Winter 2011 Reading Group List
“Every once in a rare while a book arrives to bear witness, and such is the case with Columbine. This definitive account of the Colorado high school tragedy will not only surpass all others, it will endure and take a rightful place on the shelf along side Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song.”
— Bill Cusumano, Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI
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 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 came to stockpile a basement cache of weapons, to record their raging hatred, and to manipulate 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 boy's 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 hatred, a community rendered helpless, and the police blunders and cover-ups, it is a compelling and utterly human portrait of two killers-an unforgettable cautionary tale for our times.
About the Author
Dave Cullen is a journalist and author who has contributed to "Slate, Salon, "and "the New York Times." He is considered the nation's foremost 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 MFA program at the University of Boulder, Cullen has won several writing awards, including a GLAAD Media Award, Society of Professional Journalism awards, and several Best of Salon citations.
"In this remarkable account of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting, journalist Cullen not only dispels several of the prevailing myths about the event but tackles the hardest question of all: why did it happen? Drawing on extensive interviews, police reports and his own reporting, Cullen meticulously pieces together what happened when 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 13 people before turning their guns on themselves.... Cullen expertly balances the psychological analysis-enhanced by several of the nation's leading experts on psychopathology-with an examination of the shooting's effects on survivors, victims' families and the Columbine community. Readers will come away from Cullen's unflinching account with a deeper understanding of what drove these boys to kill, even if the answers aren't easy to stomach."
-Publishers Weekly, Starred Reivew
"Comprehensive...It's a book that hits you like a crime scene photo, a reminder of what journalism at its best is all about. Cullen knows his material from the inside; he covered Columbine, for Salon and Slate primarily, 'beginning around noon on the day of the attack.' But if this gives him a certain purchase on the story, his perspective is what resonates."
"Cullen's book is a nerve-wracking, methodical and panoramic account...COLUMBINE has its terrifying sections, particularly during Cullen's minute-by-minute rendering of the chaotic 49-minute assault. He puts us inside and outside the building, and he captures the disbelief viewers experienced in 'almost witnessing mass murder' live on television."
-Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A chilling page-turner, a striking accomplishment given that Cullen's likely readers almost certainly know how the tragic story ends...I knew Cullen was a dogged reporter and a terrific writer, but even I was blown away by the pacing and story-telling he mastered in Columbine, a disturbing, inspiring work of art."
"Comprehensively nightmarish . . . Cullen's task is difficult not only because the events in question are almost literally unspeakable but also because even as he tells the story of a massacre that took the lives of 15 people, including the killers, he has to untell the stories that have already been told . . . Should this story be told at all? There's an element of sick, voyeuristic fascination to it--we don't need an exercise in disaster porn. But Columbine is a necessary book. . . . The actual events of April 20, 1999, are exactly as appalling as you'd expect, and Cullen doesn't spare us a second of them."
"The definitive account, [of the tragedy] will likely be Dave Cullen's COLUMBINE, a nonfiction book that has the pacing of an action movie and the complexity of a Shakespearean drama . . . Cullen has a gift, if that's the right word, for excruciating detail. At times the language is so vivid you can almost smell the gunpowder and the fear."
"COLUMBINE is an excellent work of media criticism, showing how legends become truths through continual citation; a sensitive guide to the patterns of public grief, foreshadowing many of the reactions to Sept. 11 (lawsuits, arguments about the memorial, voyeuristic bus tours); and, at the end of the day, a fine example of old fashioned journalism . . . moving things along with agility and grace."
-The New York Times Review of Books
While the details of the day are indeed gruesome, Cullen neither embellishes nor sensationalizes. His unadorned prose and staccato sections offer welcome relief from the grisly minutiae... Cullen's honor and reporting skills propel this book beyond tabloid and into true literature."
"A gripping study . . . To his credit, Mr. Cullen does not simply tear down Columbine's legends. He also convincingly explains what really sparked the murderous rage . . . disquieting . . . beautifully written."
-The New York Observer
From the very first page, I could not put COLUMBINE Dave Cullen's searing narrative, down. Dylan ... How the killings unfolded, and why, reads like the grisliest of fiction. Would that it were not true. Grade: A"
"A remarkable book. It is painstakingly reported, well-organized and compellingly written . . . For any reader who wants to understand the complicated nature of evil, this book is a masterpiece."
-The Seattle Times
"Leveraged for political ends by Michael Moore on film and adopted for convenience by the news media as shorthand for teenage violence, Columbine has begun to feel as impenetrable and allegorical as Greek myth. So the intensive reporting of Denver-based journalist Dave Cullen is welcome. . . Cullen creates more than a nuanced portrait of school shooters as young men. He writes a human story - a compassionate narrative of teenagers with guns (and bombs, too), and the havoc they wreak on a school, a community, and America.
"Exhaustive and supremely level-headed . . . The ways in which the Columbine story became distorted in the retelling make for one of the most fascinating aspects of Cullen's book . . . Hopping back and forth in time, Cullen manages to tell this complicated story with remarkable clarity and coherence. As one of the first reporters on the scene in 1999, he has been studying this event firsthand for a decade, and his book exudes a sense of authority missing from much of the original media coverage. ...Cullen strikes just the right tone of tough-minded compassion, for the most part steering clear of melodrama, sermonizing and easy answers."
COLUMBINE is a remarkable achievement. Cullen has brought illumination to a dark and difficult topic, and the result is an example of literary nonfiction at its finest: masterful, clear-eyed, bold - and unforgettable."