Review of Columbine by Dave Cullen
In a world of instant books and books by celebrities that are short on content and merit, it's refreshing to read a book that tells a story as completely and thorough as this one. This is a story that was nearly ten years in the making, and the benefits of perspective and hindsight are apparent on every page.
Almost everything I thought I knew about the Columbine school shootings was wrong beginning with the motive, which I believed was related to bullying and the social ineptitude of the two shooters. Dave Cullen does a remarkable job of piecing together this story beginning with the shootings and ending with the suicides of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. In between those two key scenes the author carefully examines every bit of evidence and paints a convincing portrait of the killers that will likely stay with me for a long time. He also examines the effects of the tragedy on all of the participants including the injured, the investigators, the media, and the parents of those who were killed as well as the parents of Eric and Dylan. The end result is a layered account of all that took place before, during, and after the shootings.
Oprah Winfrey canceled a show she had taped with the author citing that she felt the show focused too much on the killers. I'm sure both the author and the publisher were disappointed with that decision. But let's face it, there wouldn't be a story if it weren't for the actions of Eric and Dylan. If anything talking about what was behind the killings might help prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.
Eric and Dylan needed each other to carry out their plan. I'm not sure that either killer could have acted alone. Like the two killers detailed in the book For The Thrill of Itby Simon Baatz, it was the combined personalities of both boys that created the circumstances that allowed the shootings to take place.
Anyone who has dealt with the media can tell you that they seldom get all the facts right. The rush to be first with a story outweighs the need for accuracy in many cases. So it's not a total surprise that many of the facts associated with this story were wrong. Even Michael Moore got it wrong with his documentary Bowling for Columbine. They never did go bowling before the shootings. One of the biggest inaccuracies dealt with Cassie Bernall, who was believed to have had a discussion about God with one of the killers just before she was killed. The story about the discussion was true, but there is overwhelming evidence that it was another girl, Valeen Schnurr, who had made the comment. But once the story got out no amount of evidence could convince certain religious authorities that they had the wrong person. Cassie's mother went on to write a best selling memoir about her daughter titled She Said Yes. The book continues to sell well despite the evidence that the title has it all wrong. The sad part about all of this is that the person who should have benefited from the publicity has been ignored.
Most people who have followed this story know of the existence of video and written evidence detailing the actions and motives of the two killers. Part of what makes this book so compelling is that the author is able to use that mountain of evidence to get inside the minds of Eric and Dylan. The basement videos were just a small part of what they left behind. Each boy also left behind detailed journals which gave insight into their thinking.
The stories of the parents and the injured students like Patrick Ireland and Anne Marie Hochhalter are equally compelling. The passing of time allows their stories to be told in much greater detail than would have been possible in the days and months after the shootings.
The author has an excellent web site at www.DaveCullen.comwhere you can find more information including images, which were sadly missing from the book.