Columbine (Review)

February 27, 2012

Book cover for "Columbine" by Dave Cullen.Title: Columbine

Author: Dave Cullen

Narrator: Don Leslie

Publication Year: 2009

Pages: 464 (audio length: 14 hours 9 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

On April 20, 1999, two boys 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 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 came to stockpile a basement cache of weapons, to record their raging hatred, and to manipulate every adult who got in their way. They 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 tragedy.

This book fascinated and horrified me in pretty well equal measure.

I was still in school when the Columbine school shooting occurred. In fact, I was just finishing up elementary school, and was about to move on to high school in a few months – so it was doubly scary for me when we heard about it in the news and at school. And throughout my years in high school, it seemed as if there were more and more school shootings happening in its wake. I’m not sure if it was really as bad as it seemed, or if things were just overblown in the media (something that Cullen talks about in this book), but it was scary. And a few years ago, when I finally finished school and started working as a high school teacher, school violence was definitely something that was always at the back of our minds. We talked about it in teacher’s college, and after I finished one of my practicum placements … there was a stabbing at that school a few weeks later.

And so, I’d had this book loaded and ready to read for months, but hadn’t gotten around to it for quite a while. When I finally did pick up Columbine, I found that I could only digest a certain amount of it at once. Despite the fact that I was a teenager when this happened, and that it was all over the news, I didn’t really know much about what had happened, even superficially. So I was learning quite a bit while listening to this book, and not just the “new” things that a lot of other people probably learned from it. I was also learning a lot of the basics. And it was completely overwhelming at times.

It was also completely engrossing. I wanted to know what happened, especially how something could get so out of control and become such a huge media sensation and seemingly start an epidemic of school violence in America for years to come. It was hard to put down, even when I was listening to really difficult sections.

Cullen did a fantastic job of distilling the information that is available about the Columbine incident into a book that is both easy to follow and extremely detailed at the same time. He has a knack for really laying it all out there, without passing judgement on anyone involved or influencing the story with his own opinions. Rather, Columbine is an excellent example of a reporter going back and setting the record straight on an incident that, by his own admission, he was part of the media mis-reporting of in the first place.

If you’re interested in learning more about school violence, or about teenage psychopathy – or about Columbine in particular – definitely pick up a copy of this book. It’s worth the read, and you’ll find yourself completely engrossed in both the details and the narration.

Rating:

2 Comments

  • Nana Fredua-Agyeman February 27, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    This is a book I will love to read and I’ll buy it anytime I come across it. I have heard a lot about the Columbine massacre; it has slipped through my conversation and would love to read about it, actually.

    I would have loved it if you have stated a thing or two instead of the generalisation but then you have raised my interest and hope to find it one day.

  • Helen Murdoch February 27, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    I thought this book was really interesting when I read it over the summer. The details the author got a hold of were amazing

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