In Kindle, Nook & Stores Now — On Amazon Soon
New Edition: Over 30 Added Pages
The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . .
New York Times Bestseller
Goodreads Choice Award
24 Major Year-End Best Lists
That's how I began the epilogue to this new edition. After 17 years covering Columbine, I stepped back to consider how it created a new template for nearly two decades of “spectacle murders.” But it is a false script, seized upon by a generation of new killers. (See below.) In the wake of Newtown, Aurora and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year.
So we are publishing this expanded edition, with over 30 pages of new material (50 since the hardcover.) It also features more scans of the killers' writing and drawings, and an excerpt from the Columbine Teacher's Guide, which I'm offering free to teachers. All ebook formats include the new material (Kindle, Nook, etc.).
Columbine has been declared the definitive record of the tragedy by countless critics, including Columbia Journalism Review. New edition in bookstores now. (Old editions might still be floating around. Make sure you get one with the modified cover—with the dog-eared top corner identifying it as the new edition. Amazon and BN.com don't yet have the new editions! We expect those to ship around Feb 19. Check back for the definitive answer here.)
More Relevant Than Ever
I spent ten years on the original version of Columbine. I was driven by two questions: why did they do it, and what became of the survivors?
My big surprise was that most of what we "know" about Columbine was wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths or Trench Coat Mafia. The killers didn't even see themselves as school shooters, who they ridiculed. Their primary vision was a bombing, bigger than Oklahoma City.
The key to comprehending Columbine is jettisoning our concept of "the killers." Spend a few pages with Dylan and Eric, and you'll discover two starkly different boys. Their personalities and motives were poles apart. Eric Harris was monstrous; Dylan Klebold was a revelation.
The survivors proved equally illuminating. Their stories are surprisingly uplifting—what a refreshing contrast to Eric and Dylan. Thousands of kids and parents faced the unthinkable; most overcame it, often in extraordinary ways. I was amazed by their spirit and stunning moments of redemption. (Watching Patrick Ireland's resilience was what got me through it. Readers keep telling me he did the same for them.)
I was stunned to discover just how different the tragedy was for people going through what appeared identical, to outsiders. Each survivor's recovery is unique, and the greatest lesson other communities can learn is: Don't rush their healing!
The complexity of Columbine tends to surprise readers. This tight video by South Park filmmaker Andrew Kemler summarizes it in 3 minutes. Includes clips from "Hitmen For Hire" and cafeteria surveillance video.
Order here. They ship worldwide.
Depression kills: Help a kid
Make a difference: Two million teens are clinically depressed
Teen depression is the great unlearned lesson of Columbine. Six percent of U.S. adolescents suffer clinical depression. That’s 2 million kids. We keep getting wake-up calls, but it's time to act. Readers tell me they don't know where to start, so I created Teen Depression 101 to share what I've learned. It includes warning signs, resources, discussion-starters, etc.
Parents and teachers: please discuss depression openly with kids. Our Columbine Teacher's Guide has a Teen Depression unit. Renowned hostage negotiator and head of the FBI's Columbine investigation, Dr. Dwayne Fuselier has published a practical guide for parents/teachers to talk to kids—using the same approach that helps talk down gunmen: active listening.
Sue Klebold wrote an extraordinary piece for O Magazine: "I Will Never Know Why." It is quite illuminating about depression. Sue Klebold's long-awaited memoir, A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, coming from Crown Feb 16 may also prove revealing. My Vanity Fair essay on her Diane Sawyer interview: Columbine Mother Sue Klebold's First TV Interview Was a Startling Look at the Parent of a Mass Shooter.
See a kid in danger? Get help. Save a life.
I compiled the following when Columbine was published, but Sue Klebold has spent much longer advocating/specializing in suicide prevention and depression. I would actually defer to her list.
For gay kids (high risk, particular problems)
An excerpt from Sue Klebold's book:
"A day does not pass that I do not feel a sense of overwhelming guilt--both for the myriad of ways I failed Dylan and for the destruction that he left in his wake. . . I think often of watching [fourth-grade] Dylan do origami. . . I loved to make a cup of tea and sit quietly beside him, watching his hands moving as quickly as hummingbirds, delighted to see Dylan turn a square of paper into a frog or a bear or a lobster. I'd always marvel at how something as straightforward as a piece of paper can be completely transformed with only a few creases, to become suddenly replete with new significance. Then I'd marvel at the finished form, the complex folds hidden and unknowable to me. In many ways, that experience mirrors the one I would have after Columbine. I would have to turn what I thought I knew about myself, my son, and my family inside out and around, watching as a boy became a monster, and then a boy again."
I created this 50-page modular Columbine Teacher's Guide with a lot of input from high school and college instructors. And we're giving it away free. Thanks to everyone who helped create and then refine it. We really wanted to make it practical.
I sifted through mountains of evidence researching the book, so I organized it into the research tool Columbine Online. It includes photos, diagrams, scans of the killers' journals, links to all the reports and police files, instructions on how to get your own copies, etc.
New York Times video: "Haunted by Columbine"
12-minute mini-documentary, Sep 2015
This video appears on the New York Times site, but it was actually produced by RetroReport, an award-wining nonprofit that revisits events from the past to set the record straight. I've been watching their work for quite awhile, and been really impressed.
I spent a year with RetroReport on this project. (They did all the work. I just let them come interview/film me, and helped with occasional fact-checking, etc.) I'm amazed that they devote an entire year to get 12 powerful minutes to set the record straight. Their diligence shows. I have some additional thoughts about it at my Haunted by Columbine blog entry.
Let's "disappear" future killers
You can watch me discuss my proposal on disappearing the killers on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 and debate it with Jeff Greenfield on CNN's Reliable Sources. I got into it deeper with a guest host on AC360 in Aug 2015: How the media should cover murderers.
Why I Published Columbine
by Jonathan Karp
I was drawn to Dave Cullen's work by a New York Times column by David Brooks, who praised Cullen's freelance writing on the Columbine shooting. Cullen had been on the scene at Columbine High School from day one and had distinguished himself as the most authoritative writer on the subject. I asked him to write a short book on the massacre.
That was about ten years ago. Since then, this gifted and relentless writer has lived with this story every day, going to extraordinary lengths to understand this tragedy from every relevant perspective: through the eyes of the families, school officials, investigators, community leaders, and most amazingly, the killers themselves, who left behind such extensive personal testimony and evidence about their plans that the author has been able to do something truly remarkable—document the descent of two teenage boys from a typical adolescent life into madness and murder.
What is shocking about the Columbine shooting is just how ordinary these two boys seemed. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold loved their parents, did their homework, worked at the local pizzeria, and—contrary to widely reported accounts—were well-liked by their peers. With precision and perspective that will haunt and amaze you, Dave Cullen has crafted an indelible portrait of American youth that is at once familiar and horrifying. Better than any author I have ever read, he describes the psychological journey through which young men become killers.
This is not an easy story to confront, but I have no doubt that Columbine will be regarded as a classic of literary nonfiction and the definitive work on the community that suffered one of the most violent tragedies of our time.
Editor In Chief and Publisher*
Twelve Books (Hachette Book Group)
* Jonathan is now publisher of Simon & Schuster.
Critics on Columbine
"What's amazing is how much of Cullen's book still comes as a surprise . . . [His] nuanced dissection of the differences between Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold is first-rate."
— New York Times Book Review
"This superb work of investigation looks to be a definitive account."
— Columbia Journalism Review
"Read this book for its unflinching honesty . . . You may want to leave the horror behind you—that may be why you haven't yet picked up Columbine, journalist Dave Cullen's spectacularly gripping account.
But Cullen's chilling narrative is too vital to miss."
— O: The Oprah Magazine
"Like Capote's In Cold Blood, this tour de force gets below the who and what of a horrifying incident to lay bare the devastating why."
"Cullen makes it work because he insists on framing the killers in human terms . . .
That's tricky ground for a writer to navigate, to ask, if not for understanding, for compassion for two boys regarded as monsters."
— Los Angeles Times
"The pacing of an action movie and the complexity of a Shakespearean drama."
"Cullen's Klebold is a lonely depressive, and all too easily manipulated. Harris is a genuine psychopath, a natural-born killer.
And yet, both boys emerge as three-dimensional human beings. Throughout, Cullen refuses to sensationalize."
— Very Short List
"An astonishingly comprehensive look at the incident and the decade of struggle."
— Chicago Tribune
"It opens with a proclamation of love and concludes with an image of redemption, and what unfolds in the pages between them is extraordinary."
— Charlotte Observer
"Graphic and emotionally vivid; spectacularly researched and analyzed."
— Booklist (starred review)
"Definitive . . . a staggering feat of reporting that completes and corrects the record in equal measure."
"Accomplishes an astonishing number of things in compelling, articulate prose . . .
Most remarkable is Cullen's ability to present an onslaught of facts while recreating such anguish and fear. Columbine is a valuable historic resource, but it roils the heart, too."
— Miami Herald
"In this remarkable account of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting, journalist Cullen not only dispels several of the prevailing myths about the event but tackles the hardest question of all: why did it happen?. . . Readers will come away from Cullen's unflinching account with a deeper understanding of what drove these boys to kill."
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This book is a masterpiece."
— Seattle Times
Click for all Columbine reviews—with longer passages and links.
- Book Club questions
- Booking Dave for Skype or school assembly
- Columbine Student Guide (free)
- Columbine Teacher's Guide (free)