Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Columbine - Book #76

Title Columbine
Author Dave Cullen
Genre Non-Fiction
Pages 358
Publisher Twelve
Copyright 2009

Synopsis (from web-site)
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 the 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 were secretly stockpiling a basement cache of weapons, recording their raging hatred, and manipulating 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.

In the tradition of Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood, Columbine is destined to be a classic. A close-up portrait of violence, a community rendered helpless, and police blunders and cover-ups, it is a compelling and utterly human portrait of two killers-an unforgettable cautionary tale for our time.

Why I read It
I have always liked historical non-fiction, and Columbine has been on my mind with its tenth anniversary. I remember vividly when it happened and 10 years seemed like enough time for the myths to work themselves out.

The Good
I think the author did a very good job of presenting the facts with out sensationalizing it. He manages to present a sympathetic picture of Dylan Klebold without excuses his actions at all. He also gently clears up a lot of the misconceptions (i.e. myths) that were built up immediately around the event (like the She said Yes).

The Bad
While there is value to understanding the motivations of the killers, it can be seen as too much. A lot of people will not care why they did it because ultimately there is no reason. Also there are no photo’s at all so I spent a lot of time going online to see all the people he was talking about. He did not include the detailed story of the library, where 10 of the students were killed, and they committed suicide. Finally I found myself wanting a little biography of all the victims.

The Ugly (my opinion)
A very good book and extremely informative. If you want to know more about what happened at Columbine, or the psychology of perpetrators of violence in general, this is a great resource for your library. For some reason the author left out parts of the story and I had to supplement with my own research (but it was easy to find). I also looked up a lot of where are they now stories as that wasn’t really part of the book.

The Truth? (other reviews)
New York Magazine
New York Times

Mormon Mentions

Author Biography

Dave Cullen is a journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller Columbine, an indelible portrait of the killers, the victims, and the community that suffered one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century. He has contributed to the New York Times, Slate, Salon, Times of London, Washington Post and the Guardian.

Cullen is considered a leading authority on the Columbine killers, and has also written extensively on Evangelical Christians, gays in the military, politics, and pop culture. A graduate of the MA program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Cullen has won several writing awards, including a GLAAD Media Award, Society of Professional Journalism awards, the Jovanovich Imaginative Writing Award, and several Best of Salon citations. He is an Ochberg Fellow at the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Dave grew up in Chicago, and has worked in most regions of the U.S., as well as England, Kuwait and Bahrain. He worked as a computer systems developer for EDS and a management consultant for Arthur Andersen. He served as a Private and a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He moved to Colorado in1994, and currently lives in Denver.


Anonymous said...

On Nov. 21, 2008, the Harris and Klebold parents were sent the same letter requesting cooperation. "Your stories have yet to be fully told, and I view your help as an issue of historical significance," it said. "In 10 years, there have been no major, mainstream books on Columbine. This will be the first, and it may be the only one." The letter came not from Mr. Cullen but from Jeff Kass, whose Columbine: A True Crime Story, published by the small Ghost Road Press, preceded Columbine by a couple of weeks.

"Mr. Kass, whose tough account is made even sadder by the demise of The Rocky Mountain News in which his Columbine coverage appeared, has also delivered an intensive Columbine overview. Some of the issues he raises and information he digs up go unnoticed by Mr. Cullen." --Janet Maslin, New York Times

"A decade after the most dramatic school massacre in American history, Jeff Kass applies his considerable reporting talents to exploring the mystery of how two teens could have planned and carried out such gruesome acts without their own family and best friends knowing about it. Actually, there were important clues, but they were missed or downgraded both by those who knew the boys best and by public officials who came in contact with them. An engrossing and cautionary tale for everyone who cares about how to prevent kids from going bad." -----Ted Gest, President, Criminal Justice Journalists

GM Davis

TStevens said...

I guess this GM Davis prefers the Kass book. To be sure, there is room for improvement in the Cullen book, but I am confused at why he felt the need to leave a very impersonal message on my blog.

Strange; it reminds me of the Pluto girl a while back. Anyways my library stocked the Cullen book and not the Kass one - so an easy choice. To be fair if you want me to read your book feel free to send me a copy and I will. Just email me at thresher3 at gmail dot com.

Dave Cullen said...

Thanks, TS. I appreciate the kind review, including the well thought out criticism.

(BTW, GM prefers Jeff's book because he is its publisher. Interesting approach.)

It took me five years to decide on who to include in the story, and who to leave out. There were 15 dead, more than 20 wounded, and 2,000 kids in the school and, tens of thousands more people directly affected.

I wanted to include various perspectives, including teachers, parents, clergy, cops, administrators, etc. I settled on ten major characters, each with their own storyline. That was quite a bit for the reader to juggle, so I didn't want to go any higher.

What I wanted was to go deeply into each of those stories rather than give a short sketch of many more. As an author, you have to make choices, and I really didn't think I could have it both ways. Most of the stories have several central characters, so there are actually nearly 30 main characters. Any more, and they were likely to blend together.

That's why I approached it the way I did.

TStevens said...

I figured Mr. Davis was involved with the Kass book, but I hadn't got around to googling it yet. Thank you for the clarification.

More importantly thank you for visiting my little blog. I appreciate the time you took to address my small concerns. Your book was excellent and given my previous career working with juvenile deliquents I really liked the psychological insights you discussed.

Very valid points about making hard choices about what to include. I can see that and like I said thanks to the internet supplemental material was easily found.

Dave Cullen said...

Thanks again, TS. I was happy to come by, and impressed by the thoroughness of what you put together.

Nice job including the links to lots of other sources, including the one to Will Leitch's piece at NY Magazine. I have been an admirer of his writing for many years, so it really lit me up when he had such a positive reaction to my book.

This is my first book, and I've never been through anything like it.