- Conning Harvard – Adam Wheeler, The Con Artist Who Faked His Way Into the Ivy League
- by Julie Zauzmer
- Lyons Press
- Copyright 2012
- 194 pages
Rating – 8 out of 10
Thursday I had trouble generating any enthusiasm for Hancock and Algozzine’s Doing Case Study Research. So, I decided to be promiscuous in my reading and enjoy Conning Harvard by Julie Zauzmer. I’ll get back to Hancock and Algozzine (he told himself).
Back in 2005, Adam Wheeler was a high school senior in Delaware. His grades and standardized test scores were good, but not extraordinary. By submitting a series of plagiarized essays, Wheeler gained admittance to Maine’s Bowdoin College. At Bowdoin, Wheeler did reasonably well – until he got caught plagiarizing a paper in his second year. Bowdoin showed Wheeler a degree of mercy, suspending him for a semester, but with the understanding that he could then return to school.
On to Harvard
Now we arrive at the crux of the story. Wheeler created a fake transcript (from MIT) and fake test scores and managed to con his way into Harvard as a transfer student. Clearly, this was the turning point in his life. From that point forward, Wheeler’s life became a charade as he plagiarized his way through his classes, lied to get summer scholarships, and attempted to become a Rhodes Scholar. He almost made it – having gotten a place on Harvard’s short list of Rhodes candidates when he got caught.
Wheeler amazes the reader with his ability to cheat his way through Harvard. He conned a lot of people who should have known better. Wheeler is so brazen, so thoroughly dishonest, that the reader cheers when he finally gets caught. Wheeler’s reactions to getting caught and then charged with several felonies are also revealing. It’s a fascinating story.
But, in another sense, Conning Harvard frustrates the reader. Wheeler never gave an interview explaining himself, so much is unknown. As a result, he never emerges as a flesh-and-blood person in Conning Harvard. You want to know more.
Though Conning Harvard is a success, there are other areas for improvement. In places, Zauzmer bogs the story with extraneous details, particularly about Harvard’s admission process. Likewise, the book’s flow – its momentum – comes and goes (though it’s a nice, quick read at 194 pages).
“Why are we so persuaded that some institutions carry such cachet that we’ll do anything to put their names after ours?” (P. 167)
Why, indeed? In the future, I’m convinced that people will be puzzled by our current obsession with admissions to prestigious universities. After all, as many people have pointed out, our society doesn’t particularly value education. The best students are geeks and nerds. A “professional student” is one who hangs around campus too long, who doesn’t want to grow up and get to work. People who say that they prize “education,” generally mean “credentials.”
Adam Wheeler’s story is a symptom of our strange fascination with the right credentials. Conning Harvard has some shortcomings; chief among them is a lack of insight into Wheeler. Still, it’s a terrific book that offers the reader great food for thought.