Columbine by Dave Cullen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is definitely a must-read. The only pity, in a manner of speaking, is that it took as long as it did to come out and reveal the truth about the events at Columbine High School. The author does an excellent job of digging deeply into the various sources-- subjects interviewed, police and other expert reports, press coverage, etc.-- to give an accurate and very chilling picture of what really happened at Columbine and how it happened. The book also provides the answer that eluded people for a long time: why did Harris and Klebold do what they did.
This book will move you at times. It may make you angry at times, and it will engage you as a reader. The book is not only a look at the events and an analysis, but it is also a very well written narrative that can be read a bit like a thriller. It is very well researched, and readers will find extensive endnotes as well as good bibliography at the end of the book for those wanting to do further reading or verify some of the arguments and ideas presented in the book. The book also presents a very dramatic human story. There is tragedy, but there is also deceit. For example, the local police engaged in serious efforts to cover up various items and facts, and a certain memoir embraced by evangelicals is pretty much based on a myth (and they knew it but chose to go to press anyways). There is neglect in various stages that may lead readers to consider (I would say fairly accurately) that the tragedy could have been stopped; Harris and Klebold had previous contacts with law enforcement that were not paid serious attention for instance.
Overall, this may well become a definitive book on the topic, and it should be required reading in schools of education. It does illustrate the idea that it can indeed happen anywhere, and it shatters the usual stereotypes (some goth kid going on a spree, revenge on jocks, etc.). This is a book I highly recommend but be prepared to be challenged. Be ready to learn a new thing or two, and be prepared to reflect and consider how such events can be prevented in the future.
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- The press to a large measure failed. Much like today, they would speculate when they lacked facts, often more worried in breaking the news than actually getting things right. Some things never seem to change.
- From page 125, this is something not many think about, assuming they even knew about the bombs Harris and Klebold made and deployed, which failed to explode. The event was not really a shooting; it was a bombing that failed.
- Things that made me angry as I read: cops covering up facts and reports in order to preserve an image or being more concerned about how they would be seen than doing what was right. Many detectives put in excellent work only to have their superiors hide it for various reasons of self-interest. A significant number of evangelicals used the tragedy more to proselytize aggressively instead of comforting their communities when they most needed (this even disturbed other mainline protestants in the area). That they embraced the Bernall myth so easily angered me too because it was about keeping a certain image rather than seeking truth.
- Harris and Klebold had left signs all over the place. For instance, Harris had a website with various specific, detailed threats on it. This was mostly ignored or buried at the time.
Update note (10/19/10): Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace, &a Tea Cozy read the book and provides an excellent and well-written review that is worth reading.