Patreon

Teen Uses Ax To Cut Off Friend's Fingers To Make Sacrifice To SatanGenoveva Nunez-Figueroa Charged After Getting Stuck In Chimney Of Man She Met OnlineCouple Accused Of Killing Disabled Teen By Putting Alcohol In His IV BagTeen Accused Of Killing Mother And Raping Her Corpse Sentenced To Life In PrisonMarkeese Cummings Punched Baby In Face After Sex With Child's MomTristen Kurilla, 10, Charged As Adult After Beating Elderly Woman To DeathTeen With Pre-existing Health Issues Dies Inside Haunted House AttractionMom Gave Kid Away To Heroin User To Live Life Of Normal Teenager Boy Scout Accidentally Hangs Self With Rope Used To Earn Badge For Knot TyingMan Arrested For Making Sweet, Sweet Love To Toy Horse At Walmart

Columbine

[Ever since Hugh Howey gained enormous success with his Wool series of books, one author he continues to mention in interviews is Dave Cullen, the author of Columbine. Hugh first wrote this review for crimecritics.com, a site we tried to start but later dissolved after Hugh started his writing career and I couldn't juggle site duties between two sites. I later imported his excellent review of Columbine over here to dreamindemon.com in March 20, 2009. Still hard to believe that was four years ago. After reading a recent Huffington Post article in which Hugh mentions Dave Cullen, this book and the glowing review he wrote for it, I figured I would bump the review so you can read it and check out Columbine yourself, a book I think readers of this site will find very eye-opening. - Morbid]

Ten years have passed since the tragic event that has become synonymous with school shootings. Columbine was once a word that simply denoted a high school, a football team or a state flower. But now the word is tainted. Despite the fact that we have moved on to newer tragedies with higher body-counts, the stain has not been scrubbed off of the word ‘Columbine’. But perhaps we need to do something other than wish it away. A better solution might be a deeper understanding of Columbine and similar events. The What, How and Why. Most of our answers to these simple questions have been dead-wrong and it is time to replace myth with truth.

But this is easier said than done. The Columbine shootings remain one of the most-thoroughly covered crimes in American history. However, despite the voluminous output of media coverage, what really happened that day, and the motivation behind the tragedy, is understood by very few people. The result of our curiosity led to more falsehoods than fact, making a clear picture of the events on and leading up to April 20th, 1999 difficult to discern. In many ways the vast outpouring of information makes this tragedy even harder to grasp; the chaff vastly outweighs the wheat.

Which makes Dave Cullen’s new book, Columbine, an accomplishment that catapults him to the top of the genre. Not since Capote’s In Cold Blood do we find such a thoughtful, illuminating, riveting, and disturbing portrait of the criminal mind. Columbine doesn’t just explode the myths of what happened that day and why. Instead the book carefully dissects our biases, revealing a populace eager to blame this tragedy on poor parenting, Satan, rock music, or goth kids because it is simpler and more convenient than hearing the truth.

And the truth is that Eric Harris was a born psychopath and Dylan Klebold was clinically depressed, eager to please, and clawing for an escape hatch. Together they formed a rare and volatile combination known as a criminal dyad, a coupling of an egomaniacal control freak and a doting, depressed side-kick. Like Bonnie and Clyde and the D.C. snipers, the duo had a push-me pull-me effect that spun both kids out of control and down a dangerous path that now seems well-worn and obvious as we trace it back.

Cullen’s coverage of the tragedy is remarkably broad and deep for a book that doesn’t even run 400 pages. The entire scope of the Columbine shootings are covered with almost no wasted space. The book is agonizingly well-researched and brilliantly end-noted. Cullen was one of the Colorado journalists covering the event as it was happening, and has been following the aftermath for the past ten years. He has become one of the most informed minds to wrestle with the shooting, and one of the few to draw the right conclusions.

The layout and pacing in Columbine is also ingenious. Instead of pretending that this was a tidy moment in history that can be covered from beginning to end, Cullen pays homage to the frustrating way that details coalesced into a final picture. Jumping back and forth from Eric and Dylan’s lives before the event to the tragic consequences that reverberated after, Cullen gradually paints a full portrait of the two men in much the way that they revealed themselves to investigators. There is no pretension here that this is a subject with an easy beginning, middle, and end. Any other method of relating this story would not do the popular confusion justice, nor would it result in such a vivid understanding of what these two boys were like, and what damage they wreaked on their community.

Another impressive touch is the complete lack of images presented in the book. The center clump of photographs, a mainstay of good non-fiction, is conspicuously absent. You will not find a single picture of the killers nor their victims. It took some time for me to appreciate this classy move by the author and publishers. There is no sensationalism here. This is an outstanding work of journalism that is not only the authoritative account of what happened at Columbine high school, it is also a glimpse of criminal psychosis that I believe will be held up as a classic in years to come. This isn’t just a good book, it is an important book. It is not just about the past, and not just about this one event, it is about a sad fact of the human condition, and a call for forward-looking vigilance, not backwards-glaring vengeance.

What most impressed me about Cullen’s conclusions was his shucking off of the dangerous blank slate theory that causes so much societal grief. To this day most people blame poor parenting on the tragedy of Columbine. The sadness and horror that I feel when thinking about the treatment of Eric and Dylan’s parents disgusts me. This injustice is fueled by the poor grasp that the vast majority of people have about human nature. It is a failing that causes harm in thousands of daily ways, and Cullen does his part in dispelling some of these myths. Some people are born with an inability to empathize with the feelings of others. And of these, some have an uncanny ability to blend in, conning the rest of us into thinking that they are normal. They are the stereotypical serial killers, described by friends and neighbors as the “nicest boy”. And our failure to grasp the innate nature of these members of society makes us even more likely to be duped by them.

One of the other fascinating threads in Columbine is the unreliability of eyewitness accounts and the way that early mistakes were not corrected with the passage of time, but rather hardened, becoming cemented in Columbine lore. The Trench Coat Mafia and a massive conspiracy involving many other participants led many people astray, including investigators. The idea that these were unpopular geeks who were picked on by bullies led to a national campaign against something that played no role in the tragedy. Eric and Dylan more often played the role of bully than they did bullied. And implications that music, movies, goth lifestyle, Hitler, or video games inspired their actions are as false as Michael Moore’s assertions that they bowled on the day of the shooting.

Columbine replaces these falsehoods with an account of two kids that simply hated the world and its occupants. Everyone was beneath them. These were not kids cast out by society; they were misfits by choice. They fled the robots/zombies/sheep with eagerness and disdain. They celebrated the fact that they did not belong. Nobody pushed them away or ridiculed them, in fact they were just as popular in their own clique as any other kid, and just as invisible to most kids as we all were to people outside of our social circle. The kids who were not respected were Eric and Dylan’s peers. The duo were able to look down on them from such a height of hubris as to be able to dehumanize them. Making them something outside of their scope of empathy. Easy enough to dispatch.

In this way, Marilyn Manson got it just as wrong as anyone else. When asked what he would have said to the kids in Moore’s film BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, Manson replied, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.” This notion that the boys were raging against a world that would not take them seriously is also debunked. The sad fact is that psychopaths are born with measurable differences in how their brains work. We can point to these peculiarities on a brain scan. And the differences are noted extremely early in a child’s development. The idea that more compassion would prevent these tragedies is the claim that gasoline will extinguish a fire. These kids thrived on winning people over, which they did with ease.

Possibly the most shocking myth stripped down in the book is that this was a school shooting by design. The event became the poster for gun restrictions, which may be a noble cause, but it misses the intentions that Eric and Dylan had that day. By all accounts, the attack was a dismal failure. The massive bombs that they rigged up did not go off as planned. They had a low body count estimate in the hundreds, but hoped for thousands. They wanted to start a worldwide revolution. And they hoped they could do this all without devastating their parents. In every possible way, these boys failed. They failed their society, their peers, their parents, and thank goodness, they failed themselves.

These failures continue to cast ripples today. Cullen devotes a good chuck of his book to the horrible aftermath of these events. An investigation that became disgustingly political included cover-ups and foot-dragging. There were copycats, pranks and bomb-threats. Survivors went through physical and emotional re-hab. Some people tried to profit from the shooting. The school had to be rebuilt, along with the student body and the surrounding community. Some relationships were bonded for eternity, and some shattered. Depression and post-traumatic-stress were prevalent and devastating. Lawsuits were filed. The entire town seemed to be cursed, with normal bad luck ascribed to the ghost of Columbine. Cullen captures all of this with stunning detail and respectfulness. There is no stone that he does not peek under, describe, and then return with loving care. That he pulled this balancing act off for the entire book, detailing an event with so many scars and controversy, is absolutely stunning.

The end result is a book that should be required reading for every teacher, guidance counselor, clinical psychologist and parent. Columbine unmasks universal and innate tendencies that a small portion of our population harbors. And what makes this minority dangerous is that they have no empathy for the rest of us, and a genius for hiding this flaw. The signs of their disease are usually there, but they are murky due to our faith in nurture conquering nature.

Columbine is not just an account of an American tragedy, it is a guide for preventing future ones. We must begin by accepting that much of who we are is the dumb luck of genetics, but that this does not exculpate our actions. Sure, we can dream up more pleasant realities for us to operate within, where free will plays a larger role, and loving someone enough will make everything all right, but fantasy is never a solution for improving our existence. It is just the comforting blanket we tragically suffocate ourselves with.

Rating: ★★★★★

Tags: , , , , ,

Want to help keep Dreamin' Demon independent and uncensored? Here's how

Comments


The views expressed in the comments are those of the comment writers and don't represent the views or opinions of D'D or its staff. Feel free to flag comments that may violate conditions outlined in our Disclaimer.

  • http://twitter.com/BluExtacy BluExtacy

    I actually went there the year after when i was working with DenUM and project C.U.R.E it was a real reality check, very sobering to actually stand at the place that i saw rather detached on the news. sometimes things don’t seem real until they are right in-front of you. and i think i will read that now, you have definitely made it sound quite interesting.

  • Lizard

    “We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver – anyone else read it?

  • Zibarro

    This is one of “those days” permanently etched in my memory, just as Waco, Oklahoma City and 9/11 are. Where I have almost total recall of where I was, what I was doing and with whom I watched the tragedy unfold.

    Thank you for the review. This book is now on the top of my “to do” list.

  • Special2bme

    I will never forget Columbine just like I will never forget 9/11 they were both horrible senseless tragedy’s. I was obsessed with both couldn’t gather enough information to read, I wanted to understand why of course I never really will.

    I ordered the book yesterday through Amazon and am very anxious to read it. Thank you Swivel for your great review.

  • sarabei

    What most impressed me about Cullen’s conclusions was his shucking off of the dangerous blank slate theory that causes so much societal grief. To this day most people blame poor parenting on the tragedy of Columbine. The sadness and horror that I feel when thinking about the treatment of Eric and Dylan’s parents disgusts me. This injustice is fueled by the poor grasp that the vast majority of people have about human nature. It is a failing that causes harm in thousands of daily ways, and Cullen does his part in dispelling some of these myths. Some people are born with an inability to empathize with the feelings of others. And of these, some have an uncanny ability to blend in, conning the rest of us into thinking that they are normal. They are the stereotypical serial killers, described by friends and neighbors as the “nicest boy”. And our failure to grasp the innate nature of these members of society makes us even more likely to be duped by them.

    Swivel, this is wonderful, thank you for this great review. I was particularly impressed with the above paragraph. This much more eloquently than I ever could expresses what I mean when I say adults can’t grasp the facts that some young people know exactly what they are doing. Not all cases or kids by any means, but some are born missing that “something” that makes them able to relate….you put it better. Thanks again!

  • Coyote

    Thanks for the great review swivel. I don’t have a lot of time to read, but this is one book I’ll definitely want to pick up.

  • orion

    i’m from colorado and will never forget the day this happened. i was fixated on the TV and frantically calling everyone i knew in littleton to make sure they were ok. one of the victims was a very good friend of my cousin and her family. i’ve had an opportunity to get to know his parents a bit and i couldn’t even begin to grasp the horror that they had to go through and will go through every day of their lives.
    with that being said, there has always been a part of my heart that aches for Dylan and Eric’s parents. they not only lost their children as well, but carried on their shoulders the pain, grief and torture of knowing that their own flesh and blood destroyed entire families, maybe even a nation, with their actions. my heart and prayers go out to EVERYONE who lost someone on that horrendous day.

  • http://www.dreamindemon.com Morbid

    I am not from Colorado, but like many people across the globe, I was transfixed with this incident as it unfolded. Being a true crime junkie was part of it, but the incident itself, especially when more information about the perpetrators became available, had me scouring for every bit of information in a way that only other crime followers can understand.

    But what got me the most was all of the absolute BULLSHIT that came out of it during the investigation. The blaming of guns, of Marilyn Manson, of video games. It was extremely dis-heartening…not only because of the agendas that were behind such accusations, but also because of all the people who were accepting these false claims like little birds in a nest, gobbling up chopped up info from their Momma.

    I have not read this book, but it has entered on top of my reading list just so I can see exactly how Cullen handled that subject, and hopefully he does it in a way in which I can feel comfortable promoting this book every chance I get.

  • CassieMomma

    Great review! I hated that Movie Bowling for Columbine. So inaccurate and bullshit. I graduated high school just before this happened and then all the other incidents afterwards. I am thankful this wasn’t a part of my high school life. In fact a teacher got shot and killed in the county I went to school in shortly after this happened. Why did this all start? I am really interested in reading this book. 10 years…..wow!

  • pms.247

    I am a Colorado native, but since moved to S.W. Florida. I was still in Colorado when Columbine happened. My two oldest kids were still in high school at that time. The feelings that flooded my emotions were overwhelming. My daughter, who was 16 at the time, was very upset by this tragedy and felt truly unsafe in her school. (I kiddingly told her that she would have been safe because she didn’t even know where her school library was) but all kidding aside, it was very hard to send my kids back to school the next day – for all of us. If I remember correctly, Eric and Dylan’s families were ostrecized, by one parent in particular, who horribly lost his son that day. His grief and anger fell on the Klebolds and Harris’. I am looking forward to reading this book and passing it on to my oldest kids, who are now adults. They remember it like it was yesterday, and this book may give them some answers to their questions that have been impossible for me to help them with.

  • Harley_Tech

    Nice review Swivel. Looking forward to reading this one.
    Care to send me your advance copy? :)

    R

  • BLZbub

    Wow Swivel, I’m DAMN impressed!!! Excellent write up. I may or may not have picked up this book, but after reading your review I think I will definitely check it out. Thanks :D

    S

  • http://www.dreamindemon.com swivel

    Nice review Swivel. Looking forward to reading this one.
    Care to send me your advance copy?

    It has already been stolen by my wife who is a clinical psychologist for college students. She has already gone through half the book, staying up very late last night and making some of the same sounds and taking the same deep breaths that I was. She is chilled by the book and is going to insist that all of her colleagues read it.

  • Abroad

    staying up very late last night and making some of the same sounds and taking the same deep breaths that I was.

    I am not going to ask……..

    However, this no doubt means the book will be heavily annotated and underlined by now. I would recommend that Harley_T gets his own copy.

  • http://www.dreamindemon.com swivel

    However, this no doubt means the book will be heavily annotated and underlined by now. I would recommend that Harley_T gets his own copy.

    I use Post-It sticky bookmarks and a notebook. I don’t even dog-ear my review copies.

    That way I can return them to B&N when I am done…

  • Stella

    This is one of “those days” permanently etched in my memory, just as Waco, Oklahoma City and 9/11 are. Where I have almost total recall of where I was, what I was doing and with whom I watched the tragedy unfold.

    Thank you for the great review, Swivel. I will never forget this day either. My two boys were in high school, 10th and 12th grades, and couldn’t understand why this upset me so much. I vividly remember the coverage and trying to explain to them what it meant (to me).

    This is on my list of books to read. (I also use post-it notes when I read books, color-coded!)

  • http://www.myspace.com/irishxredneck sherrz

    Read the review on CC, passed it on to all my friends interested in true crime. I just hope I can afford to buy it when it comes out lol because this is the first book in awhile that I absolutely NEED to read.

  • http://www.dreamindemon.com Morbid

    Swivel, didn’t know if you saw or not, but Dave Cullen loved the review:

    http://open.salon.com/blog/dave_cullen/2009/03/19/my_best_day_yet_vsl_and_comparison_to_capote

  • Abroad

    I use Post-It sticky bookmarks and a notebook. I don’t even dog-ear my review copies.

    That way I can return them to B&N when I am done…

    Clever. Too bad you’re already married.

    Your wife’s occupation practically guarantees annotation of this book, though ;)

  • knotme

    Excellent review and a “Heads Up” to all of us that most of what we read shortly after such a tragedy is more sensationalism than researched fact. If I ever get back home to the States, this is one book I will have on my list of things to buy. Thanks.

  • truthhurts

    “We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver – anyone else read it?

    Positively chilled me, I couldn’t get it out of my head for months.
    The callousness of his actions…I truly believe he felt nothing for anyone, a void inside. I think it preyed on my mind because I could actually somehow relate to the confusion, guilt, despair, love and pure hatred felt by the mother.

    A book that opened my eyes and stuck in my heart.

  • http://www.dreamindemon.com swivel

    You guys should check out the exchange going on at the CrimeCritics site with one of the Columbine parents that thinks this was a simple case of bullying and lashing out:

    http://www.crimecritics.com/2009/03/columbine-dave-cullen-book-review/

  • Columbine_Family

    This is interesting. I truly wonder what was going on through the author’s mind when he wrote this book. There are more than 2 sides to every story and writing a book about two killers that took away daughters, sons, brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, etc. so that the two killers are understood is just sick.

    No matter how you shine a light on the situation, the fact of the matter is that they went into this school and killed innocent people. It doesn’t matter why, or the EXACT words that were said when they killed everybody (or the fact that their goal was to kill many, many more than they really did…) but that they actually did it- and in cold blood.

    how can somebody write a book highlighting these individuals, hurting the vicitim’s and the victim’s families all over again? Especially in such a devastating time such as the 10 year anniversary?

    When people who weren’t there write books claiming to tell the entire story, no matter what- it’s still biased and is going to have flawed information, such as this one. You should feel sorry for the families of the victims, and for the victims whom are still alive.

    It’s just shameful…

  • biteme

    This is interesting. I truly wonder what was going on through the author’s mind when he wrote this book. There are more than 2 sides to every story and writing a book about two killers that took away daughters, sons, brothers and sisters, cousins, friends, etc. so that the two killers are understood is just sick.

    Like Michael Moore he was wondering how well the book would be received and how much money he would make. They can write all the psycholbable they want, unless they were in the shooters head it’s just fiction. One version no more realistic than any other version. As long as it’s great fiction and entertaining read it’ll sell well. You could place 100 psycholbableist in a room and they could come up with 100 versions of why they did it and what they where thinking before and during.
    I feel sorry for the loss, and that for fame or money the families have to be put through it again & again
    Great book review! definitely makes one want to read it, hope it’s up there with Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” which is really fiction, even if not listed as such.

  • brandi

    Excellent write up. I’m def buying this book and reading it in a day!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/HEYitsREESE ~*Reese’s Pieces*~

    I got this book maybe a couple of years ago and it is an awesome read. I think it sheds a lot of light on the thoughts and state of mind of all involved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pam.smithpfeiffer Pam Smith-Pfeiffer

    Morbid – thanks for sharing this review, I have purchased the Kindle edition and can’t wait to read it. I’m thinking that after tonights events that will include an intoxicating amount of alcohol, possibly tomorrow will be a great day to lay around and read!

  • http://www.dreamindemon.com Morbid

    You are welcome. Let me know what you thought of it when you are done.

  • Lena60

    No Lizard, but I will put it on my to do, must read list.

  • Lena60

    Thanks Morbid, I will definately read this one.Just the way this book review was well written, makes me want to read it.I have always been interested in the psychological aspects of crimes.

  • Lena60

    Thanks swivel as well.I love a great book review.

  • Lizard

    There’s also a movie (that I haven’t yet gotten up the courage to watch) with Tilda Swinton as the mother.