September 22, 2010

Columbine by Dave Cullen

I was a sophomore in high school when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris laid siege to Columbine High School in Colorado.  I remember coming home from school that day and being transfixed by the media coverage and the atmosphere of my high school would never the same.  We were scared and confused.  I think what scared me, and most parents, the most was that there was no way to know if that could have just as easily have been our high school and our students who were under attack.  The murders at Columbine captured the nation's attention like nothing we had ever seen, but we were being fed a lot of misinformation.  It has taken ten years, but journalist Dave Cullen has produced an impressive compilation of the true story of Columbine, down to minute-by-minute details, background into the killers' psyche, and the mishandling of information and resources by the local law enforcement agencies.

This book was hands down one of the most remarkable pieces of work I have read in recent memory.  I devoured all 464 pages in less than three days.  Cullen transports you right into the gymnasium at Columbine High School where a throng of students chants "We are Col-um-BINE!" in a show of solidarity and excitement before heading off for prom weekend, the principal charging them all to get back Monday morning safe and sound.  There was no way he could have known that by that time on Tuesday, fifteen of those in the gym would be dead.  The amount of detail in this book is staggering and while some of his conclusions are conjecture, there are a wealth of sources for him to use to reach such determinations.  Some statements about moods, opinions, or personality might be a bit of a reach, but the majority of the book is fact-based reasoning.  I applaud Cullen for the painstaking effort he took to base every word on some kind of evidence, whether it be court documents, surveillance footage from the cafeteria of the school, eyewitness accounts, journal entries, or the infamous Basement Tapes.  He does not exclude himself as one of the "good journalists" who never got the story wrong, but immediately takes responsibility for his mistakes that April and devotes the next several hundred pages to getting it right. 

Columbine is not an easy book to read.  The prose flows smoothly and the pages turn quickly, but because it was produced in such impressive detail, it's like the reader is transported to Columbine for a front row seat and it most certainly isn't pretty.  It's sometimes hard to keep reading because you know that it was real.  Myths are debunked, truths are told, scandals are revealed, and unprecedented insights are shared.  For anyone who was left asking, "Why?" after the events of April 20, this book.  It's as close to an answer as we will probably ever come.

5 Stars.


  1. What a great review of my book, Sarah. Thanks for all the time and though you put into it. And thanks for helping get the word out.

    I can't imagine what it was like to be in high school while it was all unfolding.

    FYI, this short video summarizes the Columbine shooting and the killers’ motives in three minutes. And there's more info at my Columbine site.

  2. "Columbine" by Dave Cullen is all right. I would in no way, shape or form ever refer to it as "remarkable" though. I've read three other books on the same subject as well as "Columbine" and while I wouldn't call those books remarkable either they're all better than "Columbine", in my opinion. "No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine" by Brooks Brown, "Columbine: A True Crime Story" by Jeff Kass and especially "Comprehending Columbine" by Ralph Larkin are, in their own way, superior to Cullen's book, in research done and in factual reporting to name a few reasons. If you can stand to read another book on this subject I would strongly urge you to read the three I mentioned.

    Oh, and one more thing? Not Brown, Kass or Larkin has ever, to my knowledge, pimped their book or website (if they even have a website) on blog review after blog review after blog review of their books. This has nothing to do with the quality of their books, of course, but to me it does show something about the quality of the author.

  3. Lisa, thanks so much for your comment. This is the first and only book on Columbine I have read to date, so I admit that I don't have other material to compare it to. From that perspective, I wrote my review based on my personal reaction to the novel, which honestly had me pretty transfixed. Perhaps it did have something to do with the fact that I was in high school during the attack, so it was easy for me to feel "connected" with the material. I think I'd need some time in between to recharge, so to speak, but I would certainly be interested in reading any one of the other books you mentioned.

    Dave - Thanks for stopping by to read my review and for your comment! Congrats on all the hard work and a great book!

  4. Thanks, Sarah. It's gratifying to find readers so engaged in my work. That's what I do it for. It did take way too long, and it messed with my head quite a bit, but it's over now, and I'm grateful to hear from people like you. (And eager to write something a bit less emotional this next time.)

    Thanks for supporting writers. It helps. And thanks for getting the word out. That is REALLY hard in this day, and blogs like yours--and even people who talk about books--are keeping an important art form alive and (moderately) healthy.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This was my favorite book of 2009. Great review.


Thanks for joining our discussion of this book!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...