a graduate student through the Gates Scholarship, her status was different. She was not a guest, or a visitor. She was a member of the university.

Tara was learning about Isaiah Berlin’s concepts of negative and positive liberty. Negative liberty was the more basic concept, a freedom from external constraints. If you weren’t physically prevented from taking action, you enjoyed negative liberty. Positive liberty, however, was defined by a mastery of the self. This meant having control over one’s mind, a freedom from irrationality and paranoia, and all forms of self-policing.

Tara realized that it was this positive liberty that had been denied to her by her family. She had not had freedom of thought, but had instead been instructed to believe in irrational and paranoid lies, which had stunted her intellectual...

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Educated Summary Educated Guide Self-Emancipation, Part Two

Tara would finally be forced to choose between her new life and her old. She had to, at last, reconcile her obligations to her family with her commitments to society and—most importantly—to herself.

Distorted Reality

Amid all this turmoil, Tara won a visiting fellowship at Harvard. But the weight of her recent family trauma hung over this accomplishment like a dark cloud. Never had she felt so gloomy and indifferent about a piece of good news.

Tara fell into a deep crisis of reality. If her entire family had branded her as a liar, how could she truly trust her own reality? She needed evidence of her own sanity, proof that the things she could see and touch were actually there, and not just figments of her imagination.

She wrote to a woman named Erin, whom Shawn had dated when Tara was a teenager. She asked Erin if she had also suffered abuse from Shawn. Tara needed to hear the truth from another source, to learn to trust her own reality once more. Erin shared a story about how Shawn had bashed her head against a brick wall, with such force that she thought he would kill her. To Tara, the story was a lifeline to reality, something tangible she could grasp at...

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Shortform Exercise: Making New Starts

Work through how you can achieve closure with the past.


Describe a person, place, or experience that you decided to remove from your life. Explain the situation in a few sentences.

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Shortform Exercise: Reflecting on Educated

Think through the major themes and lessons from Educated.


Tara talks a lot about freeing herself from intellectual and emotional slavery. Why do you think education was so important in freeing her from this bondage?

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Shortform Introduction
  • The Mountain, Part One
  • The Mountain, Part Two
  • The Mountain, Part Three
  • Exercise: Breaking Down Your Background
  • Higher Education, Part One
  • Higher Education, Part Two
  • Exercise: Examining Education
  • Self-Emancipation, Part One
  • Self-Emancipation, Part Two
  • Exercise: Making New Starts
  • Exercise: Reflecting on Educated