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Unacceptable  By  cover art

Unacceptable

By: Melissa Korn,Jennifer Levitz
Narrated by: Brittany Pressley
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Publisher's Summary

Forbes Top 10 Higher Education Books of 2020

The riveting true story behind the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, a cautionary tale of parenting gone wrong, the system that enabled families to veer so far off course, and the mastermind who made it all happen.

When federal prosecutors dropped the bombshell of Operation Varsity Blues, it broke open the crimes of exclusive universities and wealthy families all over the country, shattering the myth of American meritocracy. In Unacceptable, veteran Wall Street Journal reporters Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz dig deep into how otherwise smart, loving parents became caught up in scandal, led through the side door by one man: college whisperer Rick Singer.

Unacceptable traces how, over decades, the charismatic Singer easily reeled in parents hoping to guarantee top educations for their children and exploited a system rigged against regular people. Exploring the status obsession that seduced entitled parents in search of an edge, Korn and Levitz unfurl a scheme that entangled more than 50 conspirators, from wealthy CEOs to famous actresses, leading to imprisonments, ruined careers, and terminated enrollments.

An eye-opening account of corruption in America’s most exclusive institutions, Unacceptable tells the story of helicopter parenting, coddled teens, and the man who thought he couldn’t be caught. Detailing Singer’s steady rise and dramatic fall, Korn and Levitz expose the ugly underbelly of elite college admissions and the devastating consequences of buying success. 

©2020 Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“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)

Featured Article: Catch Our Grift with These Tales of Female Frauds, Scammers, and Cons


When it comes to cons of the criminal variety, women often fly under the radar. And when it comes to pulling off high-level, multifaceted schemes, women continue to be underestimated. But with enough confidence to remain undetected, female con artists, fraudsters, and grifters have scammed their way to infamy, racking up dollars, favors, and fame along the way. The stories they leave behind make for some of the most intriguing cases of all time.

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  • EF
  • 11-03-20

LOVED IT

The narration was fantastic and the story was well told. The more high profile people were mixed in with others. The story was not told chronologically the whole way through but streamed together stories of different families to help the reader really understand and appreciate the enormity of the scandal.

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  • TL
  • 08-28-20

Riveting, insightful story and a great listen

Unacceptable goes far beyond the headlines to present a riveting and thoughtful account of the motivations, machinations and incentives bubbling beneath the college admissions scandal...and arguably the entire college admissions system.

Unconstrained by newspaper word count, and exhibiting both empathy and scorn, the two journalist-authors present a remarkable array of character portraits detailing the anxieties and social pressures that pulled parents across very fine lines, the toll their efforts took on their children, the economic pressures in academia that encouraged complicity by coaches and administrators, and the nearly diabolical competitiveness that drove the mastermind to exploit these conditions.

Unacceptable is a sprawling, insightful and entertaining window into human nature and the search for certainty. The road to Harvard...or prison...is sometimes paved with the best intentions.

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Okay Book, Okay Narration

The underlying story itself is interesting. But I felt that the authors lost control of the narrative. Maybe this is understandable, given the scope of the scandal they document here. Regardless, the middle 50% of the book--after the Rick Singer background and before the courtroom phase--was less like a coherent story and more like a series of loosely structured anecdotes. "Here's this person. His job was X. He looked like Y. He did Z." Rinse and repeat. I didn't count, but it felt like there were upwards of 100 characters in this relatively short book--and the only one I really got to know in any depth was Rick Singer. I understand the scandal had a broad scope, but maybe a better approach would have been to focus on just a few bad actors and tell their stories in full.

The narration was fine, but the narrator used the same pattern of intonation over and over again. Eventually it became rhythmic and disengaging--sometimes even irritating. She would say one thing, then she would raise her pitch when she hit a coordinating conjunction or started a new sentence, then lower the pitch again. The overall impression was: "So you might think X... Buuuuuuut really the truth was Y." After a while, I started to feel like I was being talked down to, like a well-intentioned but foolish child. ("So you might think X... Buuuuuuut really the truth was Y [and you're dumb for having thought X to begin with].") This could be attributable more to the writing style than to the narrator, however.