A while back David Runciman interviewed Tara Westover on the Talking Politics podcast. After hearing it re-aired I added it to my reading list on a whim.
I came to the book with some fairly clear expectations, the idea of a woman with no formal education ending up at Cambridge and burning through degrees. Perhaps it would be a modern parable, of Education: the great equaliser. Perhaps a story where institutions had taken an innate curiosity and talent and nurtured it. I expected a kind of rags to intellectual riches story that might make me feel good someone joining a university educated club that I am a part of.
This book is enormously better for not being anything like that. It is about pulling away from a difficult home life. The power of parents to shape the world of their children, and how enduring that can be if their exposure is limited to other thoughts. Education is not something that arrives, it is there from the beginning it provides a world view.
Then as new sources of education appear, conflict begins. It reminded me that whilst I think of education as a liberator it can often appear as a difficult and destructive act too. It might offer a path that frees the author to step away from a terrible home life, but it also drove a wedge between her and her loved ones.
I mention this because I too often propose education as a solution for everything, and unalloyed good. I still believe that. But my education was a fairly straightforward thing thing, others pursue it at greater personal cost. I tend to forget that.
Whilst we focus on brand name University degrees as a rubber stamp for the educated. This book is a reminder of the diverse sources and education can come from, its role in shaping a person. What some might have to leave behind to attain it, and what it offers for those that do.
This book is a wonderful and complex portrait of a life of education.