Tara Westover

American historian and author

Tara Westover (born September 1986) is an American memoirist, essayist and historian. Her memoir Educated (2018) debuted at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list and was a finalist 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.

Tara Westover in 2014


Educated. New York: Random House. 2018. LCC CT3262.I2 W47. ISBN 9780399590504. 
  • The irony was that if Dad was bipolar—or had any of a dozen disorders that might explain his behavior—the same paranoia that was a symptom of the illness would prevent its ever being diagnosed and treated. No one would ever know.
    • Chapter 3, “Cream Shoes” (p. 30)
  • The seed of curiosity had been planted; it needed nothing more than time and boredom to grow.
    • Chapter 6, “Shield and Buckler” (p. 60)
  • The skill I was learning was a crucial one, the patience to read things I could not yet understand.
    • Chapter 6, “Shield and Buckler” (p. 62)
  • I began to study trigonometry. There was solace in its strange formulas and equations. I was drawn to the Pythagorean theorem and its promise of a universal—the ability to predict the nature of any three points containing a right angle, anywhere, always. What I knew of physics I had learned in the junkyard, where the physical world often seemed unstable, capricious. But here was a principal through which the dimensions of life could be defined, captured. Perhaps reality was not wholly volatile. Perhaps it could be explained, predicted. Perhaps it could be made to make sense.
    • Chapter 14, “My Feet No Longer Touch Earth” (pp. 124-125)
  • I don’t know how long I sat there reading about it, but at some point I’d read enough. I leaned back and stared at the ceiling. I suppose I was in shock, but whether it was the shock of learning about something horrific, or the shock of learning about my own ignorance, I’m not sure.
    • Chapter 17, “To Keep it Holy” (p. 157; the reference is to the Holocaust)
  • Suspended between fear of the past and fear of the future, I recorded the dream in my journal. Then, without any explanation, as if the connection between the two were obvious, I wrote, I don’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to get a decent education as a child.
    • Chapter 18, “Blood and Feathers” (p. 163)
  • By the end of it, I had finally begun to grasp something that should have been immediately apparent: that someone had opposed the great march toward equality; someone had been the person from whom freedom had to be wrested.
  • I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant. I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others—because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.
    • Chapter 20, “Recitals of the Fathers” (p. 180)
  • To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.
    • Chapter 22, “What We Whispered and What We Screamed” (p. 197)
  • My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.
    • Chapter 22, “What We Whispered and What We Screamed” (p. 197)
  • Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure.
    • Chapter 23, “I’m from Idaho” (p. 203)
  • I began to experience the most powerful advantage of money: the ability to think of things besides money.
    • Chapter 24, “A Knight, Errant” (p. 207)
  • We had been bruised and gashed and concussed, had our legs set on fire and our heads cut open. We had lived in a state of alert, a kind of constant terror, our brains flooding with cortisol because we knew that any of those things might happen at any moment. Because Dad always put faith before safety. Because he believed himself right, and he kept on believing himself right—after the first car crash, after the second, after the bin, the fire, the pallet. And it was us who paid.
    • Chapter 24, “A Knight, Errant” (p. 211)
  • I decided to experiment with normality.
    • Chapter 24, “A Knight, Errant” (p. 212)
  • By the end of the semester the world felt big, and it was hard to imagine returning to the mountain, to a kitchen, or even to a piano in the room next to the kitchen.
    This caused a kind of crisis in me. My love of music, and my desire to study it, had been compatible with my idea of what a woman is. My love of history and politics and world affairs was not. And yet they called to me.
    • Chapter 27, “If I Were a Woman” (p. 228)
  • I searched my mind and discovered a new conviction there: I would never be a plural wife. A voice declared this with unyielding finality; the declaration made me tremble. What if God commanded it? I asked. You wouldn’t do it, the voice answered. And I knew it was true.
    • Chapter 29, “Graduation” (p. 246)
  • You were my child. I should have protected you.
    I lived a lifetime in the moment I read those lines, a life that was not the one I had actually lived. I became a different person, who remembered a different childhood. I didn’t understand the magic of those words then, and I don’t understand it now. I know only this: that when my mother told me she had not been the mother to me that she wished she’d been, she became that mother for the first time.
    • Chapter 31, “Tragedy Then Farce” (p. 272)
  • When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?
    • Chapter 36, “Four Long Arms, Whirling” (p. 301)
  • 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 had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me.
    • Chapter 36, “Four Long Arms, Whirling” (p. 304)
  • The thing about having a mental breakdown is that no matter how obvious it is that you’re having one, it is somehow not obvious to you.
    • Chapter 37, “Gambling for Redemption” (p. 307)
  • That’s all that was left of the life I’d had here: a puzzle whose rules I would never understand, because they were not rules at all but a kind of cage meant to enclose me. I could stay, and search for what had been home, or I could go, now, before the walls shifted and the way out was shut.
    • Chapter 37, “Gambling for Redemption” (p. 310)
  • The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self.
    You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal.
    I call it an education.
    • Chapter 40, “Educated” (p. 329)

Quotes about Tara Westover

  • (what are you reading next?) “Educated,” by Tara Westover. This one came from Barack. I actually just finished it, and it is as phenomenal as he — and everyone else — says it is. It’s an engrossing read, a fresh perspective on the power of an education, and it’s also a testament to the way grit and resilience can shape our lives. Also, since I’ve just finished a memoir of my own, I love to see how people choose to tell their own story — the small moments that tell larger truths, the character development, the courage it takes to tell a story fully. Tara’s upbringing was so different from my own, but learning about her world gave me insight into lives and experiences that weren’t a part of my own journey. To me, it’s an example of the extraordinary power of storytelling.
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