|Cover artist||Henry Sene Yee|
|Subject||Columbine High School Massacre|
|Genre||History, Popular culture, True crime, Cultural Studies|
|April 6, 2009|
|Media type||Hardback, paperback, audiobook, Kindle, Nook, large-print|
|LC Class||LB3013.33.C6 C84 2009|
Columbine is a non-fiction book written by Dave Cullen and published by Twelve on April 6, 2009. It is a comprehensive examination of the Columbine High School massacre, perpetrated by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on April 20, 1999. The book covers two major storylines: the killers' evolution leading up to the attack, and the survivors' struggles with aftermath over the next decade. Chapters alternate between the two stories. Graphic depictions of parts of the attack are also included, plus actual names of friends and family were used as well (the only exception was the pseudonym "Harriet" which was used for a girl with whom Klebold was infatuated and wrote obsessively about, as her real name has never been disclosed).
Cullen, then a freelance reporter in Denver, spent ten years researching and writing the book. He previously contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times of London and The Guardian. He is best known for his work for Slate and Salon.com. His Slate story "The Depressive and the Psychopath" five years earlier, offered the first diagnosis of the killers by the team of psychologists and psychiatrists brought into the case by the FBI.
Publication was timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, which occurred on April 20. The book spent eight weeks on The New York Times bestseller list in the spring of 2009, peaking at #3.
The book gained considerable media attention for discussing the so-called Columbine myths widely taken for granted. According to the book, the massacre had nothing to do with school bullying, jocks, the Gothic subculture, Marilyn Manson or the Trench Coat Mafia. Cullen also writes it was intended primarily as a bombing rather than a school shooting, and that Harris and Klebold intended to perpetrate the worst terrorist attack in American history. The book garnered glowing reviews from Time, Newsweek, People, The New York Observer, and The New York Times Book Review. One of the few dissenting views came from Janet Maslin, who wrote in The New York Times, "What good can a new book on Columbine do? Mr. Cullen’s Salon coverage had already refuted some of the worst misconceptions about the story by the fall of 1999....Emerging details mostly corroborate what was already known."
Columbine won a bevy of awards and honors, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award, Barnes & Noble's Discover Award, and the Goodreads Choice Award. It was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize, the Audie Award, and the MPIBA Regional Book Award.
Additionally, Columbine was named to two dozen Best of 2009 lists, including the New York Times, LA Times, Publishers Weekly, iTunes and the American Library Association. It was declared Top Education Book of 2009 and one of the best of the decade by the American School Board Journal.
Columbine has two main storylines, told in alternating chapters: the 'before' story of the killers' evolution toward murder, and the 'after' story of the survivors. There are shorter 'during' accounts of the attack, dispersed through the book.
The 'after' chapters are composed of eight major substories, focused on individuals who played a key role in the aftermath, including Principal Frank DeAngelis, alleged Christian martyr Cassie Bernall (another myth, according to the book), "the boy in the window" Patrick Ireland, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dwayne Fuselier, the families of victim Danny Rohrbough and heroic teacher Dave Sanders, who died saving students from the gunmen. The Evangelical Christian community's feverish response is also chronicled.
Columbine begins four days before the massacre, at a school assembly hosted by Principal DeAngelis just before Prom weekend. Scenes from the massacre are depicted graphically in the early chapters, and later through flashbacks.
The book is formally composed of five parts: "Part One: Female Down," "Part Two: After and Before," "Part Three: The Downward Spiral," "Part Four: Take Back the School," and "Part Five: Judgment Day." The book contains fifty-three chapters, a timeline, twenty-six pages of detailed endnotes and a fifteen-page bibliography organized into topics like, "Psychopathy," "Government Reports," "Lawsuits," "Christians," "Evidence," "Hostages and Terrorists," "Survivors," "Media Accounts," "Police Ethics and Response Protocols," etc.
Published by Twelve on April 6, 2009, Columbine debuted at number seven on the bestseller list for The New York Times in the United States." It peaked at number three, and spent eight weeks on the list.
The book was very well received by critics, and by news media, which focused heavily on the dispelling of Columbine myths, and also the extensive portrayal of the minds of the two killers. In The New York Observer, Stephen Amidon described Columbine as a "gripping study . . . To his credit, Mr. Cullen does not simply tear down Columbine's legends. He also convincingly explains what really sparked the murderous rage . . . disquieting . . . beautifully written."
Several critics compared the book to In Cold Blood, including former Publishers Weekly Editor In Chief Sara Nelson, who reviewed it for The Daily Beast and called it "a riveting read, on a par with the greatest crime analysis from In Cold Blood or The Stranger Beside Me." A debate sprang up on the issue, with some critics concurring and others arguing that Cullen's artistry fell short of Capote's.
Jennifer Senior in The New York Times Book Review resisted the Capote comparison, but offered high praise. She observed that "Had Dave Cullen capitulated to cliché while writing "Columbine," he would have started his tale 48 hours before Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's notorious killing spree, stopped the frame just before they fired their guns, and then spooled back to the very beginning, with the promise of trying to explain how the two boys got to this twisted pass. But he doesn't. As Cullen eventually writes, "there had been no trigger — at least none that would be satisfying to horrified outsiders, grieving parents or anyone in between. Eric Harris was a psychopath, simple as that. Dylan Klebold was a suicidally depressed kid who yoked his fate to a sadist. Instead, what intrigues the author are perceptions and misperceptions: how difficult a shooting spree is to untangle; how readily mass tragedies lend themselves to misinformation and mythologizing; how psychopaths can excel at the big con. . . . Yet what's amazing is how much of Cullen's book still comes as a surprise. I expected a story about misfits exacting vengeance, because that was my memory of the media consensus — Columbine, right, wasn't there something going on there between Goths and jocks? In fact, Harris and Klebold were killing completely at random that day. Their victims weren't the intended targets at all; the entire school was."
Janet Maslin published one of the book's few negative reviews in the daily issue of The New York Times. Maslin wrote: "And now that books as commercially ambitious as Columbine are marketed like movies, an online video advertisement for the book touts its "10 years in the making," calling it "the definitive story of an American tragedy." For the same YouTube trailer Mr. Cullen allowed himself to be filmed sitting at his desk amid potted houseplants, scrolling solemnly through a computer-screen copy of one of the killers' hate-filled journals."
Maslin also ridiculed Newsweek's review. Maslin wrote, "But Mr. Cullen has not written this book solely to dissect the events of Columbine. He also invites his readers to relive them. So he replays the planning and execution of the killings for maximum dramatic impact, trying to get right inside the killers' heads. ("Act II: firing time. This was going to be fun.") Newsweek's credulous review of "Columbine" has already applauded this voyeurism . . . "
The Newsweek essay by Ramin Satoodeh stated: "In the decade since Columbine, there have been countless efforts to make sense of that day: memoirs, books, movies, even a play opening in Los Angeles in April. The definitive account, however, will likely be Dave Cullen's COLUMBINE, a nonfiction book that has the pacing of an action movie and the complexity of a Shakespearean drama . . . Cullen has a gift, if that's the right word, for excruciating detail. At times the language is so vivid you can almost smell the gunpowder and the fear. . . . The Columbine killers were a strange and deeply disturbed pair, right out of a Truman Capote book. We've heard plenty of the details about Klebold and Harris—their fixation with the Nazis, their lust for violence, the homemade tapes in which they laid out their grand scheme for us to watch later—but Cullen, despite all odds, manages to humanize them. . . . Cullen also debunks some of the biggest fallacies."
Columbine has won the following awards.
- Edgar Award 
- Barnes and Noble Discover Award 
- Goodreads Choice Award 
- American School Boards Association Best Education Book of 2009 
- The Truth About The Fact Award
Columbine was a finalist for the following awards.
- The Los Angeles Times Book Prize
- The American Library Association Alex Award
- The Audie Award 
- Abraham Lincoln High School Book Award (Winner to be announced in spring 2012.)
- The Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association Award 
Columbine was named to many Best of 2009 lists, including these.
- New York Times Book Review: 100 Notable Books of 2009 
- Los Angeles Times: 25 Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2009 
- LA Times Editor David Ulin's Top Six Nonfiction 
- Entertainment Weekly: Best Books of 2009: #4 in Nonfiction 
- American School Board Journal: #1 Education Book for 2009 
- Publishers Weekly Best 100 Books for 2009 
- iTunes: #1 Best Nonfiction Audiobook of 2009 
- Salon.com: 5 Best Nonfiction Books of 2009 
- GoodReads Choice Awards: Winner Best Nonfiction of 2009 
- Chicago Tribune: Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2009 
- Miami Herald: 12 Reviewers' Choices for Most Intriguing Books of 2009 
- Borders: 10 Best of 2009: Nonfiction 
- Amazon Editors' Picks: 5 Best Current Events Books of 2009 
- Amazon Top 100 Customer Favorites of 2009 
- Bookmarks: Best Books of 2009 
- Mother Jones: Top Books of 2009 
- National Post (Canada): Best Books of the Year 
- Washington Post Express: 2009 Express Staff Picks 
- New Haven Register: 10 recommended nonfiction for 2009 
- New London Connecticut's The Day: Best of '09 
- New West: Best Books in the West 2009 
Paperback edition: New disclosures from the killers' parents
The Columbine paperback edition (released in 2010) reveals four secret meetings involving all four parents of the killers. This unforeseen development provided the first real public insight into the mindsets of Wayne and Kathy Harris. The awkward encounters play out in the new "Afterword" added to the paperback. Further descriptions of the meetings with Wayne and Kathy Harris appear in The Daily Beast feature "The Last Columbine Mystery," by the same author, published at the time of the paperback release.
The Afterword also includes updates on two bereaved parents and one wounded survivor of the Columbine shooting, and their starkly different perspectives on "forgiveness". The three are Linda Mauser, Bob Curnow, and Valeen Schnurr, respectively.
Use in schools
Columbine has been widely adopted as a text in high school English and Social Studies classes, as well as college journalism classes. The author created a free Columbine Teacher's Guide, as well as classroom videos and related material which have been widely downloaded from the web. The guide includes units on teen depression, PTSD and overcoming adversity.
Several education associations singled out the book for students and teachers. The American School Board Journal chose it as "Top Education Book for 2009." It also called it "one of the best education books of the past 10 years." The American Library Association selected Columbine as a finalist for its Alex Award for Young Adult readers. In 2011, the Illinois School Library Media Association nominated Columbine for its Abraham Lincoln Award: Illinois' High School Readers' Choice Award, which is open to student voting through February 2012
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- "Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers, Week of April 26, 2009". The New York Times. 2009-05-29. Retrieved 2009-05-25.
- Cowles, Gregory (2009-05-29). "Hardcover Nonfiction Best Sellers, Week of June 7, 2009". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-05-30.
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- "Book lovers have a vast and eclectic book crop to reap this year for gifts". Retrieved 2010-05-16.
- "Reads you need: Best of '09". Retrieved 2010-05-16.
- "New West Best Books in the West 2009, Part 1". Retrieved 2010-05-16.
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- "Columbine Teacher's Guide". Retrieved 2012-10-11.
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