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A book by Dave Cullen

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Wonderful Book about a Tragic Event

  • Sep 2, 2009
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Quickly…what do you know about the Columbine school shootings from 10 years ago?  Here’s what I knew: The shooters snapped one day and went on a rampage; they were picked on a lot by the school jocks and, therefore, targeted them, their family lives were horrendous and they chose April 20th because of Hitler’s birthday. Is that about the same as your list?  Well, if so…we were wrong, and this book proves it.

I have now been reviewing non-fiction books here for a little over a year. I have read a lot of really interesting books (and some really bad ones). This is the best book I have come across during that time. It’s that good. Today is the 10th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting  and journalist Dave Cullen has finally released his research. Cullen has been working on a true, accurate history of the incident for the entire ten years…and it shows.

Columbine by Dave Cullen is an in depth look at what lead up to the shooting and a biography of the killers (Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold). But possibly more important is his rebuttal of many of the rumors and myths that surround the killings. Typically, a lot of inaccurate information came out right after the shootings. The media was grasping for information and, therefore, willing to accept pretty much anyone’s opinion. This rush to judgment has done a lot of damage to people trying to investigate the true psychological reasons behind the murders.  This is why we have the misconceptions of what happened.  So lets go through my list to see what really took place.

Harris and Klebold did not suddenly snap and go on a rampage.  Eric Harris was a true, full blooded psychopath. About.com says a psychopath is:

incapable of feeling guilt, remorse or empathy for their actions. They are generally cunning, manipulative and know the difference between right and wrong but dismiss it as applying to them.  They are incapable of normal emotions such as love, generally react without considering the consequences of their actions and show extreme egocentric and narcissistic behavior.

Psychopaths are charming and have an innate ability to convince everyone around them that they are OK…and if they do get caught misbehaving, that they are sorry.  Harris was an extraordinarily good psychopath.  About one year prior to the shootings they were arrested for theft…and that was the trigger to Harris’ breakdown.  Through his personal journals you can watch him spiral out of control, but only on the inside.  Never did he show what was happening to anyone else (except Klebold).  This attack was carefully planned out for a long time.  Klebold was more depressing and more of a loner, but he basically followed Harris.

Harris, being a highly functioning psychopath, was not a goth and was not picked on.  In fact, he was semi-popular.  Everyone seemed to know he was a little odd and could get aggressive…but he was not bullied.  Harris didn’t want to target anyone specifically…he just wanted to kill everyone.  He hated everyone and thought they deserved to die.  The original plan was to set up a couple of bombs in the lunch room commons to go off when the most number of people were in the room (another proof that they did not snap: they calculated when the commons would be busiest).  Fortunately the bombs did not go off, otherwise possibly more than 500 people would have been killed (and probably more because the boys would not have left their posts outside of the school).  They then planned to wait outside at strategic points to fire on the students as they fled the building after the explosion.  Harris just wanted destruction and death.

I feel sorry for the parents of the boys as I don’t think they caused the problems.  Harris had pretty much everyone convinced he was a decent kid and Klebold liked his parents.  It doesn’t appear they raised the kids in the type of manner that breeds violence.  I also severely doubt that music and video games had anything to do with it.  Actually, I think that would insult Harris…he would claim all responsibility and no influences.

Lastly, one of the more popular myths is that they chose April 20th to honor Adolf Hitler on his birthday.  The truth is that the massacre was planned for April 19th, but they didn’t have all the ammunition.  Harris chose April 19th because that was the same day as the Oklahoma City Bombings, and he wanted to honor McVeigh by killing ever more people.  Of course, McVeigh chose April 19th because that was the day the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas ended in death.

The book goes into great detail into many more topics, like the terrible investigation job done by the local police…including a large cover up.  They had come across Harris’ personal webpage some time before the attack.  On that webpage he ranted over and over about how he hated people, wanted them all dead, and was going to do it himself.  The information was not acted on and then hidden once the attacks took place.

I was a junior in high school when this happened and the rest of that school year was pretty intense.  There was a lot of fear around that this type of thing could happen at my school.  They were basically the same type of schools…over 2,000 students, a relatively wealthy school district, and high levels of performance.  Naturally, there were some copycat type shootings around the country, but none (thankfully) taken to the same level as Columbine.  As everyone was on high alert, there were a couple of scares at my high school…we had to quickly evacuate the school because of a suspected bomb…which ended up being a small package of napkins!  I think the shootings affected all of us in America…not just those in school or with kids in school.  I think it highlighted the fact that you can never really be sure of your safety…even in a “safe” place like your school.

I apologize for the super long review, but as I said before, this is a spectacularly written book and I recommend everyone to go to Amazon, B&N or your local library and read it.  You will be heartbroken as you read this biography of death…but it is worth it in the end.

Rating: 1000 out of 5

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September 07, 2009
(sorry for the dup, post. i just created an account, and messed up.)
September 07, 2009
Thanks for that really generous review of my book. I sure appreciate you helping spread the word. (Eco, Donna and Sean, I hope you like it. Let me know. Thanks.)
September 05, 2009
Thank you for the great review Adam. I didn't know any of that about the shootings, it is sad that the media distorted everything or just gave the wrong info as 'facts'. I do not read much (busy with baby), but when I do - I read mostly non-fiction. I think you would enjoy reading The Underground History of American Education, check it out. I got it at my local library and although I read it selectively, it was very hard to stop!
September 02, 2009
Very good review.....I must check this out.....as you say.....so much more to know than what meets the eye....
September 02, 2009
What a review!  I'm very interested and tempted to pick this up now.  Three thumbs for sure! 
More Columbine reviews
review by . May 02, 2010
I still remember sitting in front of the TV on the morning of April 21st, 1999, as I did every morning before leaving for school. I was 15 and had just started my 10th grade in a school in Dubai. Columbine was on every news channel that day. It was scary. A crime, the kind of which I had not heard of. It made me realize that even schools weren't safe. I had not given it a thought before, but the news of that day acutely sharpened my antennae.     Columbine by Dave Cullen, was …
review by . June 24, 2010
Why?      A simple question but one with no real answer. A question which many people asked in the aftermath of that day, April 20, 1999, when two students opened fire on their fellow classmates at Columbine High School, killing 13 and injuring 24. The answer to "why?" was very elusive; one which some people may have simply shrugged off. I believe that the answer has been provided in Dave Cullen's outstanding book, Columbine. Exhaustively researched over the course …
review by . July 10, 2010
In many ways, the Columbine school shootings have the same milestone effect on society as do events like 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing. Columbine forever changed the way we look at school safety and the mental health of students. But unfortunately, much of what we "remember" about the event is inaccurate due to media hype and official stonewalling. Dave Cullen reveals the actual story behind the events with exhaustive research in his book Columbine. When I finished reading, I had to seriously …
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
The actual columbine pictures are quite historical. I recommend taking a look.
Quick Tip by . May 25, 2010
Best Non-Fiction Book in a LONG Time!
Quick Tip by . May 19, 2010
Scary, yet objective study of the boys behind Columbine. Some weird typos & grammar errors, though.
review by . January 21, 2010
We all remember, or know of, what happened on April 20, 1999 at a high school in Littleton, Colorado named Columbine. Two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened gunfire on their classmates and teachers - killing 13 and injuring dozens of others.    Dave Cullen is a journalist who covered the massacre for over two years. In this book he sheds light on all the commonly held myths about what really occurred that day, and fits it all together for us in a timeline that unfolds …
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Adam F. Wilson ()
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Starred Review. In this remarkable account of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting, journalist Cullen not only dispels several of the prevailing myths about the event but tackles the hardest question of all: why did it happen? Drawing on extensive interviews, police reports and his own reporting, Cullen meticulously pieces together what happened when 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 13 people before turning their guns on themselves. The media spin was that specific students, namely jocks, were targeted and that Dylan and Eric were members of the Trench Coat Mafia. According to Cullen, they lived apparently normal lives, but under the surface lay an angry, erratic depressive (Klebold) and a sadistic psychopath (Harris), together forming a combustible pair. They planned the massacre for a year, outlining their intentions for massive carnage in extensive journals and video diaries. Cullen expertly balances the psychological analysis—enhanced by several of the nation's leading experts on psychopathology—with an examination of the shooting's effects on survivors, victims' families and the Columbine community. Readers will come away from Cullen's unflinching account with a deeper understanding of what drove these boys to kill, even if the answers aren't easy to stomach.(Apr. 6)
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ISBN-10: 0446546933
ISBN-13: 978-0446546935
Author: Dave Cullen
Genre: History, Nonfiction
Publisher: Twelve
Date Published: April 6, 2009
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