Books: Columbine by Dave Cullen

I can tell you where I was when the ATF laid siege to the Branch Davidian compound. (I lived in Texas and was in high school.) I can tell you where I was when Oklahoma City was bombed (still in Texas, freshman year at uni, was at my part-time job). But for whatever reason, I cannot remember hearing the news about the Columbine massacre. I still lived in Texas, worked a different job, was applying to grad schools… Those things were happening at that time, but as for the exact day and how I felt when I heard the news… Blank. I watched Peter Jennings every night after work, so I must have heard, but I cannot for the life of me remember any details.

Even after the fact, my understanding was sketchy. I recall “Trench Coat Mafia” being tossed around and then hearing that wasn’t actually a thing. If you’d asked me the names of the perpetrators, I couldn’t have given you an answer… not a correct one, anyway. If you’d asked me how many victims, I might have pulled out the correct answer, but I can’t promise that, and I certainly couldn’t have told you any of their names.

So did I read this book to put all that to rights? Not really. I read it because I watched a YouTube video that recommended the book. The video made me realize how little I actually knew and made me curious to learn more. So I grabbed the book from my library. It wasn’t always easy to read. I mean, it’s well written and moves at a good pace, but the specifics can be hard to hear (so to speak).

Cullen is thorough. He discusses what everyone thinks they know about Columbine and how much of that isn’t accurate. Of course, I didn’t even think I knew much, but it was very interesting to see the incongruities, how rumors became reported as “fact,” and few people ever learned the truth once the media blitz ended. There were people involved that I found difficult to like, though Cullen strives to report objectively. There is a lot of information, a lot of names, but he does a good job of bringing clarity to the morass.

That said, one has to keep in mind this book was written in 2009, so I don’t know if there is more up-to-date information available now. At the time of publication Sue Klebold had said very little publicly about her son Dylan, one of shooters. I’ve since seen a Ted Talk with her, so I know she’s become more open. Still, this is a really good place to start if you have any interest in the subject. If you like psychology or true crime, too, this is a pretty good read. I zipped through it, and it gave me a lot to think about.

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