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Review: Columbine

August 31, 2012

I’m sure most people know that two students carried out an attack on others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999, killing twelve students and one teacher, and injuring over 20 others, before turning their guns on themselves.   I remember exactly where I was when I watched the events unfold on a 24 hour television news channel with millions of other people.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that, in their rush to be the first to get the news out, many news sources were reporting false information and much of that misinformation has come to be accepted as the truth.

After years of meticulous research, Dave Cullen has written the definitive account of the attack and the events leading up to it in his simply titled book, Columbine.  Cullen puts a human face on both the killers and the victims without glorifying or demonizing either and sets the facts straight on so many urban legends that have swirled around the events.  It’s obvious the author has done his homework, spending years poring over every file related to the event.  He includes notes and a bibliography in the back of the book.  The story is told in a non-linear fashion, otherwise it might be too difficult to stomach, and I found it compelling, compulsively readable, and deeply disturbing.

I was hoping to learn how we can prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future, but Cullen provides no answers.  It’s easy to spot warning signs after the fact, but they aren’t always apparent beforehand.  I think I, like most people, read books like this wondering how something like this could happen and it becomes clear fairly quickly that there are no definitive answers.

National polls taken shortly after the attack would identify all sorts of culprits contributing to the tragedy: violent movies, video games, Goth culture, lax gun laws, bullies, and Satan.  Eric did not make the list.  Dylan didn’t either.  They were just kids.  Something or someone must have led them astray.  Wayne and Kathy [Harris] and Tom and Sue [Klebold] were the chief suspects.  They dwarfed all other causes, blamed by 85 percent of the population in a Gallup poll.  They had the additional advantage of being alive, to be pursued.

Having said that, I was amazed at the bungling the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department did before, during, and after the tragedy.  Columbine left me with as many questions as answers, so I think it would make a great discussion book for book clubs and high school English classes.  Don’t let the difficult subject matter keep you from reading this excellent book.

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39 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2012 4:22 am

    I’ve never heard of that shooting before. Most likely because I’m a young obnoxious whippersnapper of a teen. 🙂
    But that sounds very interesting. It reminded me immediately of Pumped of Kicks.
    Anyway, sure to pick this up, after I ready myself for the sadness and disturbing parts.

    XOXO Kim the Insomniac Bee

  2. Amy @ My Friend Amy permalink
    August 31, 2012 4:33 am

    I’ve been wanting to read this for a long time, thanks for the reminder.

  3. August 31, 2012 6:22 am

    I’ve read other good reviews about this one, but just don’t think I could read another sad book right now.

  4. August 31, 2012 6:30 am

    Sadly, I don’t think the are any answers to stopping these things, easy or otherwise.

  5. August 31, 2012 7:16 am

    I have a hard time reading about events I saw play out on “the news” but I can see where, this far out, a good writer could present a better assessment of what happened. Not sure I’ll read this one but it’s good to know it comes highly recommended.

  6. August 31, 2012 7:41 am

    I’ve wanted to read this book, but I know it will be hard and I’ve got kids in HS still. A very scary realitymm

  7. August 31, 2012 8:12 am

    Your review is spot on! I thought the book might provide some answers, too, but realized that it couldn’t. These tragedies just happen unfortunately. It is terrifying and sad to think that we can’t figure out a way to prevent them. And, I couldn’t believe all the false info the media aired – it was crazy! Plus, the police and all their mistakes – OMG! This is definitely a worthwhile read and I’m glad you posted about it. Great post!!

  8. August 31, 2012 8:38 am

    I’m not sure there could be any answers to this tough question…what makes a student turn so far away from everything that life is meaningless and worth taking…I’m saddened that these students have no one there that they feel supports them and to help them cope.

  9. August 31, 2012 8:41 am

    Yes, books like this are so scary for me. My stomach gets tied into knots with the unanswerable questions. But I do want to read this someday.

  10. Patty permalink
    August 31, 2012 9:09 am

    This sounds like a thought provoking book…

  11. August 31, 2012 10:02 am

    I also remember where I was when this was happening and couldn’t even believe it. It seemed like a horrible, horrible movie and I just wanted it over. I’ve meant to read this book, but I always get nervous. Like you, I’d want something to help me know what “the signs” are, but it’s never that easy to see things before they happen. What a terrible and tragic event, and these recent shootings across the country make me scared to go outside sometimes.

  12. August 31, 2012 10:09 am

    I was in middle school when Columbine happened — and it deeply affected me. When the Virginia Tech shootings happened during my college years, thoughts of Columbine came swiftly rushing back. Though this book sounds very thought-provoking, I don’t know if I could stomach it.

  13. August 31, 2012 10:52 am

    I remember Columbine very well, so shocking and sad. This book does sound like an engrossing read, and I’ll have to track it down sometime. I didn’t know there was so much misinformation out there about the event. Glad the author was able to set the record straight.

  14. August 31, 2012 11:21 am

    A terrifying event, something you don’t forget.

  15. talesofwhimsy permalink
    August 31, 2012 11:27 am

    I’m with you.
    I want to see ways to spot and prevent.
    It’s sad that he wasn’t able to give any.

  16. August 31, 2012 12:16 pm

    My niece had this book a few years ago and I started reading it. I only got about 20 pages into it when she came and got it so she could go home. I’ve always meant to either borrow it from her or get a copy and finish it. Those first pages were gripping. I really need to read the rest of it.

  17. August 31, 2012 12:27 pm

    This sounds like an informative and thought provoking book on a disturbing event.
    Good to hear the author did his research and gives the facts without demonizing or glorifying.
    When things like this happen, it can be easy to place blame or to try and understand the reasons why. I remember watching the news coverage and being in shock.
    Great review.

  18. bookingmama permalink
    August 31, 2012 12:52 pm

    Fabulous review. You sold me! I can’t wait to read it.

  19. sandynawrot permalink
    August 31, 2012 1:08 pm

    I was traumatized by the actual events, right up there with 9/11 I think. But I did read this book, and it was one of my favorites of the year two years ago. Amazing AMAZING book, so well researched and respectful to all involved.

  20. August 31, 2012 2:40 pm

    I went out and got a copy of this book after seeing so many positive reviews of it, but haven’t managed to fit it in yet. I must remedy that. The first comment on this post mentions a song about school shootings, and I loathe that song because it seems to celebrate these sorts of shootings. I lived in Eugene at the time of the Thurston (in Springfield – Eugene’s adjacent city) shootings, and it was quite traumatic for the whole community.

  21. August 31, 2012 4:52 pm

    I think you are right that there are no easy answers. I’ve seen Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’ but I don’t know how accurate it was, either way it was thought provoking. Great review today, you really made me think.

  22. August 31, 2012 5:04 pm

    Great review and book trailer. This book attempts to understand this tragic event, and perhaps we can garner some insights from it.

  23. August 31, 2012 5:15 pm

    This was such an awful horrific tragedy with an aftermath filled with so much pain and sadness. I’m not surprised that the facts were bungled by the media in their haste to report the “event” but it’s aggravating this is done.

    This book sounds riveting and extremely interesting but tough to read. You have piqued my interst in it and I’m going to look it up next time I’m in a bookstore.

    Great review, Kathy, thank you!

  24. therelentlessreader permalink
    August 31, 2012 6:43 pm

    I read this a while back and was so glad that I did. It left me understanding the events much better. Not the reasons WHY it happened, because who in the world could understand that? But the HOW was definitely much better explained than it was from the media in the immediate days following the shooting.

  25. August 31, 2012 7:18 pm

    19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult tackled a similar event which was a great book for discussion. I don’t think I could read this. Very sad.

  26. cherylmash permalink
    August 31, 2012 7:38 pm

    I have been waiting to see what you thought of this book.I’m glad to know that the killers weren’t sensationalized. and am surprised learning about the police. This one will be going on my tbr list. Thank you for your candid review.

  27. August 31, 2012 7:41 pm

    I listened to this a few years back and to this day it remains one of the best audiobooks I have EVER listened to. The narration is amazing and the research is impeccable. Such a sad and disturbing situation but the book was absolutely fantastic.

  28. August 31, 2012 8:58 pm

    This was a compelling read that didn’t provide easy answers but helped clarify a lot of the misreporting that went on during that tragedy. I thought it almost read like a novel at parts, and it stuck with me for days. Excellent review of an excellent book.

  29. August 31, 2012 10:35 pm

    Kathy, what a fantastic review. I’ve read a lot of positive reviews about this book and yours just reminded me why I need to read this.

  30. September 1, 2012 11:11 am

    I read this book a year or so ago and found it very interesting. As someone who works in a public high school where we had a real lockdown situation (with no bad results, thank goodness), we are definitely aware of the possibiltiies

  31. September 2, 2012 1:16 pm

    After reading We Need to Talk about Kevin I knew I had to read this but I have to be in the right mood for it.

    I think your absolutely right, after these tragic events it is easier to see the warning signs but you never want to think it could happen, so so sad.

    It is on my TBR list.

  32. September 3, 2012 11:58 am

    I read this one a couple of years ago and I STILL think about it. By and far one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read. I still have many questions too that will probably never be answered.

  33. September 3, 2012 10:31 pm

    I purchased this one on….I too remember where I was. What a tragic story but I think it’s important to read it.

  34. September 4, 2012 6:09 pm

    I tend to avoid reliving these kinds of events. I suppose there really are no good answers. I do like non-fiction so perhaps the audio would work for me.

  35. September 5, 2012 10:49 am

    I loved this book when I read it a few years back. I found it very well researched and written. I was amazed too at all the mistakes people made and all the false information that made its way out in the aftermath.

  36. September 5, 2012 5:28 pm

    I didn’t realize the media released false information. I’m not sure I could read this book, but it does sound interesting.

  37. September 5, 2012 9:55 pm

    Thanks for that really nice review, Kathy–and all the gracious comments, too. I’m really pleased it had an impact on many of you. That’s all a writer could hope for. Hearing that is what keeps me at the keyboard (SLOWLY) working on my next book.

    (Sorry it took so long for me to get here.)

  38. September 6, 2012 11:18 pm

    Very cool that I get to follow the author 🙂

  39. September 13, 2012 8:29 pm

    I appreciated that the author provided a comprehensive account of this tragedy. Also, that he takes the time to comment on blogs.

    Dave: What’s the topic of the book you are working on? Fiction? Non-Fiction? Any little bits you can throw our way? 🙂

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