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Better than the Other Book?
on May 1, 2009
I read this and the Cullen book at the same time. They're both good. This one has more facts. If you're a mental health professional or a teacher I think this is more informative.
Both writers have been compared, at least by their publishers, to Truman Capote (the New York Times reviewer said "which book, Breakfast at Tiffany's?"). A major difference is that "In Cold Blood" simply set out to tell a story, whereas these books try to point the finger of blame. Capote also had the unfair advantage of being a genius.
We read these books looking for some way it could have been prevented, and some way to stop it happening again. We hope for some DSM diagnosis or FBI profile that will label the killers. Maybe we are trying to undo the past. The books suggest that some of the precautions we take now would not have forestalled Columbine. For example metal detectors would have been useless because Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold started the killing from outside the school, at the top of an outside staircase, and then shot their way in.
Adolescent suicide is notoriously difficult to predict. Neither killer fitted the usual profile for adolescent murderers. They were white and middle class, with high academic achievements, church affiliations, and even the stay-at-home mothers and disciplinarian fathers that are supposed to be such a panacea against crime. The failure to follow up on Guerra's affidavit requesting a warrant to search Harris's house was the most egregious failure. Both books emphasize the lies and cover-up by the Jeffco sheriff's department.
This book lacks an index, which is annoying when there are so many characters to keep track of. It is illustrated with drawings and handwriting done by Klebold and Harris and with photographs. It has a soft cover that curls back if you leave the book lying flat and opened. The Cullen book is more elegantly written and produced. It is a smoother and more readable narrative. There are no illustrations. Kass jumps about and describes his research methods in great detail.
Kass has dug more diligently and uncovered a lot more facts than Cullen. For example he ascertained that Sue Klebold had been a pupil of Hugh Missildine, the author of "Your Inner child of the Past" and uncovered a case report by Missildine that seems to be about her. Cullen erroneously describes Kevin Albert as a psychiatrist. Kass says that he is a psychologist, and that the psychotropic medications were being prescribed by a family doctor. Cullen erroneously says that Luvox was taken off the market. It remains a popular drug and can be prescribed now under its generic name of fluvoxamine. Such errors reduce my faith in Cullen.