Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Columbine is the "definitive account" of the school shooting and attempted bombing of Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado on Tuesday, April 20, 1999. The book is the result of 10 years of research by journalist Dave Cullen. In it, he relates what he's learned about the killers, the victims, the motives, the survivors and the school after pouring over the related documents and interviewing those close to the case.

I should start by saying that I'm not going to comment on whether I believe Cullen's conclusions or not. I'm not sure anyone is ever going to know the whole story. Those who held those truths are gone. Instead, I'm going to concentrate on how the information is presented and organized.

I was really looking forward to this book. I followed this event and the aftermath closely on CNN for days. It was really unbelievable. Unfortunately, everything I know about it comes from CNN and other media outlets. Since the media skews everything they get their hands on, "everything I know" probably doesn't amount to much. You can't believe everything you see/hear/read from them. When I saw this book in the book store, I wanted to read it and get another view of everything that happened.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed with this book. The extensive coverage on TV back when it happened was basically the last time I heard anything about the event. Since it took place over 10 years ago and my memory of the events was sketchy, I was relying on the author to help me remember what happened. However, that happen easily. The whole book was convoluted and written in such a way it was hard to know what was happening or who the people were. In some cases, this non-linear approach is very effective. Not here, though. I could see that Cullen wanted to build suspense and leave some details (for example, the timeline of the shootings) until the very end, but for me it didn't work. It left me frustrated at not knowing the basic details of the shooting or the people involved. It wasn't until the second half of the book that the number of dead was mentioned. I'm sure a lot of people remembered. I'm sorry, but I didn't.

Besides the confusing construction, the book also had too many duplicated sections. At one point I got to a section and thought "Didn't I just read this". I thought it was my imagination or that my bookmark fell out and got put back in the wrong place. I flipped back to check. Nope, it was neither of those. It was some previously presented material, even down to the same words. I'm not sure if it was like that for emphasis (unlikely) or poor editing (more likely), but whatever the reason, I didn't like it.

I appreciated the inclusion of the items in the appendices, but unfortunately they didn't translate well here. Journal pages from both Harris and Klebold were hard to make out; partially because of the handwriting, partially because of the way they were written. The map of the school and surrounding area was clear and good to have. It's too bad part of it, the most vital and most talked about locations, were partially swallowed up by the spine of the book.

Having said all that, I did learn some new things about Columbine and the events that happened there that day. I won't go into them here, but I very much appreciated the fact that Cullen presented some new information and straightened out some misinformation.

Even though I didn't like the way this book was written or organized, Cullen does deserve a lot of credit for spending 10 years on researching and writing this book. It really is an incredible body of work.

There are a number of other books on Columbine out there. Maybe one day I'll have some time or desire to read more about this. I'm open to recommendations.

For more information about this book, please visit Twelve's website.

For more information about the author, please visit Dave Cullen's website.

For online content, including photos, maps, autopsy reports, and lots of other stuff, please visit the Columbine Online portion of Cullen's website.

Columbine by Dave Cullen, Twelve (Hachette Book Group), ©2009. ISBN 9780446546935(Trade Paperback), 443p.

1 comment:

  1. Good review. So often I fear that "psychopaths" (for lack of a better term) WANT to be written about - they want their names in headlines and movies and books - so I refuse to read any of them. But I have heard other's mention this book and it seems to be different - not making the killers into heros, but really looking at what happened. I haven't worked up the nerve to read it yet, but you've at least brought it back to the top of my list of maybes.


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