Ryan Chartrand

“I was ten when my father died,” Anderson Cooper wrote to open his new book. “Before that moment, that slap of silence that reset the clock, I can’t remember much. There are some things, of course – fractals, shards of memory, sharp as broken glass.”

Cooper is distinguished by his piercing blue eyes, his silvered hair, and his globetrotting reporting on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” Yet in his book “Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival,” published in 2006, he reveals another side of himself. As he writes about reporting on numerous devastations around the globe, his stories of the people he encountered and experiences he had are shot through with memories of his family and their personal tragedies.

The son of Wyatt Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt, he grew up in New York. However, his life quickly became precarious. The death of his father caused Cooper to retreat into a separate part of himself at a young age. “Suddenly the world seemed a very scary place, and I vowed not to let it get me. I wanted to be autonomous, protect myself from further loss.my mother was wealthy, but I didn’t want to have to rely on someone else.”

Cooper dealt with his need to prove he could survive on his own by taking courses in high school like mountaineering expeditions in the Rockies and a sea kayaking trip in Mexico. At 17, he graduated early and traveled by truck for months in Africa, “a place to forget, and be forgotten in.”

As Cooper sought a salve for his pain, he enrolled at Yale. On July 22, 1988, his life was struck by another tragedy when his brother, Carter, who was two years older, leapt from the balcony of their mother’s New York penthouse. As Cooper and his mother grieved his death, their pain was taken advantage of by reporters.

“When we arrived at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel for Carter’s wake, about a half-dozen photographers snapped pictures as I helped my mom out of the car,” Cooper recalled. “I hated them: circling like vultures over our barely breathing bodies.”

A year later, Cooper graduated college. He asked his mother what he should do for a career, and she replied, quoting Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.” That was not an option for the man who felt numb and certainly did not feel his bliss. “I wanted to be someplace where emotions were palpable, where the pain outside matched the pain I was feeling inside.war seemed like my only option.”

Cooper entered the world of journalism in order to escape; to keep breathing and to continue moving forward. “Hurtling across oceans, from one conflict to the next, one disaster to another, I sometimes believe it’s motion that keeps me alive as well.”

His career has taken him around the world: the tsunami in Sri Lanka, the war in Iraq, starvation in Niger, Hurricane Katrina. As Cooper seeks to report the truth and put a human face on tragedy, he sometimes wonders if the life he has lived is really the one he was meant to, “or if it is some half life, a mutation engineered by loss, cobbled together by the will to survive.”

“Dispatches from the Edge” is a well-written and intricately woven narrative about the will to survive. Just as Cooper brings humanity into the field of journalism by reporting stories of persistence, his book reveals a dynamic individual, who is “connected to both the past and the present, the living and the lost.” His memoir is an opportunity for readers to gain perspective on Cooper’s life, and to understand how his difficult past has shaped his naturally independent and persevering character.

Cooper closed with this advice on how to survive: “The world has many edges, and all of us dangle from them by a very delicate thread. The key is not to let go.” With vivid imagery, and a rawness that stems from Cooper’s absolute transparency with the reader, “Dispatches from the Edge” is worth reading.

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