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How a woman raised without education became an Oxbridge academic


Tara Westover was a freshman in college when she first heard of the Holocaust.
“I don’t know this word,” she told a professor in class. “What does it mean?”
“There was a silence,” Westover writes in her memoir “Educated” (Random House), out Tuesday. “Not a hush, not a muting of the noise, but utter, almost violent silence . . . The professor’s lips tightened. ‘Thanks for that,’ he said, then returned to his notes.”
Westover’s ignorance was hardly her fault. She had been barred from school for her entire life. Her parents, strict fundamentalist Mormons, had raised their large family on an Idaho mountainside with few books and little interaction with the wider world.
How this unlettered girl zoomed to the heights of academia — a Harvard fellowship, a Cambridge Ph.D. — within the next decade would seem to be a tale of triumph, a portrait of the liberating power of a life of the mind.
For Westover, it’s not so simple.
Westover was born in the family home on Buck’s Peak in southeastern Idaho in 1986, the youngest of seven children. Her father, who nursed paranoid suspicions about the federal government and expected the end times to arrive at any moment, would not permit a hospital birth or reveal her existence to authorities.
She finally got a birth certificate nine years later. An older brother needed one to get a driver’s license and a job, and her father suddenly reversed his 10-year policy against them.

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