#285 ~ Columbine

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Published by: Grand Central Publishing

Published on: April 2009

Page Count: 443

Genre: non-fiction

My Reading Format: audiobook rented from my local public library

Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, eBook, audiobook

My Review

As did most Americans, I followed the events of the Columbine massacre intently. I was shocked that anything on that scale could happen.  I continually listened to and watched the news for information on what happened and, most importantly, why it happened at all. More than 11 years later, I thought I knew the basics. What I found as a result of reading this book was that I knew pieces of misinformation provided via the media.  Retractions are never prominent and rarely have the impact of the original story. For example, Michael Moore apparently believed the myth that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went bowling the morning of the massacre. In his book, Dave Cullen strips away the myths, rumors, and untruths, bringing to life the facts leading up to, including, and following the Columbine massacre. Although non-fiction, Cullen’s writing is so engaging that, although I remembered that day and its aftermath pretty well, I was transfixed. I didn’t want to leave my car (I read the book via audiobook) because I just had to know exactly what happened next.

I spent a good deal of time talking about the book while I was reading it, but three things continue to come to mind even to this day: Cullen’s research into why Eric and Dylan did what they did, the reality of what they’d actually planned on doing, and the Klebold family (see my post from yesterday).

Much of the media focus and, therefore, myths surrounded the simple question “Why?” Cullen did not find much evidence to support the conventional wisdom that Eric and Dylan were bullied to the point of explosion. What he discovered was that Eric was a psychopath and Dylan was suicidal. The combination of these two personalities proved deadly.

I don’t want to go into any details regarding Eric and Dylan’s original intent. If you’ve not read the book, this discovery will prove to be some of its most dramatic moments. I would equate talking about it here to adding spoilers when reviewing a work of fiction. Suffice to say that it shocked me, had me talking about Columbine non-stop at work, and kept me up several nights thinking about it.

I rented the audiobook for Columbine from the library because I wanted to read it *now.*  It fit in more readily to my audiobook schedule than it ever would have in my neverending TBR pile. It’s narrated by Don Leslie, who did an outstanding job reading material that at times was hard enough to listen to – let alone read outloud. I would highly recommend him as a narrator. The person responsible for putting this book into Leslie’s capable hands was a genius.

Wow, how to sum up my thoughts and feelings about this book? I don’t think there has ever been a work of non-fiction that has had this effect on me. It opened my eyes to the way time and extreme crisis impacts memories. Cullen did a spectacular job of telling the story without taking sides. The factual tone of his writing says so much about the difference when people choose to let tragedy devour them versus let it challenge them to become better, stronger people. I don’t know how I could more highly recommend Columbine than to tell you that I bought it in paperback while I was listening to the library’s copy. I had to have a copy in my hands to keep.  I just had to.

Other Voices

You’ve read what I have to say.  Why not check out these bloggers’ reviews?

A Reader’s Respite
Letters on Pages>/a>
Dog Eared and Well Read
Reading Rants
Page 247
Book Journey
A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Start Narrative Here


  • At 2010.10.28 09:52, S. Krishna said:

    This sounds like a great pick for audio. I’m going to see if my library has it. Thanks for the review, this isn’t a book I’d normally pick up.

    • At 2010.10.28 11:09, Dave Cullen, author of Columbine said:

      Wow, what a great review. I had read the previous post this morning, via your Twitter (thanks for that, too), and discovered this one just now.

      Thanks for the no spoilers. It was pretty much my dream to figure out a way to get people like you transfixed. As a writer, I knew I had to figure out how to take the fact that everybody knew the ending and use that to narrative advantage.

      (ie, make knowing the ending ADD to the suspense, instead of deflating it. Is that more in English? haha. despite the Latin abbreviation at the start of the would-be sentence?)

      • At 2010.10.28 13:14, Dave Cullen, author of Columbine said:

        For anyone looking for more info, some links: Columbine intro video, my Columbine book site, Columbine research site and Columbine Teacher’s/Instructors Guide.

        We’re almost done with a complete re-do of the Instructor’s Guide, with most of it up now. So if you know any teachers or students, let them know. (It includes a page of topic ideas for student papers.)d

        • At 2010.10.28 13:15, Sandy said:

          My library didn’t have the audio, so I bought it on my Kindle. But then I didn’t read it for a long time, and finally got to it over the summer. It was long, but never felt that way. I kept quoting things to my husband. I was shocked by all the crap that was reported (or misreported), the negligence of the police force on so many counts, and the “normalcy” of these two boys families. I am proud to own this book. I will read it again.

          • At 2010.10.28 13:25, Ti said:

            I haven’t read this book but I read an essay that discussed their original intent and it blows my mind. It was supposed to be so much larger than what it was even though what is was was devastating enough.

            I work at a University and we have to take Active Shooter classes every now and then. I always thought the best chance at surviving would be to run away but if you can’t your best chance is teaming up and fighting back, not hiding which is what most people do.

            As horrific as the events at Columbine were, so many have learned from that experience. Don’t you think?

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            • At 2010.10.28 16:16, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

              I think our non-stop 24 hour news sources do more to add to the rumors that float around events like this than to inform us. The book sounds fascinating. You’ve made me think I should give it a try.

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              • At 2010.10.28 18:54, Holly said:

                I wasn’t too sure about this, but your review really makes me want to track down a copy.

                • At 2010.10.29 15:46, Martha D said:

                  Thank you so much for this excellent review. We always knew there was more to the story than reported. What a sad story all around. I believe listening to it is the way to go from what you’ve said.

                  Also, thank you to Dave Cullen for not only writing the book but for posting here where to read further.

                  While I’m sure I won’t enjoy reading this I know I will be glad I did.

                  • At 2010.10.29 20:19, Elisabeth said:

                    I read Columbine this summer and felt such despair. Today at the school I work in Rachel Scott’s younger brother came to talk about Rachel’s Challenge. It is to help people become more compassionate towards others. It was started by Rachel’s family after her death. Rachel was the first person killed at Columbine.

                    If you want another eye opening book read Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. This one is about a Muslim families experiences during Hurricane Katrina. It makes you feel despair but in a whole other way.

                    • At 2010.11.01 15:41, Laurel Corona said:

                      Even though I am a novelist, I still find myself gravitating to compelling narrative nonfiction. Thanks for making me aware of this book!

                      Read more from Laurel Corona


                      It’s a wonderful coincidence that the website revamp I have been working on with my talented web designers at BlueJay Tech should reach the launch pad during the Jewish High Holy Days.  Evaluation, r[…]

                      • At 2010.11.02 11:32, Shelley said:

                        I admire you for this post, because although I write about women living through disastrous times, this is one disaster that I just can’t bear to think about even for one second.

                        I’m glad others can.

                        • At 2010.11.03 16:42, Lisa said:

                          I really need to get my hands on this book one of these days!

                          • […] some great books. I finished Dave Cullen’s Columbine in three days after reading Jen’s wonderful review at Literate Housewife as well as her follow-up post. I also encourage you to read Sandy’s review. These ladies did […]

                            • […] Columbine […]

                              • At 2011.01.27 05:15, AngryAsp said:

                                You people are sadly ignorant and misinformed.
                                Dave Cullen is nothing but a lying,opportunistic famewhore. His book is riddled with odious lies.

                                Its disgusting how quick you all are to swallow whatever the liar says without doing any further research.

                                Anyone with any real knowledge about Columbine knows what a liar Cullen is and how flawed and worthless his book is.Obviously, none of you on this page have more than a surface knowledge of the subject or you wouldn’t be mooning over Cullen’s badly written book of fiction.

                                =Factual Inaccuracies==
                                Dave Cullen’s book alleges that Eric Harris was involved in a romantic and sexual relationship with a woman several years his senior, Brenda Parker.

                                However, according to the official police interview in the 11K she confessed to making up the relationship, in addition to making up knowing about the attack prior to it happening and being afraid to partake in it.

                                Interview- “After a lengthy conversation she admitted that she wrote the above, but that it was not true. She just made it up to get attention. She stated she has no life and spends way too much time on the internet.”

                                (note- JC-001-010843 to 010851)

                                * [http://www.acolumbinesite.com/reports/cr/report.html Link to the entire 11K Report, see pages 10800-10900]

                                Cullen claims that Eric Harris was a swaggering ladies’ man and confident social king. This assertion is ludicrous.

                                Cullen writes that Eric “got lots of girls” and had sex with a 24-year-old woman named Brenda Parker. He even quotes Parker in his book. The truth is that Parker had no connection to Harris or the tragedy; she was a “fangirl” who sought attention by making up stories. She has *zero* credibility.

                                Eric tried to get a date to the prom; he failed. He asked several girls, all of whom turned him down. He finally convinced a girl he met at the pizza place where he worked to spend a couple of hours at his house on the night of the prom; they watched a movie. She declined to attend the after-prom party with him, so he went alone.

                                Harris was fairly short (5’8?) and very skinny, with a deformed chest due to his pelvus excavatum. As his body language in the following video (recorded in a hallway at Columbine and shown in a documentary about the massacre) demonstrates, he was no match for the larger boys he encountered on a daily basis:


                                In his final journal entry, Eric wrote:

                                “I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. And no don’t — say, “well thats your fault” because it isnt, you people had my phone #, and I asked and all, but no. no no no dont let the weird looking Eric KID come along, ohh — nooo.”

                                Does that sound like someone who was confident and socially successful?

                                Cullen perpetuates the long-standing myth that Dylan was a sad little emo follower who was totally led by Harris.

                                The truth is that Dylan was the one who wrote about going on a killing spree before Eric; he even wanted to do it with someone else.

                                (Keep in mind that Eric and Dylan intended the massacre to be a bombing event with a shooting element. Their plans went awry.)

                                On Monday, November 3, 1997, Dylan wrote in his journal:

                                “[edited] will get me a gun, ill go on my killing spree against anyone I want. more crazy…deeper in the spiral, lost highway repeating, dwelling on the beautiful past, ([edited] & [edited] gettin drunk) w. me, everyone moves up i always stayed. Abandonment. this room sux. wanna die.”

                                He wrote “*my* killing spree”, not “*our* killing spree”.

                                Those who have seen the basement tapes have said that, on them, Dylan appears far more eager and enthusiastic than Eric.

                                On the tapes, Eric apologizes to his family; Dylan does not.

                                On one tape, Eric is seen alone, tearing up when he thinks about his friends back in Michigan. He even turns the tape off so he will not be captured crying on camera.

                                If he truly was a pure psychopath, as Cullen claims, is it likely that he would have cried while thinking about old friends?

                                There is also piece after piece of evidence asbout E &D being picked on and ostracized on a wide scale. Something Cullen denies ever happened.

                                Whats my truth about this event?

                                My truth is that E &D were bullied and tried as inhuman long enough until they decided that life was no longer worth living and decided to get revenge on a school and community that delighted in degrading them.
                                I’ve been in their shoes. I know what they feels like.
                                Unless you’ve been treated that badly long enough by enough people, you do not.

                                • At 2014.01.16 18:16, Jen said:

                                  Well said, Angry Asp. Agree with most of what you say. Don’t be disheartened. “You can fool some of the people some of the time” etc. At least the Browns and Rorboughs managed to get the planned Oprah appearrance pulled.
                                  What bugged me was, Cullen makes no attempt to explain what turned Dylan into a killer, other than suggesting that he was put under some kind of spell by Eric. He goes on about how Dylan was a deep and sensitive soul who just wanted to be loved, but he then misses out the part where he transforms into an angry killer. How did this boy lose his once compassionate nature to the extent that he was able to shoot fellow students in the face at close range, whilst mocking them? It is so lazy and ridiculous to explain this transformation by saying he was somehow brainwashed. Cullen never attempts to explore the true causes, which one can imagine must be very complex. Perhaps they were TOO complex for Cullen to tackle and that is why he chose not to. Dylan’s years of being down trodden and bullied obv had something to do with it, but for some reason Cullen doesn’t want to even aknowledge that, even though Brooks Brown’s book describes the bullying and the sour atmosphere at the school. Cullen explains Eric by labelling him a psychopath. Fine, that’s certain people’s opinion. But he offers no explanation for Dylan. Strange, right? On the one hand, he asserts that Dylan was a highly intelligent and compassionate young man. In one of Cullen’s own blog posts he says that Dylan “only wanted to harm himself, not others.” Really?!! Is the irony of that assertion not obvious for all to see?! Yet he just put his compassion aside and went on a murderous rampage TO PLEASE ERIC? He was depressed. Millions of people are. To suggest, as he does, that the depression is itself the explanation for him becoming a killer is AN INSULTING STIGMA TO THOSE OF US WITH DEPRESSION.
                                  Also, psychopaths aren’t just BORN. Their experiences contribute towards their brain development too. So he can’t just write Eric’s life experiences off! Nor can we write off the role his prescription medication played in changing his personality and brain chemistry, a subject which I desperately wanted to know more about. It felt like the elephant in the room throughout the book.
                                  Why Cullen needs to label his book as ‘the definitive account’ I do not know. It is his OPINION.
                                  He seems to have an agenda of painting Columbine High as a wonderful happy place, and to neatly label Eric as a psycho and Dylan as a meek brain washed follower. So much of the facts he divulges in the book CONTRACDICT HIS OWN ASSERTIONS THOUGH. That’s my problem.
                                  The book was at it’s best when presenting us the facts, rather than speculation and bias.

                                  (Required, will not be published)

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