Columbine: Meticulously Researched, Disturbing & Rather Open-Ended

Columbine happened over a decade ago now. Either I had successfully erased the coverage from my mind or perhaps in Canada we weren't bombarded as relentlessly with the story. Either way, reading this book was almost like experiencing the tragedy for the first time and boy was it disturbing.

One of the things I really loved about Methlandwas that it skillfully balanced horrific true-life stories of meth addicts with big picture discussion of how meth came to be so ingrained in the American Midwest.

Columbine plays out more like a true crime novel. It gives a blow by blow account of the killers' plans and exactly what transpired in the school that day. I ask you - do I need to know? Do I need to know who was hiding behind a table and then saw what person shot before their very eyes? Do I need to know how the killers committed suicide?

The book does delve into how the pairing of Eric (a full blown psychopath, charming yet deceitful with no capacity for empathy) and Dylan (a suicidally depressed kid) was lethal. As for their home life, Cullen refuses to speculate as little is known (in particular about Eric's parents, who have never spoken to the press).

Columbine also briefly looks at the school's dynamics. Although it was headed up by a very capable and beloved principal, the kids tended to present their most winning sides to him, while the real truth of their lives was concealed. In a mega school of thousands this wouldn't be hard. It's also a misconception that Eric and Dylan were outcasts looking for revenge. The reality is that they had a wide circle of friends and that they tended to do the bullying.

It's also mentioned that gun laws weren't as tight in the 90's. Arms could easily be purchased at gun shows by anyone over the age of 18 and without a background check.

The book presents us with the evidence and ultimately leaves it to us to decide what went wrong. I think what I was looking for, though, was a broader discussion on why school shootings happen with such terrifying frequency in the US. Though it does mention other shootings briefly, Columbine left me with the impression that Dylan and Eric's crime was an isolated case caused largely by mental instability. I just don't believe that's all there is to it. Does there need to be more support for kids' mental health? Should high schools be smaller to allow for individual attention? I hope to find a book that addresses these questions (suggestions welcome!).

Columbine/ Dave Cullen / Twelve (Hachette) / PB, 2010


alexiskienlen said...

This book was probably my top non-fiction book last year. Unfortunately, it gave me nightmares for 2 days.

I thought it was brilliantly researched and I wanted the blow by blow depiction of the crime. But then, I realize that part of me is coming at this through my journalistic background, and that might be a reason why I appreciated this (can't say that I ENJOYED it).

B.Kienapple said...

Alexis, I didn't give Cullen enough props in my review of how well-researched this book is. He must have talked to every person, read every document etc. It IS a full account of the tragedy, and I suppose that was his original intention in writing the book.

I forgot to mention how much I love this cover! You really get the sense that the school was dwarfed by much greater issues. However I'm still unsure of what those might be...

Joanne ♦ The Book Zombie said...

I'd always wanted to read more than newspaper reports about Columbine, but I really dislike how most of the books about this incident were so tabloid sensationalist sounding. However I read this one on a recommendation of a friend and was very satisfied. I loved how it presented all the details without appearing to have any bias. I can really appreciate a writer who tackles such a huge topic while maintaining their personal distance.

starviego said...

"I just don't believe that's all there is to it."

Oh yeah, you are right about that. The big secret about Columbine is that there were more involved than just Harris and Klebold. Don’t believe me? Just ask the eyewitnesses:

The same thing happened at the Dawson College shooting. The witnesses said there was definitely more than one shooter.

brichtabooks said...

Thanks for your review. I sometimes feel like this whole thing happened yesterday. I remember it so clearly. I am curious to read this, but I think you make a good point that there is more to school shootings on a national level than was presented. I will keep that in mind.

B.Kienapple said...

I love how this post attracted a conspiracy theorist.

Joanne-I enjoyed that Cullen presented the tragedy as unsensationally and with as little bias as possible however I did end up wishing that he would make some of his own conclusions. I guess, in the end, Cullen just wanted to compile the fullest account of the tragedy possible. I think conclusions would have seemed like conjecture to him.


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