Sunday, August 30, 2009

Recommended Read: "Columbine" by Dave Cullen

I was in college when the tragedy at Columbine High School took place. My housemates and I were watching General Hospital (I still remember the plot of the episode) when it got interrupted by breaking news. We flipped to CNN and watched, disturbed, for probably 8-10 hours straight. The footage became iconic.

Why were we so riveted? First of all, nothing like that had ever unfolded on our screens in real time. Most school shootings involved far fewer victims and were over by the time anyone heard about them. But these kids were reporting via cellphones from inside the school, and reporters were broadcasting their distress. Secondly, the perpetrators and victims were only a few years younger than us (and their yearbook photos made them look even younger). It was horrifying, and brought up all sorts of discussions about jocks vs. goths, outcasts vs. popular kids, bullying, gun control laws, and the sadness and rage of teenagers.

This week I picked up the book "Columbine" by Dave Cullen. And I was stunned to learn that nearly every single thing I knew about the tragedy was wrong. It took 9 years of interviews, research and digging for Cullen to figure out the definitive truth of the situation, and it's not at all what was reported in 1999. Police cover-ups, false assumptions that may have cost lives, countless self-perpetuating rumors -- everything's explained in this thoughtful, thorough book. None of the kids were accurately portrayed by the media.

"Columbine" tells the real story of the killers and their intentions, the victims, the town, the aftermath and the build-up to that day, and I can't recommend it enough. It's a tough read at times, but worth it.


  1. On Nov. 21, 2008, the Harris and Klebold parents were sent the same letter requesting cooperation. "Your stories have yet to be fully told, and I view your help as an issue of historical significance," it said. "In 10 years, there have been no major, mainstream books on Columbine. This will be the first, and it may be the only one." The letter came not from Mr. Cullen but from Jeff Kass, whose Columbine: A True Crime Story, published by the small Ghost Road Press, preceded Columbine by a couple of weeks.

    "Mr. Kass, whose tough account is made even sadder by the demise of The Rocky Mountain News in which his Columbine coverage appeared, has also delivered an intensive Columbine overview. Some of the issues he raises and information he digs up go unnoticed by Mr. Cullen." --Janet Maslin, New York Times

    "A decade after the most dramatic school massacre in American history, Jeff Kass applies his considerable reporting talents to exploring the mystery of how two teens could have planned and carried out such gruesome acts without their own family and best friends knowing about it. Actually, there were important clues, but they were missed or downgraded both by those who knew the boys best and by public officials who came in contact with them. An engrossing and cautionary tale for everyone who cares about how to prevent kids from going bad." -----Ted Gest, President, Criminal Justice Journalists

    GM Davis

  2. Thanks for the comment, GM. Have you read both books?

  3. Thanks so much for that, Sarah. I appreciate that wonderful review of my book.

    I'm glad you liked it. And I am so grateful to bloggers who have been spreading the word. It's hard to break through the noise in publishing.

  4. Dave, thanks a lot for the note! It was my pleasure to write about the book.

  5. Thanks, Sarah. Really interesting blog. (Yet another way for me to procrastinate writing. Hahaha.)

    And another FYI, I posted a lot of info about the killers, and resources for victims, etc. at my Columbine Guide.