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A book by Dave Cullen

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Remarkable Account of A Tragedy

  • Jun 24, 2010

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 of nearly ten years, Cullen provides an extremely balanced, very composed examination of the events leading up to, during, and after the Littleton, Colorado, tragedy. What the reader comes to realize is that everything you think that you might know about that day is probably wrong. Goths targeting jocks, the Trench Coat Mafia (TCM), bullying, outcasts, violent video games and angry, hard music were some of the answers we were presented but were entirely wrong.

Author's Notes on Sources
I. Female Down
II. After and Before
III. The Downward Spiral
IV. Take Back the School
V. Judgement Day
Timeline: Before

Cullen, drawing on tens of thousands of police documents, hundreds of hours of interviews, FBI profilers and psychologists, diaries and videos left by the killers themselves, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, paints the most complete portrait of the gunmen, the cover-ups and miscues of law enforcement, the role of the media, and a community torn apart. There are no easy, simple "sound bite" answers in Columbine. Cullen shows that Harris and Klebold did not simply "snap" at some bullying, they dealt more of it than they received, nor was it a plot to harm a specific group of students. This is was a carefully orchestrated event, planned over the course of a year, by a charming, manipulative psychopath (Harris) and a mercurial, clinically depressed individual (Klebold). While attempting to distance himself from Harris and his plans, at the end, Klebold found that he needed Harris to help him with his ultimate plan; suicide. For Klebold, April 20 provided the perfect setup for that result.

Tragedies like school shootings cause people to search for and accept easy answers for the shocking event. The media understands this and is quick to supply those answers, even when they are wrong. Cullen does not pull any punches when it comes to his fellow journalists and their distortions, but he is equally quick to point out the good reporters. Early in the event, it was reported that witnesses saw the shooters as wearing trench coats. One student offered the term "Trench Coat Mafia" to describe one clique. The media played that aspect up in their newscasts, which were seen later in the day by many of the survivors. The next day, during interviews, many of the students parroted back to the media "Trench Coat Mafia" which they had heard on all of the news outlets, even though that was an aspect that the media themselves had championed. Not one reporter asked "where did you hear that?" or "why do you say that?"

Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on the scene and has been studying the event for ten years. Columbine comes across as a very authoritative work, due to Cullen's diligence and balance. It may strike you as odd that there are no pictures, maps, or scanned documents in the center of the book. After reading several chapters, you realize that Cullen does not want to be melodramatic or exploitive, graphics would only detract from his narrative. You are probably familiar with the results of Harris and Klebold's attack, but until you read this book, you will not know the full story. Columbine is an excellent book, one that has exceptional pacing, and uses an interesting, effective technique of moving back and forth through time. This provides an unparalleled look at the lives of Harris and Klebold, giving the reader a complete view of them. It also proves that there are no simple answers. Columbine is highly recommended.

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July 19, 2010
Great review. I need to read this one still.
July 19, 2010
@AerinBlue thanks for the comment. I have recommended this book to several people and they are in agreement - it is a fantastic book. Hard to read in places, due to the subject matter, but one that will cause you to re-evaluate what you think you know about Columbine and to question everything you hear when it comes to similar tragedies.
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 . September 02, 2009
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 …
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 . June 04, 2010
Answers the "Why" of Columbine.
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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Gregg Eldred ()
Ranked #75
It never ceases to amaze me how many doors have opened up for me since I started reviewing the books I read. Publishers now send me free books to read and review. Authors contact me. Kind folks at Lunch … more
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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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