Dispatches From The Edge

The first I remember of Anderson Cooper was as host of the short-lived reality program The Mole. Prior to The Mole he had apparently been a successful reporter for the Channel One and ABC networks, both as correspondent and news anchor. I knew nothing of this and thought he made a more than adequate host for what was surely one of the better shows to appears at the dawn of the reality craze. After 9/11 though, Cooper decided he had had enough of reality television and returned to the news, this time as a co-anchor of CNN’s Good Morning America. He has since begun anchoring his own program, Anderson Cooper 360. But what Cooper is best known for is for appearing in the world’s most troubled spots. He routinely reports from the scenes of disaster and devastation, both natural and man-made. Dispatches From The Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival is his memoir of his life and of the most difficult situations he has covered as a reporter. An immediate New York Times Bestseller, the response to this book proves that Anderson Cooper has become a much-loved and highly-respected journalist.

Anderson is the son of heiress Gloria Vanderbilt and Wyatt Emory Cooper, an artist and writer. He is the great-great grandson of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, and as such comes from a fantastically wealthy family. Cooper lost his father when he was only ten years old, a death which was enormously difficult for the boy. A second tragedy struck ten years later when his brother, aged twenty three, committed suicide. It seems that this event may have begun his interest in journalism. Serving as a war correspondent for Channel One, Cooper reported on wars, disasters and all manner of human ugliness. All the while he wrestled with the demons of his own life and the devastating losses of his father and brother. The recklessness he so often displays in his career seems to stem from the difficulty he has faced in life.

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The bulk of this book deals with four hot-spots Cooper covered as a correspondent: the aftermath of the Tsunami, the war in Iraq, starvation in Niger and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He reflects, often frankly and even graphically, on what he saw and experienced. Woven throughout these other events is the story of his life and the constant turmoil of his heart. This is part history, part current events, and part biography.

Dispatches From The Edge makes for a quick but fascinating read. Cooper’s recollections of the devastation he witnessed first-hand are stark and still raw. They provide the context and tell the stories behind the brief videos we see all too often on television. They tell the stories behind the stories and seek to find meaning in them. Yet I was struck by how, as one who does not believe in God or believe the truths of Scripture, Cooper had no substantial framework through which to understand pain and devastation. He could see the beauty in the actions of human kindness, but could not understand the source of human depravity, the answer to it, and the hope of eternity.

This book is, like the situations it describes, raw. The language is frank and occasionally vulgar. Cooper tells things as they really were, or as he understood them to be. The reader will likely see some liberal bias in Cooper’s attempts to explain the events he describes. This can be frustrating at times, but is, I suppose, inevitable. Still, through this painfully honest memoir, Cooper weaves the story of his life, and all the disaster he has experienced, with many of the disasters the world has experienced. It portrays some of the most cataclysmic events of recent times through the eyes of a man who was there.