Thursday, April 23, 2009

Book Review

I've spent the last 2 weeks reading the book Columbine, by Dave Cullen. And I think everyone that knows me is now sick of hearing about it. That leaves me to ramble on about it to you guys. 

This past Monday was the 10th anniversary of the tragedy at Columbine high school in Littleton, Colorado. Dave Cullen has done a masterful job of taking 10 years of research, hundreds of thousands of pages of reports, evidence, and multiple interviews with everyone touched by the tragedy - from survivors to school staff to families to police investigators - and somehow managed to put it all in a book that is fascinating. 

I don't usually read this kind of thing. But I have to say, I've been really absorbed by it. Particularly because Cullen does such a thorough job of telling this story through everyone's own different and unique perspective. No easy task. 

What I've appreciated the most about this book is the first section which recounts the actual shooting and the media's coverage of it as it happened. I became interested in media affects and media agenda setting research in college and this is a case study in both. The first major tragedy to play out in the age of both cell phones and live TV coverage. Kids trapped inside the school were actually watching what was happening to them on TV and even calling in to talk to the media live on the air while they were crouched hiding in classrooms and broom closets. 

The other thing that has grabbed me so completely that I find myself talking about this book to complete strangers trapped in line with me at the grocery store, is that the killers were troubled teens, sure, but there was really just no way to see this coming or prevent it. The "checklist" for psychopathy that Cullen produces in describing the mental illness that affected one of the killers, could be a checklist for any teen today. Especially in an age when so much of the U.S. population is dealing with mental illness in their families. So to me, it was impossible to read this book and come to the conclusion that the teachers, administration, the killers parents or even their killer's own friends just ignored the signs that the tragedy could happen. 

If you can stomach it, this is a compelling read. I highly recommend it. But with a disclaimer, it can give you nightmares. I've had some sleepless nights. But I'm glad I read it. 

2 comments:

Floridacracker said...

Sounds like a good read.

Catherine said...

Just got your e-mail -- glad Cullen looked you up. A book that hit me this way, so loaded with research it could easily have been far too dense, was "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hillenbrand. From radio interviews with her, I found out she has chronic fatigue syndrome and was holed up at home for years writing this wonderful book. It doesn't read like that, though -- it's exciting and not at all fatigue producing.