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Tara Westover


A study of the effects of education as both liberating and disconnecting.

The family that the author describes is both harrowingly dysfunctional and strangely close-knit, which goes a long way to explaining how hard she found to draw herself away from it. She followed a charmed academic trajectory that many academics would kill for – Brigham Young University, then a scholarship and PhD from Cambridge, then a fellowship at Harvard – and I think it's a fair question as to whether she'd've been able to break away had she had a less exceptional start.

The overriding themes are easy to see, revolving around a desire (indeed, a need) for male relatives to control female behaviour. There are plenty of echoes of works like Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, but one thing that's distinctive about Westover's experience is that the fundamentalist position that her family adopts doesn't go far back: even her grandparents disagree with it, and it seems to be as much a product of her father's mental illness and mother's subservience as anything inherent in a strongly religious tradition. It's definitely one of the most challenging personal backgrounds I know of to have been successfully overcome.

5/5. Finished 29 May 2019.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

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