Educated, A Memoir by Tara Westover

Martina Stippler

Many of us cherish education, and as neurosurgeons, we must. How many years do we spend in school, then college to qualify for medical school to then enter a long resident and even fellowship? By the time we treat our first patient as an attending, we have spent 80% of our life in one form of education or another.

Book cover titled Education with a big pencil in the background

Educated is an extraordinary memoir of a young woman discovering the value of education and how the knowledge she gains changes her and her relationship with her family forever. Born to survivalist family in rural Idaho, author Tara Westover is not only kept away from public school, but her home-schooling consists of reading the bible. She does not even have a birth certificate.

Tara’s self-motivation is almost palpable throughout the book. Despite the most difficult family circumstances Tara ends up with a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University. Her father, who is deeply religious, believes in God’s control over everything which makes him shockingly careless in the junkyard and in his life. Westover details horrific injuries and accidents that she and her siblings suffered. Her parents’ obvious disregard for the health and wellbeing of Tara and her siblings is shocking and even more evil as it is clocked under the religious righteousness. Her eldest brother, Shawn, returns from his attempt to break away from the family and cultivates a fondness for Tara which turns into sickening head games and violent abuse.

Tara’s world comes close to our own when her older brother is injured while building a barn with his father and undergoes brain surgery for an epidural hematoma. Tara muses over whether her father put his fear of doctors and the government aside to call for help for his injured son, or if others did it. The account of the accident is not clear, and people present remember it differently. Tara would have hoped that her father cared for her bother, and indirectly for her, more than is believed, but she never found an answer.

Tara’s story is a good example of how education changes us, and how worldviews are formed by the information we seek out and believe. This also holds true for us neurosurgeons, to seek out an education and wisdom to offer the best state of the art treatment for our patients.

The book Educated is an unbelievable account of a women journey geographically, academically and ideologically from a perilous junkyard on a mountain in Idaho to a doctoral degree in history in Cambridge.