Review – Dispatches from the Edge

Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival  by Anderson Cooper

From the book jacket –

Few people have witnessed more scenes of chaos and conflict around the world than Anderson Cooper, whose groundbreaking coverage on CNN has changed the way we watch the news.  In this gripping, candid, and remarkably powerful memoir, he offers an unstinting, up-close view of the most harrowing crises of our time, and the profound impact they had on his life.

After growing up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Cooper felt a magnetic pull toward the unknown, an attraction to the far corners of the earth.  If he could keep moving, and keep exploring, he felt he could stay one step ahead of his past, including the fame surrounding his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, and the tragic early deaths of his father and older brother.  As a reporter, the frenetic pace of filing dispatches from war-torn countries, and the danger that came with it, helped him avoid having to look too closely at the pain and loss that was right in front of him.

But recently, during the course of one extraordinary, tumultuous year, it became impossible for him to continue to separate his work from his life, his family’s troubled history from the suffering people he met all over the world.  From the tsunami in Sri Lanka to the war in Iraq to the starvation in Niger and ultimately to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi, Cooper gives us a firsthand glimpse of the devastation that takes place, both physically and emotionally, when the normal order of things is violently ruptured on such a massive scale.  Cooper had been in his share of life-threatening situations before – ducking fire on the streets of war-torn Sarajevo, traveling on his own to famine-stricken Somalia, witnessing firsthand the genocide in Rwanda – but he had never seen human misery quite like this.  Writing with vivid memories of his childhood and early career as a roving correspondent, Cooper reveals for the first time how deeply affected he has been by the wars, disasters, and tragedies he has witnessed, and why he continues to be drawn to some of the most perilous places on earth.

My thoughts –

I have always been a fan of Anderson Cooper, and I’d been excited about reading his memoir ever since it came out sometime last year.  I definitely enjoyed reading it, even though 90% of the book is some really heartbreaking, depressing stuff.  Cooper alternates between talking about his childhood/early adulthood experiences with his family (including his dad’s early death and brother’s suicide), his early experiences as a journalist in places like Sarajevo and Somalia, and his more recent experiences as a journalist in places like Nigeria, Iraq, and New Orleans.  In my opinion, this style worked really well for his memoir because he was able to tie his childhood in with different experience he had as an adult, and also tie in how some places he went to and disasters he experienced were similiar to and/or different from others he saw later in his career (for example, he compared the famine in Somalia to the famine in Nigeria, and the war in Sarajevo to the war in Iraq).  He also spent a good amount of the book tying in his personal life to his work; basically he was going through a process of self-discovery where he was learning why he feels such an incredible desire to be at the scene of every single disaster, and why he feels the need to keep moving and hates staying in one place for too long.  It is obvious that writing this memoir was very theraputic for Cooper, and he comes to some conclusions toward the end about why he is the way he is, and he begins to come to terms with his personality and the way he feels compelled to live his life.  I really appreciated reading Cooper’s memoir, and even though this is a really sad book, it is a worthwile read.

9 stars.