Review: Anderson Cooper’s Dispatches from the Edge

On top of the stack this week: Dispatches from the Edge

On a recent trip I picked up Anderson Cooper’s memoir, Dispatches from the Edge, and read it on a long flight home. Equal parts “war stories” (ie: tales from the field that journalists share with each other over drinks) and autobiography, Cooper does an excellent job of giving context for his journalistic decision-making while also pulling back the veil a bit on his (very) private life.

The son of Gloria Vanderbilt (which was news to me) who lost his father to heart attack and then his older brother to suicide, Cooper decided to pursue a career as a Foreign Correspondent seemingly to compensate for the pain these deaths caused in his life. By surrounding himself with the suffering of others, he was both excused from publicly investigating his own pain, while also being given the external stimulus that could allow him to grieve for his personal losses.

Reading Dispatches from the Edge so soon after losing my own brother was both painful and therapeutic for me. I could see why Cooper decided to throw himself so heavily into his career, but I could also read the toll that this decision took upon his mental and emotional well-being.

While not a perfect memoir (after a certain point, Cooper begins shifting between conflicts and emergencies so quickly that they all blur together – possibly a deliberate technique, but one that inhibits the deeper understanding that most of his journalism looks for), Dispatches from the Edge still offers a lot to journalists, whether professional, freelance or Citizen-styled.

Of particular note was Cooper’s early decision to arrive in a foreign country in the midst of a civil war, with no command of the language, no flack-jacket, no contacts, no media outlet supporting him, and only a fake press pass and a Hi-8 camera as his defense. While he acknowledges it was a stupid decision, it should also be noted that this led to his big break in journalism. Is there a lesson here for you?

Dispatches from the Edge is recommended by Fauna Corporation. It can be found at most major bookstores, but is also available from time-to-time used, should you need to save up your cash until you can buy your first Hi-8 camera and a one-way ticket somewhere.

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