Columbine Summary and Study Guide

Dave Cullen

Columbine

  • 78-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 53 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with an MFA in Creative Writing
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Columbine Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 78-page guide for “Columbine” by Dave Cullen includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 53 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like How and Why the Attack Was Carried Out and Community Response to the Attack.

Plot Summary

Dave Cullen’s nonfiction book, Columbine (2009), chronicles the mass shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School, on April 20, 1999. The perpetrators of the shooting, Columbine High seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed thirteen people—twelve students and one teacher—and injured another two-dozen, before taking their own lives.

Cullen’s book moves backward and forward in time, chronicling the lives of the shooters, the victims, the victims’ families, and others both before and after the April 20 shooting. The majority of the book’s fifty-three chapters are quite brief (ten pages or less, and, in many cases, less than five). Cullen, a journalist, shifts his language from the procedural to the more ornate as needed, moving from detail-rich and information-heavy sections to sections that are in-scene and literary.

Over the course of the book, Cullen offers ample information about the lives of both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, from their childhoods up to the morning of the attack. Eric is presented as a clinical psychopath by Cullen via the extensive research conducted by former FBI agent and hostage negotiator Dwayne Fuselier. Fuselier is the first federal agent on the scene of the massacre due to his son attending Columbine High. Dylan Klebold is presented as possibly bipolar and definitely depressive.Over the course of the book, Cullen consistently illustrates Eric as the alpha of the duo; at multiple moments, Dylan is presented as uncertain about whether or not he wants to proceed with the attack.

In addition to a minute-to-minute recounting of the massacre itself, Cullen lays out Eric and Dylan’s plan for the events that will transpireand presents evidence that points to what may have affected their timeline and decisions. Cullen offers perspectives of events during the attack from multiple students inside the school; pieces together the last few hours of the life of Dave Sanders, a teacher and the only adult to die in the attack; and the decisions that both law enforcement officials and the media make, once the attack is underway.

In focusing on events after the attack concludes, Cullen continues to train his eye on both the media and Jefferson County, Colorado officials, in addition to the response from the community, and especially the religious portion thereof. The part of Colorado where Columbine High is located has a strong evangelical demographic, replete with mega-churches and religious youth clubs, and the actions and reactions of various members of the clergy are examined by Cullen and tested by the community, following the attack.

Cullen focuses critically on the media’s portrayal of Harris and Klebold as loner outcasts and brings up—and then refutes—the copious amount of misinformation swirling about after the massacre. This misinformation includes that the boys were Goths, were gay, held a grudge against athletes, and held a grudge against non-whites. While all of these ideas would prove to be only rumor, the vast majority of media outlets would continue to spread this misinformation well after the attack.

Columbine also focuses on the mishandling of evidence—and the cover-up that followed—by local law officials. One of the undercurrents of the book is the implied question of whether or not the attack could have been prevented, given all that various law officials knew about the histories of Harris and Klebold, though especially Harris. This question will come to light via lawsuits by families of the victims in the years following the attack.

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