Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: Columbine

Author: Dave Cullen
Publisher/Format: e-book Hachette Book Group 1st e-book edition, 441 pages; also audio book (Blackstone Audio) 14 hours
Narrator: Don Leslie
Subject: Killings at Columbine High School
Setting: Jefferson County Colorado, April 1999
Genre: news reporting; non-fiction
Source: both formats were downloaded from public library

Unlike many momentous events that have occurred in the past 20-30 years, I don't specifically remember where I was or what I was doing when the Columbine massacre occurred.  I think I was probably out of the country on a business trip, because I can't believe that I wouldn't have been glued to my TV had the opportunity presented itself to me.

Dave Cullen was one of the original on-site reporters who covered events, and realized that the whole story, the motives, the people, the aftermath, have never been comprehensively put together for the public.  Many of the police reports were withheld, many important witnesses or others involved had never been interviewed or given the opportunity to speak about what they knew or saw.

He culled through literally thousands of pages of interviews, police reports, evidence, photos, autopsy reports, psychologist statements, and follows up with as many of the people involved as would make themselves available to him in order to write this story.  The result is a tour de force: a cohesive, exhaustive, comprehensive and thoughtful examination of what happened, why it happened, how it was reported, and what the aftermath entailed.  He debunks many myths that arose from false or inadequate interpretation of early reports; he spends a good deal of time trying to get into the minds of the two killers and helping us try to understand why they did what they did, and he gives us a much needed factual account of the event that has come to be known simply as "Columbine."

The events of that fateful day shaped in many ways responses to subsequent mass shootings, but the fact that such shootings continue shows that while we may think we have a handle on what happened, we have yet to figure out how to stop it from happening again.


  1. "Columbine" by Dave Cullen is just one of several books that were written about the massacre that occurred at Columbine High School. It is by no means the best or "definitive" one. There are two others that I've read on the subject that unfortunately don't get anywhere near the publicity that "Columbine" has. I say unfortunate because in my opinion they are both a far better and more accurate account of what happened at Columbine High School that day, and why.

    The two books are "Columbine: A True Crime Story" by Jeff Kass and "Comprehending Columbine" by Ralph Larkin. I've been urging anyone who's read Cullen's book to please read the two I've mentioned. Cullen's book gives the reader but one narrow-minded way of regarding the events that day. It's my wish that people who have read his book would read the two that I've suggested so that they get a much better, clearer and more accurate description of what really happened.

  2. Lisa...I'm not familiar with either of those you mention, but I will definitely be checking them out. Thanks for the cogent comments.

  3. Cullen , who first reported on the story for the online magazine Salon, acknowledges in the book's source notes that thoughts he attributes to Klebold and Harris are conjecture gleaned from the record the pair left behind.

    Jeff Kass takes a more straightforward approach in "Columbine: A True Crime Story," working backward from the events of the fateful day.
    The Denver Post

    Mr. Cullen insists that the killers enjoyed "far more friends than the average adolescent," with Harris in particular being a regular Casanova who "on the ultimate high school scorecard . . . outscored much of the football team." The author's footnotes do not reveal how he knows this; when I asked him about it while preparing this review, Mr. Cullen said he did not necessarily mean to imply that Harris was sexually active. But what else would such words mean?

    "Eric and Dylan never had any girlfriends," the more sober Mr. Kass writes, and were "probably virgins upon death."
    Wall Street Journal

  4. I thought this book was excellent ... I was glued to my seat to get the story, and there was so many myths that I think he did a good job explaining and debunking.

    It was one of my top reads for the year.


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