Thursday, April 21, 2016
Review: Columbine by Dave Cullen
First published by Twelve; April 2009. (I read the updated 2016 ebook edition)
Genres: Nonfiction/True Crime/Journalism
I borrowed this book from the library.
Synopsis via Goodreads: What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we "know" is wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world's leading forensic psychologists, and the killers' own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.
What first attracted me to this book is that I remember this happening, and watching coverage on the news. I was in 8th grade at the time, and I remember that after the shooting happened things drastically changed in my schools. All doors to the outside except for the main entrance were locked and you were unable to open them from the outside. The same was done to classroom doors. They were open during class switches, but shut and locked when class began. It was also the beginning of many schools around the country implementing a zero tolerance policy. Despite the changes in my own school, I don't really know much about the Columbine shooting other than basic facts that the media reported at the time, and after 17 years those facts were a bit fuzzy. The other factor was that this book had been likened to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which is one of my favorites of all time, so I couldn't resist.
I don't know what I was really expecting, other than similarities to ICB, but I was pretty disappointed. This book actually screams hypocrisy to me. Cullen was a journalist that reported on the shooting, yet a good chunk of the book he blasts the media (even names a few specific newspapers) for getting facts wrong and jumping to conclusions in the aftermath. He even complains about how some people profited off of the events at the expense of lives being lost. It's hard to wrap my head around at times. And while I will admit that some of his examples in the book were quite disgusting, he also clearly wrote a book so...
The only similarity I could find between Columbine and ICB, was similar to Capote's sympathetic feelings towards Perry, Cullen puts a lot less blame on the shooter Dylan Klebold than he does Eric Harris. He makes the case in his book that Harris was a psychopath, whereas Klebold was a depressive follower that would pretty much go along with anything. (To paraphrase.) My problem with this is that there is evidence, even evidence stated in this book that Klebold did kill people. Depressed or not, easily influenced or not, he did murder innocent people. His sympathies were a hard part of the book to follow. Much like the jumping back in forth in time rather than writing in a straightforward, chronological timeline of the events and aftermath.
While I was disappointed with this read, it was clearly well researched and well put together. Do I agree with everything? No. Did I hate it? No. But I did have more personal issues with the narrative than I expected. It is a difficult read for many reasons, at times it is hard to get through because you are reading about real people in recent history. There are a lot of interesting points and facts in this book and I think a lot of people will find it interesting. However, it drastically fell short of ICB in my opinion, and my world view clashed with that of the author, making it harder for me to like. But at the same time, I appreciate that this book was outside my comfort zone and really made me think.