On Monday, I reviewed a heartbreaking, courageous and interesting book written by Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two boys who committed the violent shootings at Columbine High School on April 20,1999. (See my review here.) After reading Sue's account, I knew that I needed to know more, so I tackled Columbine by Dave Cullen. Both books are riveting reads that explored the event and the psychological state of the killers. This week, marks the 17th anniversary of this horrific tragedy. Before Columbine, school shootings were unheard of, now we know better. What impacted me the most about both of these books was the fact that our idea of a school shooter is wrong. The myth that a school shooter is someone who is a loner, one who comes from a damaged background and is bullied until he snaps because of a dramatic event is usually wrong. A school shooter could be the most intelligent, charming and cunning student in the class. What can we learn from these books? I know that I have learned plenty, and I hope that perhaps some of you will take the challenge and inform yourself by reading these titles.
Here is my review:
Columbine by Dave Cullen
"The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . . " So begins a new epilogue, illustrating how Columbine became the template for nearly two decades of "spectacle murders." It is a false script, seized upon by a generation of new killers. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year.
What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we "know" is wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world's leading forensic psychologists, and the killers' own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.
Hardcover, 360 pages
Published April 6th 2009 by Twelve
Four stars: A riveting and in depth look at the Columbine tragedy.
April 20,1999 was a dark day in American history. It was a day of violence, horror and tragedy, as the world watched students running in terror from their high school, while inside, two of their own went on a shooting spree. Americans sat stunned, glued to their televisions, wondering why two teenagers would turn into murderers. It is also a day that we lost a little more of our innocence. From that day forward, school shootings have become a shocking reality that few could fathom before that date. Years beyond the shootings, we still find ourselves asking why? Columbine is a book that attempts to answer the nagging questions. This is a well researched, detailed and shocking book that exposes the truths, the rumors and the myths surrounding the tragedy. A must read for anyone who wants the truth.
What I Liked:
- I am the type of reader that always wants to know more once I have been exposed to a topic that grabs my attention. After reading Sue Klebold's book: A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, I knew I needed to get an unbiased account of the tragedy. Mr. Cullen's book is a remarkable piece of literature. It is well researched, informative as it sets out to expose the truth about the shooting and the fallout afterwards. I came away with an all new understanding of the event. A book you need to read for the truth.
- First, I applaud the author for the incredible amount of research and detail that went into this book. I can only imagine the hours and hours spent sorting through documents and data to provide a clear picture that dispels many of the erroneous beliefs and myths that the public has when it comes to Columbine. I certainly learned a lot.
- The first part of the book covers the shooting, and it explores the lives of the two killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. I was shocked to learn that the two intended to actually blow up the school, and that their planned death toll was supposed to be in the hundreds, instead of thirteen. It was horrifying, shocking and haunting to learn what made these two tick, and it was sad to learn more about the victims. It was an eye opening read.
- For me, the most fascinating thing about this book was that it dispelled so many incorrect beliefs. The public, myself included, has long believed that the shootings were the result of two teenagers snapping after years of bullying by the popular kids. In reality, this was far from the truth. The shooting was well planned, in fact, Eric Harris plotted for over a year, his heinous final act. Cullen digs deep into the psychological backgrounds of Klebold and Harris, and we learn that Eric Harris is a true psychopath, one who has no moral compass, capable of extreme and cruel violence. Harris is likened to some of the most notorious serial killers: Gacy, Dahmer, Bundy. He was obsessed with hatred, violence and murder, but on the outside, he was smart, cunning and able to fool everyone, including is own parents. I was riveted by the whole discussion of psychopaths. Klebold was not a psychopath. He was a shy, awkward kid who struggled deeply with depression and suicidal thoughts. When coupled with Harris, the two became a perfect storm for death and destruction. I came away shocked. Don't think you can profile a school shooter, because the myth that they are a loner, someone who is bullied to the point where they snap, is almost always wrong.
- I appreciated that the book also follows many of the survivors who were injured during the attack as well as some of the families who lost loved ones. Patrick's story was very inspirational. I was also surprised to learn the truth about some of the other stories that came about after the tragedy. Especially the myth surrounding the story of Cassie Bernal.
- At the end, the book explores a bit of the aftermath, and what we have learned from this incident. Are we any closer to eliminating school shootings now than we were then? You decide.
And The Not So Much:
- I was glued to the pages during the first portion of the story as it covered the lives of the two killers leading up to the shooting and then the shooting itself. When the book hit the midway point, I struggled a bit, because the narrative felt a bit too chaotic and unorganized. I realize there is so much information to incorporate, but I am not sure the author pulled it off in the best way. For instance, you have chapters that start by discussing a person or topic, and then they switch to an entirely different person or subject in the next paragraph with no segue. So much information was thrown out wildly during the second half. I wished that he had organized it a bit better. Perhaps it would have been better to have sections on Eric and Dylan, then the shooting, the victims and the investigation instead of switching it back and forth throughout.
- This book doesn't hold back. It covers the violent and gruesome details of the shooting. Not to mention, Eric Harris journals are very disturbing. I recommend this for mature readers only.
- I thought the final portion of the book was a bit rushed. I wished that there was more on the aftermath, and how things have changed since the event.
Columbine is a massive undertaking. Mr Cullen took on a daunting task and delivered to us a book that attempts to explain and debunk a horrible tragedy that scarred our country. This is an in depth, well researched and fascinating book that covers the lives of the two killers, the tragedy itself, the stories of the survivors and the victims as well as the investigation and the aftermath. A riveting and informative read that I will never forget.
I borrowed a copy of this book from the library in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own, and I was not compensated for this review.
So tell me, what do you know about Columbine?