Columbine by Dave Cullen

October 6, 2009

columbine Summary: Columbine by Dave Cullen was released to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of one of the worst school shootings in American history. On April 20, 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both seniors at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, smuggled bombs and guns into their school. By the time their shooting spree ended, 12 students and 1 teacher were dead, 24 were injured (some severely), and the two gunman committed suicide.

What followed was an all-out media frenzy, as reporters from all over the world descended on the school to try to figure out what happened. Unfortunately, most of the stories that issued forth from Columbine in the days and weeks following the shooting proved to be highly inaccurate. But by the time the inaccuracies were borne out by the investigation, the news cycle had moved on, so the public, for the most part, never got to hear the true story.

This is what writer Dave Cullen set out to do. He combed through some 25,000 pages of evidence from the official investigation following the shooting, interviewed some of the survivors and their families, and tried to present a more thorough and accurate account of what happened. He talks extensively about Harris and Klebold, citing many passages from their journals and home videos to show just how the “NBK” plot came about, how it was developed, and how it was carried out.

Cullen also reaches a conclusion that will likely seem unsatisfying to most people: no one is to blame for what happened. Cullen argues that Eric Harris was a psychopath in the clinical sense of the word, and that if the event didn’t happen at Columbine, it would have happened wherever Harris was. So don’t blame the parents, Cullen says, or the cops or the school administration or the jocks or the bullies. Something like this was going to happen one way or another since Harris was involved.


  • Prior to Cullen’s book, I had never read a single thing about Columbine outside of a few newspaper reports right after the tragedy happened. Thus, I was getting a lot of the information for the very first time, which made for an extremely engrossing read. I had a hard time putting this book down.
  • Though I have no way of knowing for sure, it seems as though Cullen was very thorough in his presentation of the facts. As I said, he quoted extensively from firsthand sources, plus he has the advantage of hindsight, so he was able to piece together all the events in an orderly, understandable way.
  • I learned a lot about Columbine from this book. For instance, I had no idea that the NBK plan was even called NBK or that it had been planned out more than a year in advance. A year! Can you imagine a 17-year-old methodically building a cache of weapons and ammunition for an entire year before unleashing his wrath on schoolmates? I think that fact more than anything else convinced me of just how psychotic Harris was.
  • I thought Cullen did a pretty good job of interweaving interviews and profiles of the survivors and victims with the background on Harris and Klebold and their buildup to NBK. This was a riveting book through and through.


  • I didn’t really like the way Cullen put the bulk of the blame on Harris’ shoulders and pretty much said that Klebold was just a follower. Sure, Klebold may not have come up with the plan and might not have contributed much to the development of NBK, but he’s just as much to blame as Harris. When push came to shove, Klebold was right there, armed to the teeth just like his buddy. And he killed and injured people too. Who knows, if he hadn’t agreed to join Harris, maybe Columbine never would have happened. Would Harris have done the whole thing alone? It’s doubtful.
  • For some reason, I hated how Cullen referred to Harris and Klebold as Eric and Dylan throughout the book. That seemed a little … friendly or something. A work about Ted Bundy refers to him as Bundy, not Ted. It’s like Cullen was trying to personalize or humanize the killers (he even described the way their blood pooled around their heads like “halos” after their suicides), which I didn’t think they deserved. I guess you could make a case that he did it because of their ages, but I don’t buy it. This was a deliberate, and puzzling, choice.
  • Cullen said that no one was to blame for Columbine, but I disagree. After reading his book, I think the Harris family is VERY culpable. They knew their kid was getting into all kinds of trouble, yet from what Cullen says, Eric Harris’ dad resented the fact that outsiders (like Brooks Brown’s family) were trying to get involved in disciplining their son. Also, how does a kid get away with hiding weapons, alcohol, and pipe bombs in his room without the parents’ knowledge? What had Eric Harris ever done to earn his parents’ trust?? They should have been snooping around at least a little bit…. Unbelievable.

Columbine by Dave Cullen is a very engrossing read that provides lots of details about the shootings perpetrated by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on April 20, 1999. I think anyone who has a passing interest in the event would like this book, but be warned: you’re likely going to come away with even more questions and want to read even more material to try to find answers that might not be there. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

3 Responses to “Columbine by Dave Cullen”

  1. On Nov. 21, 2008, the Harris and Klebold parents were sent the same letter requesting cooperation. “Your stories have yet to be fully told, and I view your help as an issue of historical significance,” it said. “In 10 years, there have been no major, mainstream books on Columbine. This will be the first, and it may be the only one.” The letter came not from Mr. Cullen but from Jeff Kass, whose Columbine: A True Crime Story, published by the small Ghost Road Press, preceded Columbine by a couple of weeks.

    “Mr. Kass, whose tough account is made even sadder by the demise of The Rocky Mountain News in which his Columbine coverage appeared, has also delivered an intensive Columbine overview. Some of the issues he raises and information he digs up go unnoticed by Mr. Cullen.” –Janet Maslin, New York Times

    “A decade after the most dramatic school massacre in American history, Jeff Kass applies his considerable reporting talents to exploring the mystery of how two teens could have planned and carried out such gruesome acts without their own family and best friends knowing about it. Actually, there were important clues, but they were missed or downgraded both by those who knew the boys best and by public officials who came in contact with them. An engrossing and cautionary tale for everyone who cares about how to prevent kids from going bad.” —–Ted Gest, President, Criminal Justice Journalists

  2. You are still being lied to. Big time. If you want to find out what really happened at Columbine I suggest you read what the eyewitnesses had to say:

  3. You are sadly misinformed about this subject by a slick, aggressive but ultimately vacuous media campaign promoting this book and its author.

    ave Cullen is nothing but a lying,opportunistic famewhore. His book is riddled with odious lies.

    Its disgusting how quick you are to swallow whatever the liar says without doing any further research.

    Anyone with any real knowledge about Columbine knows what a liar Cullen is and how flawed and worthless his book is.Obviously, none of you on this page have more than a surface knowledge of the subject or you wouldn’t be mooning over Cullen’s badly written book of fiction.

    =Factual Inaccuracies==
    Dave Cullen’s book alleges that Eric Harris was involved in a romantic and sexual relationship with a woman several years his senior, Brenda Parker.

    However, according to the official police interview in the 11K she confessed to making up the relationship, in addition to making up knowing about the attack prior to it happening and being afraid to partake in it.

    Interview- “After a lengthy conversation she admitted that she wrote the above, but that it was not true. She just made it up to get attention. She stated she has no life and spends way too much time on the internet.”

    (note- JC-001-010843 to 010851)

    * [ Link to the entire 11K Report, see pages 10800-10900]

    Cullen claims that Eric Harris was a swaggering ladies’ man and confident social king. This assertion is ludicrous.

    Cullen writes that Eric “got lots of girls” and had sex with a 24-year-old woman named Brenda Parker. He even quotes Parker in his book. The truth is that Parker had no connection to Harris or the tragedy; she was a “fangirl” who sought attention by making up stories. She has *zero* credibility.

    Eric tried to get a date to the prom; he failed. He asked several girls, all of whom turned him down. He finally convinced a girl he met at the pizza place where he worked to spend a couple of hours at his house on the night of the prom; they watched a movie. She declined to attend the after-prom party with him, so he went alone.

    Harris was fairly short (5’8?) and very skinny, with a deformed chest due to his pelvus excavatum. As his body language in the following video (recorded in a hallway at Columbine and shown in a documentary about the massacre) demonstrates, he was no match for the larger boys he encountered on a daily basis:

    In his final journal entry, Eric wrote:

    “I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. And no don’t — say, “well thats your fault” because it isnt, you people had my phone #, and I asked and all, but no. no no no dont let the weird looking Eric KID come along, ohh — nooo.”

    Does that sound like someone who was confident and socially successful?

    Cullen perpetuates the long-standing myth that Dylan was a sad little emo follower who was totally led by Harris.

    The truth is that Dylan was the one who wrote about going on a killing spree before Eric; he even wanted to do it with someone else.

    (Keep in mind that Eric and Dylan intended the massacre to be a bombing event with a shooting element. Their plans went awry.)

    On Monday, November 3, 1997, Dylan wrote in his journal:

    “[edited] will get me a gun, ill go on my killing spree against anyone I want. more crazy…deeper in the spiral, lost highway repeating, dwelling on the beautiful past, ([edited] & [edited] gettin drunk) w. me, everyone moves up i always stayed. Abandonment. this room sux. wanna die.”

    He wrote “*my* killing spree”, not “*our* killing spree”.

    Those who have seen the basement tapes have said that, on them, Dylan appears far more eager and enthusiastic than Eric.

    On the tapes, Eric apologizes to his family; Dylan does not.

    On one tape, Eric is seen alone, tearing up when he thinks about his friends back in Michigan. He even turns the tape off so he will not be captured crying on camera.

    If he truly was a pure psychopath, as Cullen claims, is it likely that he would have cried while thinking about old friends?

    There is also piece after piece of evidence asbout E &D being picked on and ostracized on a wide scale. Something Cullen denies ever happened.

    Whats my truth about this event?

    My truth is that E &D were bullied and tried as inhuman long enough until they decided that life was no longer worth living and decided to get revenge on a school and community that delighted in degrading them.
    I’ve been in their shoes. I know what that feels like.
    Unless you’ve been treated that badly long enough by enough people, you do not.

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