Dave Cullen’s Columbine is one of those rarest of books. It manages to enthrall and enlighten at the same time. It is cultural history that transcends the moment in time it was meant to describe, and ends up telling us something about our present and likely future as well. As an avid reader of all things philosophical and psychological, this book moved me with its honest and in-depth analysis of what made two American boys perform one of the most horrific acts in our nation’s history.
While most commentators struggle to encapsulate the Columbine tragedy in a single net — like bullying, or violent media, or videogames, or poor parenting — Cullen does the tragedy justice by revealing it for the messy, tangled, complex event it was. For one, the Columbine event was a botched bombing, not a planned act of gun violence. Secondly, the two boys who perpetrated the act were just as bullying as anyone else in their school or age group. And the two kids weren’t clones of one another. They were unique in their psychological makeup: one a gregarious and narcissistic sociopath, the other a depressive. The adoration of the latter acted as a catalyst to spur on the former. It was a toxic combination seen in other famous duos, and the interplay between the two boys is just as important to understanding Columbine as either one of their psychological failings could ever be taken on their own.
Somehow, Cullen touches on all this and more in a narrative that is more gripping than the best thriller novels. The only reason you can’t revel in how great the writing is, is because that would verge on celebrating the book’s content. These murders really happened, which necessitates handling Cullen’s expert prose as one would a lovely rattler. I hate that Columbine happened, in other words, but since it did — I’m glad it’s someone with Cullen’s talent and clear-thinking who laid out the final analysis.
For writing such an amazing book, Cullen has found himself buried in awards. Barnes and Noble picked it for their non-fiction book of the year. It graced more book award lists than I even knew existed. The book is amazing, and it is being recognized in a thousand different circles as such. If you haven’t read it, you owe it to yourself to do so. Now that it’s out in paperback, you don’t have any excuses. And if you loved the hardback as much as I did, you probably want to pick up the paperback as well, since Cullen added some awesome material (journal pages from the boys, Q&A, and more).
Seriously. The paperback can be had for ten bucks and change. Order it now!