August 14, 2006 12:00 PM

By Alexandra Robbins




We all talk blithely about the dumbing down of our culture—about the slackers more concerned with cruising MySpace than reading a book. But for a subset of students, school is as cutthroat as a corporate boardroom. Robbins follows superstars at a public high school in an affluent Maryland suburb as they battle to see who can score the highest GPA and the most extracurriculars on the least amount of sleep. We fret over “AP Frank” (he aced 16 AP courses), whose mom sits behind him while he studies and slaps him on the head if his attention seems to wander. And we pull for Julie, the track star who yearns for Stanford but is told to settle for Williams or Dartmouth by a pricey college consultant.

Along the way, we also see how such pressure is trickling down: Some preschools are pickier than Harvard. The Overachievers is rather terrifying. But for anyone who has held an envelope from a prestigious university while, heart pounding, asking herself, “Thin or fat?,” it will be impossible to put down.

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