I resisted reading this memoir for a while because it sounded a bit like other memoirs I've read by people who came from dire beginnings to make a success of themselves. But I'm glad I eventually decided to read this one. It really does tell a unique and remarkable tale.
Tara Westover was raised in rural Idaho, extremely isolated from mainstream society. In fact she was so isolated no one noticed when her parents pulled her and her six siblings out of school and decided to home school them. While 3 of the older brothers got some time in school and a bit of actual home schooling, the younger 4, including Tara, really got no education at all.
Instead she worked helping her mother who was an herbalist and midwife and in her father's junkyard. Unfortunately, her father was also bipolar (not that she knew that term until much later) so the family was subject to his deep depressions and manic episodes where he tried to prepare for the end of the world. Tara and her brothers' work in the scrap yard was often dangerous - which was exacerbated by the fact that her family was paranoid of traditional medicine and treated serious injuries with herbal remedies. One brother became particularly violent after an untreated head injury (though he was violent before, the injury seemed to make it worse) and Tara was thus also subjected to terrible physical abuse which her parents ignored.
At about age 17 Tara decided she needed to get out and that the way out was through education - one of her older brothers had escaped to Brigham Young University and helped her self teach herself and get admitted. So she walked into a classroom for the first time at University and at age 17. There her eyes were opened to how one could still be Mormon and lead a much more mainstream and "good" life. She also learned about historical facts that she knew nothing about (such as the Holocaust and the civil rights movement).
While she had originally gone with the goal of studying music to become a local choir director, she developed an interest in history. A local professor saw her raw talent beneath her poor educational background and arranged for her to get a fellowship to Cambridge. There she was further encouraged by another professor - eventually managing to earn a PhD in history from Cambridge.
Tara definitely recognized that her education and escape came at the cost of her relationship with her parents and several of her siblings. She did manage to maintain a good relationship with three of her brothers (not surprisingly, they were the ones who also left the mountain to be educated) and credits them with helping her piece together the memoir.
This is a really interesting personal account of resilience and drive as well as the power of education.