My favorite book of the last few years is Columbine by Dave Cullen. It was a recommendation from my uncle and I’m glad I took him up on that recommendation. The back of the book says that Dave Cullen is the authority on the Columbine killers. I’m not one to argue. He spent ten years researching and writing this book. He’s a brilliant writer too because the way in which the story is structured, paced and articulated, it made for an absolutely riveting story. I mean, obviously, the elements involved in Columbine outwardly make it interesting, but there is so much depth here and so much that I just did not know about Columbine. Therefore, it definitely opened my eyes.
There were three points that I found most intriguing. The first is the story of Eric Harris’s evolution as a psychopath. It’s unnerving and scary to read about, but fascinating at the same time. Cullen had access to Eric’s journals and so forth, as well as his activities leading up to the massacre. That allowed for a nice contrast between the good guy image that Eric portrayed (falsely) in public and the hatred that developed through his journals and videos and school assignments. Likewise, it’s interesting to know that Dylan was the complete opposite of Eric. Basically, he was just severely depressed. He wanted to commit suicide for about two years leading up to the massacre. Eric essentially became his way to do it.
I also liked that Cullen dispels many erroneous beliefs about school shooters. These two weren’t loners. They weren’t bullied (in fact, they bullied people). It had nothing to do with the Trench Coat Mafia. They weren’t targeting anyone. It was random. Eric was a psychopath that got off on wanting to destroy people inferior to him (but then scarily grew bored with it and you see a thirty-two minute window where they don’t kill anyone because Eric gets bored after the library shooting spree) and Dylan was a depressed teenager that went along with it. Not that he is any less to blame. He killed people. I don’t think he would have done it though without Eric leading the way.
Finally, it’s extremely unnerving to think how many people Eric could have killed. It’s an interesting dynamic because if he wasn’t a psychopath he may have killed more, but then if he wasn’t a psychopath, he wouldn’t have done it in the first place. The reason I say that is because the book shows that Columbine wasn’t meant to be a shooting; it was meant to be a bombing. 95% of the planning went wrong though because Eric believed (in his psychopathic mentality) that his plan couldn’t fail. Had he succeeded, they would have killed hundreds and hundreds of students and teachers.
The second point I found interesting is two-fold in the initial police response to the shooting and then the police response thereafter in covering up crucial details about the situation. First, I’m of the belief after having read this book and some of the comments from the authority figures on the matter, that Dave Sanders was killed by the incompetence and/or inaction of the SWAT team involved in rescuing people. He could have lived. Secondly, the covering up thereafter is disgusting. They covered up perhaps the most crucial and damning element: that the local PD could have and should have arrested Eric long before Columbine and he would have been in a jail somewhere come April 20th instead of killing people. They had a search warrant for his home and they likely would have found pipe bombs and maybe even guns. They also physically linked a pipe bomb outside his home to him. Furthermore, they lied about Eric’s Web site, which clearly demonstrated many of his plans and the construction of pipe bombs. Finally, they took forever coming out with their report: a whole year and a few months after the shooting. It took a judge to finally get them to release it.
The final point is a nice counterbalance to the tragedy: the heartwarming and often very sad stories about the victims, the victims’ families and those that lived, but were injured. I especially liked the principal of the school, Dave Sanders (and the story about his wife after the shooting is very sad) and Patrick Ireland. The latter’s story about crawling through the window and then the aftermath of fighting through recovery is inspiring and amazing to read about.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to others. Whether you know nothing about Columbine and want to read about it, or if you know some about Columbine and want to expand upon your knowledge of the event (like me), or if you have misconceptions about Columbine and want to correct them, or even if you are just interested in the detailed evolution of a psychopath, then this book is for you. It’s incredibly difficult to put down and if you do, you’re left thinking over what you just read or perhaps your wiping a tear away from your cheek. It’s just a great book.