Book Review – Columbine

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Columbine | Dave Cullen

417 pages | 2009

True Crime, Psychology, Creative Nonfiction

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – New favorite! Read it now!

From the Book Jacket

“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’ …”

The Depressive & the Psychopath: Why Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold attacked Columbine

Video from Dave Cullen’s YouTube channel

Review

Cullen recounts multiple aspects of the shooting that occured at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. He begins the book with descriptions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. These vignettes make both boys appear normal and relatable: “Outwardly, Eric and Dylan looked like normal young boys about to graduate. They were testing authority, testing their sexual prowess – a little frustrated with the dumbasses they had to deal with, a little full of themselves. Nothing unusual for high school” (10).

Cullen introduces Columbine High with the following imagery, “(it) sits on a softly rolling meadow at the edge of a sprawling park, in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains” (11). Without knowing the nature of what occurred, the beautiful setting teases the reader into thinking that nothing bad could ever happen there.

Imagery pervades throughout the book and often paints a sad, death-filled picture of what Eric and Dylan caused: “The killers had left the library in turmoil: shots, screams, explosions, and forty-two teens moaning, gasping, and praying. The commotion had ceased, replaced by the piercing fire alarm. The smoke cleared; a warm breeze floated through the blown-out windows” (352).

Another strength of the book is the elaborate detail into what happened leading up to, during, and after the shooting. The book is divided into five sections:

I. Female Down
II. After and Before
III. The Downward Spiral
IV. Take Back the School
V. Judgement Day

Each chapter within each part has a focus, but within the chapter, updates are provided about how, why, and what Eric and Dylan were thinking, feeling and enacting; how survivors, families, the school community, and the actual school building recovered from the massacre; actions the Sheriff’s department and victim’s families took; and tons of other viewpoints.

Columbine fits into what some would call odd genre – creative nonfiction. I think there should be more creative nonfiction authors and books out there for people to read and enjoy, especially students. Nonfiction has a bad reputation for being boring and uninteresting. Cullen’s approach to writing Columbine is an outstanding example of how nonfiction can be engaging and provoking while still delivering the facts.

There were several moments in the book where my eyes welled up with tears over what transpired at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Cullen is a craftsman with words and did an spectacular job making me feel like I was there. This was done so well that I had to put the book down several times and walk away due to the feelings that were released from reading certain passages. I also put the book down after the San Bernardino shooting just because I couldn’t bring myself to read about more gun violence that killed innocent people.

Recommendation

If you have an interest in the social science, psychology, and/or how the Columbine shooting has affected pop culture and mass media, this book is for you. Cullen does not censor or limit the details of the Columbine shooting, so if you don’t do well with numerous accounts of death, violence, and/or language, this book won’t sit well with you. I would recommend this book to an older audience, such as college students and beyond due to the graphic material. 

Why Did I Read This Book?

What was Columbine?

Why does the media slap the label of “another Columbine” onto each school shooting that occurs? 

To put it simply: I wanted to know more about the Columbine Tragedy, and I have had a general curiosity about the event that occurred in Littleton, Colorado. I was only nine at the time of the shooting, I really don’t remember it unfolding on TV. The implications on school security, school building layouts, and zero tolerance talk about guns and shootings had an impact on my secondary education and continues to affect me as an educator.

Happy Reading!


2019 Update: Dave Cullen’s book Parkland: Birth of a Movement will be released tomorrow, February 12, 2019. I’ve been following Dave’s writing on the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School over the past year, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he writes about the phoenix-like students and community who have risen from the ashes to both continue their lives and have their voices heard.

One thought

  1. Ben, like you, I have gravitated toward stories that provoke thinking, and are filled with difficult facts about social issues. I started out reading, “Black Like Me,” and, “Dibs, In Search of Self,” in elementary school, then graduated to true, mass murder stories (“Helter Skelter,” and others), then Malcolm X, The Glass Castle, and on and on. Thanks for continuing the work that you do, to inform and educate others.

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