Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Books on Columbine

On April 20, 1999, I was a Columbine sophomore traveling home from a weekend in Vail for the Future Business Leaders of America state competition. We didn't know that anything was wrong until we pulled into our neighborhood around lunchtime and noticed several helicopters hovering over our school. I will always be grateful that I was kept safe on that day and spared the trauma experienced by my friends and classmates. In the aftermath of the tragedy, I remember listening to the widely varying accounts of students and the media and thinking that no one would ever really know the truth of what occurred that day or why.

A decade later, two valiant attempts have been made to tell the entire story in book form, from the killers' childhoods through the controversial detective work of the Jeffco sheriff's office. I began with Columbine: A True Crime Story by local Rocky Mountain News reporter Jeff Kass. I have to admit, this version didn't live up to my expectations. He went off on unnecessary tangents on subjects such as the history of the Wild West and several generations of Eric and Dylan's family history. His approach seemed to be to present the reader with all of the information in one place, but without jumping to any conclusions -- the approach I preferred before starting the book. However, after ten years, I now think that it's time to draw some sort of conclusion to the most pressing question: why?

The second book, Columbine by online news magazine Salon reporter Dave Cullen, was exactly what I needed to read. Cullen not only presented all the facts, including many more stories of victims and a more detailed account of the actual attack, but also presented a thorough psychological analysis of Eric and Dylan from leading experts. His sections on teacher Dave Sanders and principal Frank DeAngelis were particularly touching. I would highly recommend this book to anyone left confused by conflicting media accounts and police cover-ups that have occurred over the years.

One other recommendation, not specifically about Columbine...We Need to Talk About Kevin, a 2003 novel by Lionel Shriver, was an enthralling read. The author presents the life story of a fictional high school shooter from the perspective of his mother. This story about raising a probable psychopath (a term generally recognized as describing Eric Harris) is a haunting page-turner.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

A quick disclaimer -- all of these books contain profanity and violence.


  1. Thank you for the reviews. I think I will read those last two!

  2. Wow, can't believe how close you were to all that. I remember that day well, skipping class to watch the news in our Tech room (with many other seniors and the Tech teacher). It was heartbreaking and terrifying all the same.