In 2005, two tragedies--the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina--turned CNN reporter Anderson Cooper into a media celebrity. Dispatches from the Edge, Cooper's memoir of "war, disasters and survival," is a brief but powerful chronicle of Cooper's ascent to stardom and his struggle with his own tragedies and demons. Cooper was 10 years old when his father, Wyatt Cooper, died during heart bypass surgery. He was 20 when his beloved older brother, Carter, committed suicide by jumping off his mother's penthouse balcony (his mother, by the way, being Gloria Vanderbilt). The losses profoundly affected Cooper, who fled home after college to work as a freelance journalist for Channel One, the classroom news service.
Covering tragedies in far-flung places like Burma, Vietnam, and Somalia, Cooper quickly learned that "as a journalist, no matter ... how respectful you are, part of your brain remains focused on how to capture the horror you see, how to package it, present it to others." Cooper's description of these horrors, from war-ravaged Baghdad to famine-wracked Niger, is poignant but surprisingly unsentimental. In Niger, Cooper writes, he is chagrined, then resigned, when he catches himself looking for the "worst cases" to commit to film. "They die, I live. It's the way of the world," he writes.
In the final section of Dispatches, Cooper describes covering Hurricane Katrina, the story that made him famous. The transcript of his showdown with Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (in which Cooper tells Landrieu people in New Orleans are "ashamed of what is happening in this country right now") is worth the price of admission on its own. Cooper's memoir leaves some questions unanswered--there's frustratingly little about his personal life, for example--but remains a vivid, modest self-portrait by a man who is proving himself to be an admirable, courageous leader in a medium that could use more like him.