From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this remarkable account of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting, journalist Cullen not only dispels several of the prevailing myths about the event but tackles the hardest question of all: why did it happen? Drawing on extensive interviews, police reports and his own reporting, Cullen meticulously pieces together what happened when 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 13 people before turning their guns on themselves. The media spin was that specific students, namely jocks, were targeted and that Dylan and Eric were members of the Trench Coat Mafia. According to Cullen, they lived apparently normal lives, but under the surface lay an angry, erratic depressive (Klebold) and a sadistic psychopath (Harris), together forming a combustible pair. They planned the massacre for a year, outlining their intentions for massive carnage in extensive journals and video diaries. Cullen expertly balances the psychological analysis—enhanced by several of the nation's leading experts on psychopathology—with an examination of the shooting's effects on survivors, victims' families and the Columbine community. Readers will come away from Cullen's unflinching account with a deeper understanding of what drove these boys to kill, even if the answers aren't easy to stomach. (Apr. 6)
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Many reviewers were more concerned with coming to grips with the attack rather than assessing the book, but their concern may be a testament to Cullen’s work. His reporting fundamentally reframes the event: Columbine, he writes, should be thought of as a failed bombing rather than a school shooting. Furthermore, much of the conventional wisdom about how to prevent such attacks—essentially, watch out for pimply outcasts with a grudge—is confounded by an investigation into Harris’s and Klebold’s actual lives. Most critics, with Janet Maslin a notable exception, thought that Cullen’s account helps us to better wring meaning from the tragedy. In sum, Columbine “is an excellent work of media criticism, showing how legends become truths through continual citation” (New York Times Book Review).
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