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FORBES TOP 10 HIGHER EDUCATION BOOKS OF 2020
An explosive true crime story of fraud, corruption, greed, celebrity, and justice in the cheating scandal that shattered the myth of meritocracy.
The largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice broke on March 12, 2019, sending shock waves through American schools and families. In Unacceptable, veteran Wall Street Journal reporters Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz trace the wiretapped calls, covert payments, and blatant deceit that brought the feds to Beverly Hills mansions and Upper East Side apartments, their residents all linked by one man: college whisperer and ultimate hustler Rick Singer.
The shocking tale at the heart of Unacceptable is how, over decades, the charismatic Singer easily exploited a system rigged against regular people. Exploring the status obsession that seduced entitled parents in search of an edge, Korn and Levitz detail a scheme that eventually entangled more than fifty conspirators—a catalog of wealth and privilege that included CEOs, lawyers, real-estate developers, financiers, and famous actresses, mingling in jail cells and courtrooms.
Detailing Singer’s steady rise and dramatic fall, woven with stories of key players in the case, Unacceptable exposes the ugly underbelly of elite college admissions as a game with no rule book—paid-off proctors and storied college coaches turning a blind eye, helicopter parents and coddled teens spinning lies—opening loopholes and side doors into America’s most exclusive institutions.
About the Author
Melissa Korn is a higher education reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Previously, she wrote for Dow Jones Newswires. She is a graduate of Cornell University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Jennifer Levitz is a national reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Previously, she wrote for the Providence Journal. She has been a member of two Pulitzer Prize finalist teams. She graduated from Loyola University Maryland.
“Through Unacceptable, Korn and Levitz grant us access to [admissions’] seedy underbelly. From the social-climbing antics of Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the cheating scheme, to the velvet-gloved F.B.I. raids of celebrities’ homes, they take us along the roller-coaster ride of Operation Varsity Blues. Piercing the veneer of perfection worn by Hollywood A-listers and corporate elites, Korn and Levitz show how wealthy families bribed their way into colleges like Stanford and the University of Southern California rather than bet on their children’s potential.”—The New York Times Book Review
"The authors' highly readable exposé goes well beyond the tabloid level. . . A capable examination of the seamy intersection of ambition, money, and higher education."—Kirkus Reviews
"A ticktock account of last year’s explosive admissions scandal . . . The stories highlighted by Korn and Levitz are read-out-loud appalling . . . more outrageous and more haunting as a book."—The Washington Post
“I’ve been savoring [Unacceptable] . . . It’s jaunty, it’s readable, and the authors aren’t scared of tabloid argot."—The Boston Globe
“A fast-paced account of the massive college admissions scam devised by Rick Singer...This indictment of contemporary American culture offers an in-depth look at the families who were willing to break the law and ignore ethical principles to provide higher education for their children...A well-researched and detailed picture of a crime emerging in an American culture corrupted by wealth and celebrity.”—Library Journal
“This may be the tell-all book on which people will rely for details on the case."—Inside Higher Education
"One book alone can't change everything. But this is an excellent start."—LinkedIn
"What makes Unacceptable a worthwhile book is not just the voyeuristic insight into the way money-hungry institutions (or their employees) can fleece status-hungry parents, but rather the moral insight into the rottenness of the whole system . . . For hard examples of how the American class system is becoming more rigid as the wealthy find ever-less salubrious ways to pass on their privilege, Unacceptable is hard to beat."—Higher Education Strategy Associates