24 April 2010

"Dispatches from the Edge" by Anderson Cooper

Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival
Anderson Cooper
Date of Publication: 23 May 2006
Cover Price: $24.95
212 Pages
ISBN: 0-06-113238-1

Dispatches from the Edge would suggest a collection of anecdotes from the various global scenes from which Anderson Cooper has reported, and it is that.  Beyond that, though, it is the sort of personal confession that reveals just how psychologically complex and emotionally damaged the seemingly cool newsman really is.

The primary thread concerns the major events of 2005 (the Christmas '04 Tsunami and its aftermath, the ongoing war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina) and what Anderson Cooper saw and experienced amongst them.  Prior to that year, he had managed to divorce himself from the tragedies upon which he built his journalism career.  It's genuinely evocative to read him outright admit to being bored at home going to movies with friends, just itching to get back to the thrill of a war zone; and just as disturbing to read his frank account of how journalists cope with the inhumanity they are called upon to witness in their professional careers.

Throughout the '05 catharsis, Cooper relates key events that shaped him into the person he was prior to the breakthrough chronicled here.  Losing his father at the age of 10, and his brother's suicide years later are two obviously traumatic experiences.  Just as he reveals himself more of a thrillseeker than a noble journalist, he confesses some fairly selfish and dark thoughts about his brother.  It seems they each coped with their father's death in different ways; while Anderson committed himself to becoming as entirely independent as possible to remove himself from vulnerability, his brother retreated into himself.  Cooper's unabashed resentment is shocking to read, and yet somehow it is precisely why this memoir is so compelling.  Who among us would publicly admit to such sentiments?

Stylistically, Dispatches from the Edge reads as an anthology of journal entries.  It could easily have been a collection of blog posts, or the transcription of a podcast.  Each segment of each chapter is concise, saying only what is necessary about each theme to convey his point.  (And, really, what else would you expect from a professional journalist?)  Readers with no interest in Anderson Cooper, journalism or world events will still find something to appreciate about this jarringly honest memoir.

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