I used to think that the Columbine massacre would be the defining event of my generation, the one friends and I would discuss years later, trading "where you when?" stories like I'd heard my parents do when remembering John F. Kennedy. It seemed so... monumental at the time. I was a senior in high school, the same age as the killers. The media attention was omnipresent and relentless and soon even at my small town school (and when I say "small town," I mean it, not the way the news will describe a sleepy hamlet of 30,000), everyone began looking askance at the outsiders, the loners, the kids who came to school dressed in black and roamed the halls with a look on their faces like they hated the world, and it deserved it.How surreal was it to turn on the television about a year later, after class in my freshman dorm room, to see the students from my high school running from the building, fleeing danger while news copters circled overheard? Turned out the "bombing incident" was the result of an idiot with a cherry bomb and access to a toilet, but Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had already shown us that there is no such thing as a harmless threat when it comes to violence in high school. Columbine (or rather, the media circus it became) had changed everything.Then one day, it was September 11, and I had a new definition for generation-defining tragedy, and Columbine stopped being something I thought about much.Dave Cullen never stopped thinking about it. He was a reporter on the scene that very first day, April 20, 1999, when bodies began dropping from library windows and no one knew what the hell was happening. For ten years, he followed the case, the accusations of a police coverup, the lives of those who survived, the sorrows of the families of those who did not.Columbine, the book, is an exhausting, heartbreaking, minute-by-minute, year-by-year analysis snaking into the past and future from the pivot point of April 20. Meticulously, he explains how everything we thought we knew about the violence that day -- you probably remember: outcasts targeting jocks, the Trench Coat Mafia, Marilyn Manson -- is totally wrong, the truth a victim of a media whirlwind that descended upon the tragedy, picked up garbled rumors and incorrect assumptions and flung them onto TVs and broadsheets across the country. No, Eric and Dylan were not outsiders; they were popular with a certain crowd and Eric even dated. No, they were not part of a cabal that hated jocks; the killings were random and the only real target was humanity. The killers didn't even like Marilyn Manson, preferring KMFDM. If you have read anything about the case in the last decade, you probably know this already, but for many, the initial reporting of rumors and suppositions (fueling a 24-hour cable news cycle that was just gearing up in 1999) is what they remember, and has become the "truth" of the whole bloody affair.People read, and probably write, books like this because they want to know why. After a decade of analyzing police records, psychological profiles, and the killers' own writings, Cullen presents an answer, but you aren't going to like it: Eric Harris was a psychopath, and Dylan Klebold was a manic-depressive hanger-on. That... doesn't make me feel any better. Wouldn't it be easier to think, those kids were picked on, it was wrong, but you can see it, they just snapped, it could happen to any of us? But no. Eric Harris didn't snap. He was a bright kid, a smooth talker, and he fooled the world while he spent a full year planning his masterpiece. Did you know that Columbine wasn't even a school shooting, not really? The actual plan was to blow up the building, killing hundreds indiscriminately. The guns were just an afterthought, to pick off the survivors. You know, for fun. Like Doom (there's another rumor for you).This book is heartbreaking (the stories of the survivors and the grief-stricken nearly brought me to tears more than once, and not because Cullen is slick with his prose). This book is infuriating (details of a police coverup provide more than enough evidence that this tragedy probably could have been prevented). This book is strangely cathartic (I hate using sports as shorthand for healing, but I choked up when Columbine won the state football championships the year after the murders, and the crowd of students chanted together: "We.. are.. COLUMBINE!" Reclaiming the word, making it theirs again.)I also wonder, and I am adding this a few days after the rest of the review, how necessary it really is. Why is Columbine such a big deal? As a day, it was certainly a pretty crappy day. But there have been a lot of other crappy days before and since, days that killed a lot more than 13 people, that we don't know about or can't remember. It was a seismic event because we let it be one -- I don't think it taught anyone anything, not really. Except maybe how useless constant as-it-happens reporting was going to turn out to be. I don't like that the book, in essence, continues to give Eric Harris exactly what he wanted, which was recognition that he had done something important. As an analysis of the fallout on a formerly unknown town, it's less troubling. As a warning against future violence, it's useless, since it's pretty clear there wasn't much that could be done to change the way it all turned out.Whenever I see footage from 9/11 (something I try to avoid, but hey, it happens), my breath catches and my heart stops. Every time I see those burning towers, part of me thinks, hopes, that maybe this time, they won't fall. But no. They always fall.