Review: Dispatches from the Edge

Dispatches from the Edge : A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival Dispatches from the Edge, by Anderson Cooper. Grade: A. Don’t mistake my high rating of this book for any vindication of broadcast media. I don’t watch TV news, finding it generally shallow. And before I quote from the book, showing you some of Cooper’s observations, I’ve got to ask, did he really need three photos of himself on the book jacket? There he is looking serious in Africa. There he is looking serious in a hurricane. There he is looking serious after Katrina. He’s got that serious-looking squint going down, but in photos inside the book, you’ll actually see him with his eyes open. That said, it’s a great book that gives you the feel for crisis reporting:

In Baghdad in 2005 the list of what you can’t do is much longer than the list of what you can. You can’t: eat in a restaurant; go to the movies; hail a taxi; go out at night; stroll down the street; stand in a crowd; stay in one spot too long; use the same route; get stuck in traffic; forget to barricade your door at night; neglect to speak in code when using walkie-talkies; or go anywhere without armed guards, communication devices, an ID, a Kevlar vest, or a multi-vehicle convoy. You can’t forget you’re a target.

Other than that, it’s not so bad.

Cooper writes about covering international crisis in Iraq, Bosnia, Niger, Rwanda, and Somalia:

I arrived back in Nairobi and showered the dust from my hair, lathered my body, pried the dirt from my finger- and toenails. I put on fresh clothes, went to an italian restaurant, ate pasta, drank passion fruit juice, watched the TV above the bar. I’d been there, now I was here. A short plane ride, a few hundred miles, another world, light years away.

I finished my meal. A cool breeze blew through the restaurant. When I breathed deeply, however, I was suddenly assaulted by a smell. Smoke, rot, flesh, and food- it was the smell of Somalia, and it came like a stiletto stab out of the shadows. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. My clothes were clean, so was my skin. For a moment I thought it was my imagination, a hallucination brought on by the heat and my fever. Then I realized that it was coming from my boots. I had only one pair, and the smell of that place had soaked into the leather, worked itself into the soles. Just that morning, in Baidoa, getting pictures of a dead donkey, I’d stepped into a pool of blood. Who knew what else I’d walked through?

From the chaotic aftermath of Katrina:

The Scientologists are here too. Kirstie Alley arrived with a bunch of them, and John Travolta is around as well. No one beats Steven Seagal, though. He’s not here with any group. I saw him late one night dressed in a cop uniform, out on patrol with some deputies from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department. He’s been going out with their SWAT team.

“Seagal’s tight with the sheriff in Jefferson,” a New Orleans cop tells me later. “There’s a bar where a lot of cops hang out, and I remember a couple years ago Seagal comes in with those guys and takes out a framed eight-by ten photo of himself and fucking hangs it on the wall.”

“Get out of here,” I say, “no way.”

“I shit you not,” he says. “As soon as he left, a couple of us took out our pistols and shot it. Blew the fucking thing off the wall. One bullet actually went right through and hit a car-rental place next door.”

Dispatches from the Edge, by Anderson Cooper. Grade: A.

0 responses to “Review: Dispatches from the Edge”

  1. […] Burnett, a reporter for National Public Radio (NPR) offers up a series of tales from a couple of decades reporting around the world. Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Kosovo, etc. It’s very similar to Anderson Cooper’s book that I reviewed a couple months ago. Stories and people that didn’t make broadcast, tales of travel and fixers and such. The following dispatch from Iraq illustrates what it’s like to report in today’s media environment; your subjects are actively reading your work continually, and reacting on the spot: […]

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