brokenbiscuits

Conning Harvard: Adam Wheeler, the Con Artist Who Faked His Way into the Ivy League - Julie Zauzmer, Xi Yu For me, this kind of book is a guilty pleasure. I love stories about frauds and con artists. Usually I root for them, but it was hard to like the fraudster in this book because he lied and plagiarized not just to get into Harvard, Bowdoin, and Stanford, but also to be a straight A student and win top prizes. At first I was not very impressed by the writing style of this book, but once I realized that the author is a college kid herself I had a lot of respect.

The story of what the con artist did is quite interesting, and I won't spoil it here, except to say that he was following the school of thought that says the bigger and more ridiculous your lies are, the more likely it is that you'll get away with it. The author is too respectful of the Harvard admission's department and administration to delve deeply into why it took them so long to catch on. A smarter, more moderate cheater would never be caught. If all he'd wanted was to collect a Harvard diploma, no one would ever have caught Adam Wheeler, but then he set his sights on a Fulbright.

I like that the author has an insider's view because she is a Harvard student herself, but I think it also made her blind to questions that would occur to an outsider. Like, what is so great about Harvard that people will do anything to get in; what is the spell that people are under? That is so bizarre it should be a chapter in itself. But I got the sense that the author feels that way too, like naturally the highest dream of any student would be to go to Harvard, so no explanation needed. And my biggest questions went unanswered. What motivated this guy? Why did he keep on doing the same things even after he got caught? No one knows the answers to these questions, probably, but I would be curious to hear what the people who knew him thought. Also, what was his childhood like? Any interesting backstory on this guy? What was wrong with him, anyway?

At times the fraudster must have spent much more time copying and editing little snippets of plagiarized material than he would have just writing a few sentences. The few pieces of his own writing in the book are almost complete gibberish. Did he do any of his college course work? Would he read the assigned books in his classes? I thought it was interesting that the person who finally caught him was not more cynical or suspicious than the other people who'd read Adam Wheeler's amazing transcripts, recommendations, and resumes. He was just more caring, worried that this student was taking on too many responsibilities at a young age. Oh, and he'd read the essay that the fraudster lifted. Anyway, the whole book brought back my college days in the humanities, where it didn't matter if my papers made sense or were on-topic, as long as they had a certain tone and lots of three-dollar words.