Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Review: Columbine by Dave Cullen

Columbine by Dave Cullen
Published April 6th 2009
Hardcover, 417 pages

Description (Book Jacket)

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma City-style, and to leave "a lasting impression on the world." Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence-irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting "another Columbine."

When we think of Columbine, we think of the Trench Coat Mafia; we think of Cassie Bernall, the girl we thought professed her faith before she was shot; and we think of the boy pulling himself out of a school window-the whole world was watching him. Now, in a riveting piece of journalism nearly ten years in the making, comes the story none of us knew. In this revelatory book, Dave Cullen has delivered a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology. He lays bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold, who went to the Columbine prom three days earlier and obsessed about love in his journal.

The result is an astonishing account of two good students with lots of friends, who were secretly stockpiling a basement cache of weapons, recording their raging hatred, and manipulating every adult who got in their way. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold left signs everywhere, described by Cullen with a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boys' tapes and diaries, he gives the first complete account of the Columbine High School massacre.

In the tradition of Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood, Columbine is destined to be a classic. A close-up portrait of violence, a community rendered helpless, and police blunders and cover-ups, it is a compelling and utterly human portrait of two killers--an unforgettable cautionary tale for our time.

My thoughts:


Going into Columbine, I knew it wasn't going to be an easy read; And honestly, it wasn't. There were many times when I just needed to set the book down and take a breath. That's how I knew that this book was special, for it touched me in a way other books had not in a very long time.

The author, Dave Cullen, spent ten years covering Columbine, and he thoroughly knew his stuff, which made for a compelling read. The reaccounting of this massacre could have been disasterous if in another reporters or writers hand. I can picture a book filled with numerous pages berating the killers and their families for all the pain they caused. This is not that book. Instead, this book takes on a fresh perspective, one not riddled with judgement, but instead filled with analytical and comprehensive thoughts on the massacre, the killers, and the cover-up.

This isn't just the story of what happened at Columbine Hogh School on April 20, 1999. It delves in much deeper, focusing on what led to that fateful day, and the aftermath that millions witnessed firsthand. Whether you followed what happened at Columbine for years, or this is your first exploration into the massace, you will find what you are looking for in this exceptional book that will touch you in ways you can not imagine.

I can not reccomend this book highly enough.


  1. I love your review :)

    i read a couple of Columbine books a few years ago and was really moved by them. I'd probably like this one too. Such a powerful and complex story...

  2. Jenna, I can't tell you how happy that makes me. I'm really glad to see students embracing the book. (Actually, I've been excited to see how interested students still are in reading books, period. I toured a bunch of high schools this spring and was taken aback by the interest. It's nice to see the declared death of reading is once again total nonsense.)

    I'm glad you liked the lack of judgments. I thought I started with that approach, but well into it, I reread a draft and was stunned to see I was dissing the killers here and there with snarky comments. (Not all the time, but here and there.) I had to go back through searching and destroying those. There was no need for them, and all it did was likely distance readers like you from them. I realized that if you were going to understand Dylan, in particular, you needed to experience his extreme sadness and loneliness. I wanted you to inhabit him, not face him sneering at him. The worst thing I could do was berate him. (And how is that necessary anyway? He killed people: that speaks for itself.)

    So I cleaned it up. I'm glad it made a difference.

    So if you're interested, I created a Students Page, several videos and a Discussion Board. For schools and book clubs, I'm going to offer to skype in for 20-30 minutes this fall/summer.

    There's lots more info at my Columbine site.


  3. But a better book is Jeff Kass' Columbine: A True Crime Story

  4. Jenna, given that the subject matter of the book you reviewed can be difficult to read about I would understand if you didn't want to read any more on the subject of Columbine. However, if you are interested then I cannot recommend strongly enough three other books on the same subject: "Comprehending Columbine" by Ralph Larkin, "No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine" by Brooks Brown and "Columbine: A True Crime Story" by Jeff Kass.

    I've read all three plus the one you reviewed and it's my opinion that the three I've mentioned are superior to Cullen's "Columbine". That's not to say his book doesn't have anything to offer; it does, here and there. But again, IMO, it's flawed in both its research and writing, especially when the writing is from the viewpoint of the shooters (Cullen writing in teenage boy speak: cringe-worthy), and his reliance on questionable witnesses such as Brenda Parker.

    Anyway, I'm not the only one who has found disfavor with Cullen's book. Randy Brown, whose son Brooks was a classmate and friend of both Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, and who in his own right has spent at least as much time as and probably more than Cullen researching the Columbine attack was so unhappy with Cullen's book that he all but called it "a work of fiction". You can read his 1-star review at Amazon:

    There's another site that has some very well-informed and well-researched negative opinions on Cullen's "Columbine". Some links: