By Tara Westover
Having grown up in the outskirts of very rural Idaho, Tara Westover had an unusual childhood. She never attended public school. Not highly unusual, considering the number of people who are homeschooled. However, Tara had almost no homeschooling either. She learned to read the Bible, but most other information that came her way was filtered through the lens of her father’s perspective of government conspiracies and preparation for the End of Days. Instead of school, Tara spent her time with her siblings, working in her father’s junkyard and roving the mountains. When one of her older brothers left home to go to college, Tara started to consider the possibility that she, too, might get an education. Through arduous efforts at self-teaching, she managed to pass the ACT and earn a spot as a college freshman. Her experiences at college shattered her limited perspective on the world and introduced her to everything from spaghetti strap shirts to the Holocaust. Through relentless efforts, Tara began to understand the classroom and the larger world around her. She eventually went on to graduate at the top of her class, but at great personal cost: every stride forward in education was a step farther from the family she knew, leaving her stranded and lost in an entirely different way.
“Educated” by Tara Westover is an astounding story of how someone can overcome, accomplish, and grow. Westover writes with candor and unflinching honesty about the situations she encountered as a child (injuries sustained in the junkyard on a regular basis by all members of her family, manipulation and violent abuse from an older brother) and as an adult (difficulty creating and sustaining relationships while trying to hide her background). All this is written from the perspective of someone much older and wiser. As Westover recounts her experiences, she simultaneously analyzes them and puts words to the emotions she felt at the time, but only recently began to understand and pull apart. While the stories she shares about her upbringing seem almost outrageous, the tone of her writing neither conveys nor encourages shock. She is merely telling her story as she remembers it, with footnotes when there are significant discrepancies between her memories and those of other family members. She shares her experience, as it is, for what it is, so that others may understand the privilege and cost of learning.
This book is absolutely riveting. I didn’t want to put it down. I felt a bit voyeuristic at times because her experience is such a far cry from the world and life I am familiar with, but it is incredibly compelling. The tone of her writing is a perfect combination of being both frank and reflective, so that the alarming parts of her youth are tempered by her adult “coming to terms” with it. I was also amazed at what she was able to accomplish, and somewhat jealous of her ability to teach herself algebra. Highly recommended for any and all readers.
by John V.H. Dippel
Sometimes the idea that seems like the last thing anyone would want to do actually ends up with a rather zealous, albeit meager, band of followers. Such as the case with polar exploration. The early years of polar expeditions, around the mid-1800s, started with grand enthusiasm, ample financial backing, and a hearty spirit of adventure. Enthusiasm and financial support waned, though, as expeditions failed to achieve their goals of discovering the fabled “Open Polar Sea” (which turned out to be a massive sheet of ice in the Arctic), finding the Northwest Passage, or marking a new farthest North or farthest South record. Sometimes the hardships of these adventures could be spun into gripping tales, and many explorers earned financing by writing stories and articles about their journeys. Sometimes the hardships could not be glossed over, and tales of enduring months without sunlight in dug-out ice caves too small to stand in contributed to the disillusionment about the potential victories to be gained in polar environments. However the public opinion shifted, the devoted band of adventurers never swayed in pursuing their life goals of polar exploration, leaving a history of remarkable journeys that occasionally seemed too good to be true but always left an impression on those who followed their travails and travels.
“To the Ends of the Earth: The Truth Behind the Glory of Polar Exploration” by John V.H. Dippel discusses various themes in the early ages of concerted polar exploration, through the race to the North Pole (supposedly reached in 1908) and the South Pole (reached in 1911). Dippel covers the broader societal impact on polar exploration, from the early eagerness of colonizing countries to stake further claims, to the later hesitation to put so much money toward such small efforts with even smaller results. He also discusses the unique aspects of renowned explorers who led multiple expeditions, citing journals and letters to share insights into the personality, motives, and leadership styles that contributed to either their success or downfall. Of course, Dippel also shares almost excessive details about the conditions of polar exploration, from the impact of the limited diet of crews stranded in ice for years longer than their rations were meant to last, to the physical impact of extended time in frozen environments without sunlight (skin turns green without sun??). This book addresses multiple aspects of polar exploration, giving a comprehensive picture of what elements – natural and manmade – the crews were up against.
I found this book to be both fascinating and slightly horrifying – perhaps it was fascinating because it was horrifying. The conditions of life in polar environments sounds terrible, and yet I couldn’t put the book down. While Dippel clearly distinguishes the themes in his book, I felt confused at times because he wrote according to theme rather than chronology. He frequently referenced the same expedition in multiple chapters, but I couldn’t remember who did what because it didn’t follow a chronological order. Overall, very engaging. Maybe skip chapter 6 if you have a weak stomach.