November 6, 2011

Columbine by Dave Cullen

How do you even begin to review a book like this one? To put your thoughts down in words about a book so real, so disturbing, and so well written? It's hard to figure out my own thoughts, let alone write them for you to read and analyze. But I'm going to try because this is a book that should be read and a story that should be understood.

Columbine by Dave Cullen is a non-fiction book that explains not only the how, and what happened during the Columbine High School shootings on April 20, 1999, but the why. It delves into the lives of not only the victims of the shooting but the shooters themselves, and I think that's why this book is so necessary. While the book is factual and based on years of research and interviews, it reads like fiction and at times you forget and are incredulous that this tragedy actually happened.

Cullen jumps around from the years leading up to the shooting, to the day of the shooting, to the days and years following the shooting. This type of writing structure can be dizzying and confusing in other books, but in Columbine it works in a way that allows Cullen to fit together all of pieces of this confusing puzzle. The other thing that I loved about this book was that it presented the evidence without assumptions and without placing or avoiding blame. When a tragedy occurs, people always want to know who's at fault. Cullen presents the facts in a way that they are really just that, facts. At no point in the book did I think, oh Cullen thinks that it's the fault of this person. Or that if this person did this, Columbine wouldn't have happened. Because really, you never know. No matter what anyone did, it still might've happened and I appreciate that he didn't dwell on the "what if," but rather focused on the reality.

In short, while difficult to read because of the disturbing nature of the subject, this book was one of the best I've read in a long time and I recommend it to anyone, again with the caveat that Cullen is transparent in his knowledge. He presents the facts and tells things like they are, which at times is tough to handle. But in the end, when tragedy occurs, people want to know why. And through Columbine, Dave Cullen helps readers understand why. 5 stars

Check out Sarah's thoughts on the book in her review from September 2010 here.

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  1. Good review! I remember thinking that it was tough to even write a review for this book because it was so unique a reading experience. Tough to get through at times, but well worth it.

  2. 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

  3. Hi, thanks for the really nice review of my book, Playful. I'm glad you liked the structure: that was the hardest part to figure out, by far. I literally spent several years trying to get that right. (Nine and a half years in, I finally made the last key change on that, right before it went to production.

    (FYI, this is always awkward, but the GM who follows me around the web to paste that same msg in is the publisher of the book he's touting there. He always forgets to mention that. And his posting is misleading in several ways. Read my author's note yourself to see that his first sentence is outright fabrication.)

  4. For a more balanced and, in my opinion, better researched look into what happened at Columbine High School and why, you should definitely read three other books on the same subject. They are "Comprehending Columbine" by Ralph Larkin, "Columbine: A True Crime Story" by Jeff Kass and "No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine" by Brooks Brown.

    The latter of those three books was written by a fellow student and friend of Dylan Klebold's. Brown was witness to many incidents of both Eric Harris and Klebold being bullied at school, and believes bullying to be one of the factors that led the two to attack their school. The first book, written by Mr. Larkin, an American sociologist, takes an extremely thorough look at the atmosphere in and around Columbine High School; Mr. Larkin described it as "toxic" and he as well says that bullying was a factor in the Columbine massacre. The second book I listed was written by Mr. Kass, who was one of the very first Denver journalists to cover the massacre from the very beginning.

    I highly recommend all three of the books that I mentioned. But if you could only stand to read one more on the subject then I would make it Larkin's book. The contrast between his and Cullen's book is remarkable.


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