Columbine is a nonfiction book by Dave Cullen. It is an account of everything to do with the tragedy, including events before and post, and accounts of many of the people affected by it. It even includes excerpts of Eric and Dylan’s journals and plans.
This is a book that my local Indigo featured a while ago and it caught my eye. I’m a fan of non-fiction and this event was both harrowing and fascinating.
Here’s the cover:
And here’s the synopsis of the book, pulled from Amazon:
“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.”
Finally, here’s my review of Columbine!
This was a tough read. However, I want to be clear that the fact that it was difficult has nothing to do with my review.
What I loved most about this book was the breadth and depth of its storytelling. Not only was the novel about the perpetrators of the killing spree, Eric and Dylan; it was also about the vast numbers of victims, investigators, journalists, first-responders, and their families and friends that were affected by this tragedy.
The research was detailed and in-depth. Like the Amazon review, states, Cullen spent 10 years working on pulling it all together into this comprehensive account.
What I found most important was Cullen’s emphasis on the why of the event. This was much distorted by the media coverage. Many believed the boys were lashing out at people who bullied them such as jocks. They were not. They also weren’t actually being bullied. Many believed that it was to do with their involvement in the Trenchcoat Mafia, a group at Columbine at the time. It wasn’t. They also weren’t a part of that group. Eric was a psychopath. Dylan had severe depression and suicidal ideation. Their combination of personalities created this great tragedy.
Other Great Stuff
Write here. Talk about how touching the writing was – how many times my heart dropped.
Another thing I found really important about this book was the author’s emphasis on flipping the script from the biggest school shooting in history (at the time) to a complete and utter failure. Not that it would have been better if the boys had succeeded — their plan was to destroy the entire high school with bombs and kill over 600 people — but that the media’s portrayal of the boys at the “top of the list” so-to-speak for mass murders glorified them and made them the “success” they wanted in their last acts, when truly they failed, utterly, at everything they were trying to carry out.
In a similar vein, Cullen also emphasized the important role the media must play in the future of diminishing the time spent covering the perpetrators of these types of crimes, and focusing on the victims and the circumstances. Part of the reason that psychopaths commit these types of crimes is that they love the spectacle of it. They want to be in the spotlight. Reducing their time in that limelight makes the crime less desirable.
I found that the book jumped around a lot. I would have preferred it to follow a more linear timeline. However, I understand the reasoning behind it skipping from thing to thing – there’s just so many accounts to include, and they all relate to different aspects of the event. It could have done a bit better if it was more chronological, in my opinion. You’re often going back and forward in time.
Overall, 4/5 stars. I definitely recommend this one to mature readers, with the caveat that it will likely affect your mental health during and post-reading. Tread with care and take good care of yourself during and after the reading experience!
Happy (ish) reading!
– Paperback Patronus