Genres: True Crime, Non-fiction
Publication Date: March 3rd 2010
3 OUT OF 5 STARS
“The final portrait is often furthest from the truth.”
Considered the definitive book on the tragedy that shocked America. The script other tragedies hoped to follow. Cullen paints a vivid portrait of the events of April 20th, 1999 and the months after. How the even was handled by the law and the press. How the victims grieved and recovered. Most importantly Cullen tries to destroy the various myths and really look at the biggest question: Why?
The most important thing Cullen does is try to set the record straight. Even nearly twenty years after the tragedy many people still believe the myths of the Trenchcoat Mafia or Goth Culture. People paint the killers as tragic victims, or mastermind killers. Neither of which are entirely true. They also tend to lump them together when the killers were vastly different people with incredibly different potential motives.Unfortunately Cullen ties his bows a little too neat on the killers.
The focus on the victims was also a breath of fresh air. Hearing about their lives, their grief, or their recovery is an incredibly important part of the narrative. The focus is all too often entirely on the killers because people are morbidly fascinated, but Cullen depicts the entire story as accurately as he can while casting a wide net.
So why not give such an important book a perfect score? Aside from the simplistic view of Harris and Klebold I do have a few other nitpicks here and there. There are two huge ones: pictures and the structure. Cullen does explain why he doesn’t want to include pictures throughout the book, but I didn’t feel the reasoning was strong enough. A true crime book is always improved by the inclusion of images. It would have been far easier than describing the appearances of all the people involved. Cullen’s descriptions are, while accurate, a little romanticized. Most of them read like a description of a charming male lead instead of a killer or a 14 year old victim.
The structure is understandable, the story was never difficult to follow – but it could have been done better. It jumps all over the timeline from before the incident to victim recovery never entirely finishing a thread before jumping around again. This might be more personal but I would have preferred a story structured around time than general concepts jumping from story to story.
Cullen’s book is considered the most in depth look at Columbine, and I think that this is true when focusing on the victims. However, though he dispels some myths his painting of the killers is simplistic. He doesn’t present the journal entries or testimonies that disagree with his conclusion. He presents the school as angelic, with Harris and Klebold as the only ssues, which cannot be true.
The is an excellent portrait of the victims and the legal side of things, but with the wealth of knowledge available about the shooters his conclusions are disappointing. There is obvious misinformation that he uses to support his conclusions that differs from some journal entries and eyewitness testimony.
However, as far as everything outside the portrait of the killers Cullen has been remarkably in depth. He exposes the law and showcases as many victim’s stories as he can. In those aspects it is excellent.