Wednesday, March 24, 2010

26. Dispatches From the Edge by Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper tells of the main tragedies that he reported on during the year of 2005 interspersed with some autographical material and the stories he covered around the world in earlier times.  The earlier memories served to explain his reactions to what he was reporting on as well as to show comparisons between the wars and disasters that he has covered.  I found the jumping around hard to follow and probably would have liked the book better if it had followed a more chronological approach.  However, when he tells about his father's death when he was ten and then jumps to what happened in Rwanda, or his brother's suicide when Anderson was in college and then the next chapter  finds us in maybe Sri Lanka; there's a certain poignancy in the comparison between large-scale tragedy and the sorrow and pain he felt at his own losses.  The most moving story to me personally was when Anderson describes the horrible events of Hurricane Katrina; not just the storm itself but the mismanagement of the rescue and clean up efforts after the storm subsided.  How many more people died because there was not enough food, medical supplies, water, law enforcement is never documented; but you feel many deaths could have been avoided.  Just the thought of dead people laying in the water and streets more than a week after the storm is pretty horrifying.  So it is not a pretty book, but certainly one that makes you stop and think, be grateful for your own circumstances; and maybe feel more compassion towards those less fortunate.  Here are some quotes from the book that I found particularly moving:

" I've seen more dead bodies than I can count, more horror and hatred than I can remember, yet I'm still surprised by what I discover in the far reaches of our planet, the truths revealed in the dwindling light of day, when everything else has been stripped away, exposed, raw as a gutted shark on a fisherman's pier.  The farther you go, however, the harder it is to return.  The world has many edges, and it's very easy to fall off."

"The more you've seen, the more it takes to make you see. The more it takes to affect you.  That is why you're there, after all -- to be affected.  To be changed.  In Somalia, I'd started off serachng for feeling.  In Rwanda, I ended up losing it again."

"My mother once said that she survived the traumas of her childhood because she always felt that inside herself there was a crystal core, a diamond nothing could get at or scratch.  I'd felt that same rock form inside me when my father died.  In New Orleans, however, it started to crack."
Rating:  4.25


  1. I really liked this book a lot when I read it. I thought his build up with all the other tragedies he had reported on, and the poignacy of just how bad Katrina was, in comparison to those genocides and wars, was very dramatic.
    I've been an Anderson fan since he hosted The Mole years ago.

  2. This book sounds like a really fascinating read! It definitely piques my interest. I hadn't heard of it before so thanks for the description and for sharing how it moved you.

  3. It's his descriptions of post-Katrina that made this book a winner for me. I particularly appreciated the fact that he didn't focus solely on New Orleans. The Mississippi Coast was matchsticks, but to this day it seems like few people (aside from churches and other aid groups, which are still sending volunteers to help with the rebuilding) even realize the destruction wasn't confined to New Orleans and that N.O., in fact, didn't take the direct force of the hurricane.

  4. This was my #1 book in 2007. I was so affected by Cooper's thoughts on Katrina, as well as his personal history and his travels. I have several passages quoted and appreciate your review as a reminder to go back and re-read my own thoughts. This would make for a good book club read, don't you think?

    If you're interested, you can find my review here. And, I owe a big thanks to Bookfool for bringing this book to my attention!