Columbine by Dave Cullen


Warning:  This review is about the Columbine School Massacre.  This is not a fiction story.  It is a sensitive subject matter and this book has touched me deeply.


Columbine.  It is one word that brings forth 1,000 memories.  Do you remember it?  Do you remember where you were when you first heard?  The Columbine shooting is one of those things you remember – much like when there was an assassination attempt on a president, or Princess Diana’s death.   This is an event that will stay with us forever.

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dlyan Klebold, students of Columbine High school, came to school like any other day.  Except, this wasn’t any other day.  Dressed in black trench coats, carrying sawed of shotguns and carrying bombs, they had a plan.  The plan was to take out as many students as possible, the bombs were suppose to take out entire floors of the school and by doing so eliminate most of the student body.  When this horrible event concluded, 12 students were left dead, one teacher, and 24 other students were injured.


Dave Cullen’s book takes us as the reader behind the scenes.   We learn about the two boys, Dylan and Eric.  Their lives, their friendships, their families, and the planning of the event long before it took place, the signs – on-line, in journals, in their rooms, on their computers… all missed.

And…

my heart ached as I read this book.  I wept several times during this read.  At times I was angry, and I hurt for the families, the students, and the parents of Dylan and Eric.   There are parts of this book where tears streamed down my face.  I can only imagine…

It’s hard to describe this book.  There are no spoilers to reveal… we all know what happened.  The right words…. escape me.  I think I can say that I appreciated this read.  Knowing more about what happened that day was and is, of interest to me .  I am thankful that I read this.  My heart breaks again for each and every victim and their families.  Dave Cullen writes with a compassionate pen and this is a book that will stay with me for a long time.


I borrowed this book from our local library

About Sheila (Book Journey)

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Posted on May 18, 2010, in Book Stuff and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 46 Comments.

  1. I remember that day very well. I don’t think it will ever not affect me when I think about it. Such a tragedy!

    • Vicki the book brought me right back to that day. I swear there were times when reading it that it felt hard to breathe. Reading about the backgrounds of the boys was incredible to see how much thought went into that event and yet no one had any idea.

  2. It was a horrible tragedy. I remember the time I saw it on my local news channel……..I was stunned that such things were possible and that innocents were sadly killed in the bargain. This ‘act’ however repeated itself in several places around the world proving that we really don’t know much about the mental stress and torment a student goes through. I’m interested in reading it but my library is taking some time to order it. I am glad you gave this book a review let me say ‘with a heart’. I’m touched !

    • You are right Fiza – Columbine unfortunately did create copy cats… heartbreaking really.

      I knew this review was going to be a hard one to write – thanks for seeing that I gave it my all :)

  3. i read this book literally the day it came out
    i normally don’t keep books after i read them but this one i won’t give up
    i particulary liked (and that sounds weird writing it that way) where the killer’s parents spoke…what can you say where someone just won’t attack you for it?
    i really really had profound thoughts on this book

    • Diane – I too struggled with words to describe the book – you dont want to say – “enjoyed”, or “liked”, but I know what you mean.

      The heart of the principal really spoke to me – and the fact that the fallout continued long after this event is sad. It is amazing how one event – one moment can change lives forever.

  4. It is, like you say, one of those defining moments in life. Afterwards, we are changed forever.

    This sounds like an important book to read. I read Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed, which was a fictional account based on those events. It was also a fabulous read.

    • Thank you Laurel for that title. I have heard of this book and I had no idea that it was connected to Columbine. I think I will read more on the topic. I tend to do that. Once something captures my heart I want to know all I can.

      • Thanks from me too, Laurel. I think I’ve got that book on my virtual TBR, but really without knowing what it’s about.

        Sheila, in England, where I lived at the time, we heard a lot about the Columbine massacre too. Horrendous.

        Do you know 90 minutes by Jodie Picoult? It’s also about a school shout-out, I don’t know if it was based on a real event. It’s quite good, although the topic is of course very disturbing.

    • HI leeswammes,

      I did read Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult and that although fiction, touched me as well. Jodi Piccoult writes this book giving a lot of insight to how the victim felt (if I remember right his name was Peter).

  5. What a tender review to such a horrendous event. Like you I can go immediately to that moment watching everything unfold. In shock, disbelief and so much pain felt for so many.

    I will be reading this as well. Thanks for such a heartfelt review.

    • Loren I was really thinking about this on May 9, when Mothers Day was here. Since I was currently reading this book of course I thought of the mothers. The mothers who were thankful to still have their child after the event, and hug them a little closer. And the mothers who suffer through the day with this memory.

  6. I was at home the day this happened and watched the whole thing unfold on tv. Truly horrifying. It made me want to rush out and pull my children out of school. It made me tell my children again and again “be nice to that kid that everyone thinks is weird; you never know.” I think I need to read this but I’m going to have to find the right frame of mind to read it.

    • Lisa,

      I remember the schools before they had Police Officers. We are in a fairly peaceful town, not a big crime area, yet our schools have police their daily – patrolling the halls.

      Hard to believe it has been 11 years.

  7. I remember this day all too well. Seared into my brain along with all the other days we wish never happened. This book is on my wishlist. Thanks for the review.

  8. I have had this title on my wishlist for some time. I think that this is important work–going back and thinking about this tragedy and what we can learn from it. I want to read it and potentially share it with my students, depending on the nature of the writing. I think that it would be an important discussion to have with teens. Thanks for reviewing this title.

    • Hattie I think we can learn from this and I think many have. While we know that there continues to be school tragedies and attempts at copycats, we have no idea how many have not happened due to kids perhaps being kinder, teachers and parents more aware, and keeping the communication lines open all the way around.

  9. This was a hard read for me too. Makes you get so angry that they missed all the signs, right? After the VT massacre happened, our school has been all the more alert. We get regular emails from the police on any kind of irregular happenings. I wish things had been as transparent from long back

    • Aths it is the way it works though…. look at all the precautions we take in airports now after 911.

      That is interesting you get regular emails of unusual activity at your school.

  10. I remember that day well, even though I was still in high school myself — such a tragedy (and a pointless one at that). This book seems like a hard one to pick up, but I’m interested now; it certainly seems like a thing we all benefit from understanding. Thanks for your review!

  11. Guinevere, as a high school student that had to be scary.

    It was one of those books that I wanted to read…. and I didnt want to read. Reading it brought the massacre full circle. I like that I know more about the tragedy now and I am interested in reading other books on this as well.

  12. Dave Cullen’s book is well-written and contains interesting information not available elsewhere, but it is not the definitive, myth-busting account of the 4/20 massacre it purports to be.

    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?

    Cullen writes that Dylan had doubts about “going NBK” – NBK was the killers’ code word for the massacre – *during* the attack. One wonders how he came to this conclusion.

    At the school on 4/20, Dylan was the one who seemed to be enjoying himself. Eric was subdued in comparison.

    At one point, Dylan saw one of his victims writhing in pain.

    “Here, let me help you,” he said – and shot the boy in the face.

    Was that the action of someone who had doubts about what he was doing?

    This is not the forum for a thorough debunking of Cullen’s claims. The bottom line is that the book, while useful in some respects, is *not* the definitive, myth-busting account it purports to be.

    Read Mr. Cullen’s book, but also read Columbine: A True Crime Story” by Jeff Kass; “No Easy Answers” by Brooks Brown; “Comprehending Columbine” by Ralph Larkin; and as many other books as you can find.

    Read the killers’ journals and other writings (www.acolumbinesite.com is a good starting point).

    Read the documents (*very* begrudgingly) released by law enforcement over the years.

    Keep an open mind and remember that the “truth” is always very elusive.

    • Thank you Stan for the titles of these other Columbine related books. Like I said above, subjects that pull at my heart such as this one usually lead me to reading other books on the topic. I do like to get a full picture, well, as full as I guess we can get.

  13. Wow, what a gracious and heartfelt review of my book. I really appreciate the care you took with it, and the kind words.

    You captured a lot of how I felt writing it, too. I cried so many times. It took a month to write the scene of Dave Sanders bleeding to death, because I could only take it so long each day. (Luckily for you guys, I pared it down to just a handful of pages, so you can get through it in a few minutes.)

    Luckily, there were a lot of uplifting stories too, of people overcoming the tragedy and finding redemption. I dedicated the book to Patrick Ireland as well as the dead, because telling his story really did sustain me through it.

    It’s great to see such a lively site devoted to books, too, and such warm commentors.

    Thanks.

    • Thank you Dave for stopping by and for your comments here. I appreciated your book and cant believe it took me so long to read it. Thank you to fellow book bloggers for putting it on my agenda.

  14. Columbine was a wake-up call of sorts, but it triggered hysteria in some schools. Kids that were different were called into principal’s offices and sometimes sent home. Anonymous notes were left accusing students of being a threat with no proof or foundation. I realize school officials needed to be cautious, but sending a student home because of one note, unsigned, saying a student makes them uncomfortable is a bit of an overreaction. It is really unfortunate we live in such a crazy world. We had a little boy in kindergarten threaten to kill the principal. Little kids have come to school with guns. and kids have been expelled because they brought nail clippers to school. There was just a little boy who found the knife in his lunch box (left there from a scout trip over the weekend). He turned it in at the office because he knew he wasn’t supposed to have it at school. He was suspended and is being charged with bringing a weapon to school. All the while, the bullies are still beating kids up and disrupting school. We had a bus driver get suspended because she kicked a trouble maker off her bus. The girl had been picking on the other kids for weeks. The principal drove the girl home and she didn’t get punished. Alice in Wonderland would feel right at home.
    Sorry, this is not totally on topic. Good review. The more we learn about the situation, hopefully the more we can do to prevent it from happening again. However, the evidence isn’t too positive.

    • Its on topic Pat because it is what happened all over the country. The boy my family mentors wrote a school report a few years after the Columbine tragedy. It was a fictional account of a school shooting. he was proud of his work – granted not the best choice of topic, but turned it in to his teacher. He was taken away from the school later on that day in handcuffs.

      Our local police totally over reacted, I was called at work about what was going on and my heart was crushed for this kid. I went to where they were holding him and he just did not see what he had done that was so bad.

      I get being precarious and maybe sitting him down and letting him know why that topic makes people nervous but the hand cuffs were so over the top in front of all his peers.

      Ok – now I am off topic….. :)

      • The anonymous note incident above involved my son. I was called to school to take him home. I was more than a little irritated. I asked if there had been any problems and what had he done. Except for the unsigned note left on the floor near the office, there was nothing. I told them if they were so concerned, they should search his backpack and locker, which they did. Of course they found nothing. He couldn’t afford to miss any school. For a student who doesn’t fit in well, this doesn’t help matters any. The teachers who knew him didn’t agree with the action taken.
        I had found a note in his room from another student threatening him and saying the writer would come to our house and murder us all. I showed that to the principal. The boy’s mom was a substitute teacher at the school and we were on the PTA board together. They were upset with us for giving the letter to the office. They did not pull him out of class or school. He gave our son a hard time because his parents made him go to counseling.
        It is so unfortunate that they over reacted to your mentoree’s paper. You would have hoped the teacher would have recognized it for what it was. I can’t imagine why she didn’t take the time to talk with him and get a feel for what the paper was. The handcuffs when there was no threat or action were so wrong. It is so hard to know where to draw the line and use common sense. I can understand the concern of authorities, but the emotional damage caused to innocent students by an action like that is hard to measure.

      • Pat the handcuffs were really what upset me. He is a good kid, and didn’t fully even get what he had done wrong – 12 years old at the time.

        I understand a need for caution, but as Dave says in this book, the country did go a bit too far in some cases. Sadly, I can understand as to why….

    • Yes, there was over-reaction all across the board. A wake-up call was a good thing in general, but some of the response was counter-productive.

      Much of the response was also based on myths, like the alleged profile of the killers (and previous shooters) as outcasts, Goths, etc. Some of the most vulnerable kids, who were already struggling, were incorrectly targeted by officials. (A fact that the FBI report even lamented.)

  15. Very brave of you, I started this but couldn’t finish it. Thanks for your views.

  16. A friend of mine read this book over spring break and he highly recommended it to me. I like that you also saw the value of the book. That just reinforces my thoughts that I should read this book soon. Thanks for bringing forth such a great book.

    • Barbara I am happy to put it out there for people to be aware of. When a book touches me like this one did, I can not help but be passionate about it.

  17. If any of you are in book clubs, I’m going to offer to skype into some groups for 20-30 minutes this summer.

    Because of the interest from students and teachers/profs, I’ve also created lesson plans. There’s lots more info at my Columbine site.

  18. I read and reviewed this one almost a year ago (I think). This book moved me a lot. The whole thing is so tragic because as you read the book you can see that there were so many opportunities that were lost to prevent this because people just weren’t paying attention.

    • Kathleen I felt that too but the book really made me think about the importance of keeping open communications with our kids. While my boys always complained that I was over protective, I really did monitor what they were doing and who they hung out with.

      I know as parents we can not see it all and even if we try, things still happen so I am certainly not judging anyone here. :)

  19. I just read this one a couple of months ago.

    I was in eighth grade when the event happened, and I remember the panic that ran rampant through the parents of my class because we all would be hitting high school that next year. We were the first class (At a small Catholic high school, mind you) that had some kind of school violence portion to our orientation. I remember thinking, even then, that it might have been just a little too much.

    You can fear things all you want, and you can look for “warning signs” until the end of the world, but some people just won’t be identifiable with the signs and the really determined ones won’t be stopped. It’s just sad that kids (and adults) feel they need to take out their pain on others and ruin other people’s lives as well as their own.

    And, I’m totally jealous that you’ve got Dave Cullen commenting on your blog! :)

    • Michelle it is so interesting that we can pull out of our memories where we were when this happened. My kids were 7 and 9 at the time. I was at work and even thinking about it now I still get that sick to my stomach feeling of unknown terror.

  20. I haven’t read the book, but I remember where I was when this happened. It was on the news, too, the morning after a horrendous bout of tornadoes that had us awake in the middle of the night and running across campus to shelter.

  21. Hannah – such a sad event – I think we will all remember pieces of this forever.

  22. This book is one I have to read! Thanks for the review and bringing my attention to it.

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