The name of the book is a neat précis of its content: Conning Harvard: Adam Wheeler, the Con Artist Who Faked His Way into the Ivy League. Its author, Julie Zauzmer, is a Harvard senior who, along with fellow student Xi Yu, covered the Adam Wheeler scandal from the get-go. Drawing upon an impressive range of sources – notably the numerous articles she has written for "The Harvard Crimson" as well as personal interviews with many of the individuals in her narrative – Zauzmer presents a fascinating and meticulously researched account of one young man’s circuitous and fraudulent route to Harvard and his downfall. (As a bonus for the hyper-curious, the book is interleaved with copies of Wheeler’s fake transcripts, test scores, and highly inflated resume.)
Wheeler is the antihero of Zauzmer’s tale. This may be putting it too strongly because much of the book is straightforward, unbiased reporting and Zauzmer judiciously refrains from making any explicit judgments of Wheeler’s character. But the book’s prologue and coda – by far its most impassioned sections – give a good idea of where the author’s sympathies lie.
One sentence in particular, with its eerily prescient tone, has direct bearing on the latest cheating scandal embroiling Harvard: “In the absence of integrity, a diploma is a meaningless piece of paper on the wall, a mockery of true intellectual achievement.” The following passage, too, demands to be read in the context of the current controversy: “The motto of Harvard is just one word: Veritas. Translated from Latin, it means truth. Harvard does not stand solely for accomplishment, fame, fortune, or even intelligence. When the university proclaims its own highest value, it embraces truth. Harvard understands, as the con artist never will, that without honesty, a degree is meaningless. One cannot lie in pursuit of veritas.”