Dispatches from the Edgeby Anderson Cooper
Few people have witnessed more scenes of chaos and conflict around the world than Anderson Cooper, whose groundbreaking coverage on CNN has changed the way we watch the news. In this gripping, candid, and remarkably powerful memoir, he offers an unstinting, up-close view of the most harrowing crises of our time, and the profound impact they have had on his life.… See more details below
Few people have witnessed more scenes of chaos and conflict around the world than Anderson Cooper, whose groundbreaking coverage on CNN has changed the way we watch the news. In this gripping, candid, and remarkably powerful memoir, he offers an unstinting, up-close view of the most harrowing crises of our time, and the profound impact they have had on his life.
After growing up on Manhattan's Upper East Side, Cooper felt a magnetic pull toward the unknown, an attraction to the far corners of the earth. If he could keep moving, and keep exploring, he felt he could stay one step ahead of his past, including the fame surrounding his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, and the tragic early deaths of his father and older brother. As a reporter, the frenetic pace of filing dispatches from war-torn countries, and the danger that came with it, helped him avoid having to look too closely at the pain and loss that was right in front of him.
But recently, during the course of one extraordinary, tumultuous year, it became impossible for him to continue to separate his work from his life, his family's troubled history from the suffering people he met all over the world. From the tsunami in Sri Lanka to the war in Iraq to the starvation in Niger and ultimately to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi, Cooper gives us a firsthand glimpse of the devastation that takes place, both physically and emotionally, when the normal order of things is violently ruptured on such a massive scale. Cooper had been in his share of life-threatening situations before -- ducking fire on the streets of war-torn Sarejevo, traveling on his own to famine-stricken Somalia, witnessing firsthand the genocide in Rwanda -- but he had never seen human misery quite like this. Writing with vivid memories of his childhood and early career as a roving correspondent, Cooper reveals for the first time how deeply affected he has been by the wars, disasters, and tragedies he has witnessed, and why he continues to be drawn to some of the most perilous places on earth.
Striking, heartfelt, and utterly engrossing, Dispatches from the Edge is an unforgettable memoir that takes us behind the scenes of the cataclysmic events of our age and allows us to see them through the eyes of one of America's most trusted, fearless, and pioneering reporters.
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Dispatches from the EdgeA Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival
By Anderson Cooper
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Anderson Cooper
All right reserved.
Small waves, one after the other, lap the shore. Two Sri Lankan villagers walk along the water's edge, searching for bodies washed up by the tide. They come every morning, leave without answers. Some days they find nothing. Today there's a torn shoe and a piece of broken fence.
I'm standing in a pile of rubble. Beneath me the ground seems to move, twisting and turning in on itself. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust. The ground isn't moving at all. It's maggots, thousands of them. Writhing, squirming, they feast on some unseen flesh. Nearby, a dog with low-hanging teats and a face smeared with blood scavenges for scraps. She steps carefully among scattered bricks, tourist snapshots, china plates, the flotsam and jetsam of life before the wave.
It took centuries for the pressure to build. Subtle shifts, grinding force. Long ago, a thousand miles east of Sri Lanka, more than fifteen miles below the surface of the Indian Ocean, two gigantic shelves of rock, tectonic plates, pressed against each other -- the rim of what scientists call the India Plate began to push underneath the Burma Plate. Something had to give. At nearlyone minute before 8:00 A.M., the morning after Christmas, 2004, the force of the compression explodes along a section of rock some one hundred miles off the west coast of Sumatra. A fault line more than seven hundred miles long violently rips open and a shelf of rock and sediment thrusts upward fifty feet, unleashing an explosion of energy so powerful it alters the rotation of the earth. It is one of the strongest earthquakes in recorded history.
Shock waves pulse in all directions, displacing millions of tons of water, creating giant undersea waves. A tsunami. A ship on the surface of the sea would barely have noticed, detecting perhaps some slight swells no more than two feet high. But underneath, out of sight, churning walls of water extend from the ocean's bottom to the surface, pushing outward. The water moves fast, five hundred miles per hour -- the speed of a commercial jetliner.
It takes eight minutes after the earthquake begins for the sonic signals to reach the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, in Hawaii. The thin needle of a seismograph suddenly springs to life, rapidly scribbling side to side, signaling an alarm. It's already too late. Eight minutes later, at approximately 8:15 A.M., in Banda Aceh, Sumatra, the first of several massive walls of water explodes onto shore. In the next two hours, tsunami waves strike ten other countries. More than two hundred thousand people will die.
In New York, 2005 begins in a blizzard. A hurricane of confetti and light. At the stroke of midnight, I'm standing on a platform in the center of Times Square. I'm about sixty feet off the ground, and below, on the streets all around me, are people -- hundreds of thousands of revelers packed shoulder to shoulder behind barricades set up by police. The crowd is cheering. I see their mouths are open, their hands waving in the air, but I can't hear them. Both my ears are plugged with wireless headphones connecting me to a control room several blocks away. I hear only the hiss of the satellite transmission and a thin pulse of blood throbbing in my ears.
It's a strange way to start 2005. We've been covering the tsunami around the clock this week, and each day brings new details, new horrors. There's been talk of canceling the celebrations, but in the end it's decided that the show will go on.
I've always hated New Year's Eve. When I was ten, I lay on the floor of my room with my brother, watching on TV as the crowd in Times Square counted down the remaining seconds of 1977. My father was in the intensive care unit at New York Hospital. He'd had a series of heart attacks, and in a few days would undergo bypass surgery. My brother and I were terrified, but too scared to speak with each other about it. We watched, silent, numb, as the giant crystal ball made its slow descent. It all seemed so frightening: the screaming crowds, the frigid air, not knowing if our father would live through the new year.
I grew up in New York but never went to see the ball drop until I volunteered to cover it for CNN. For most New Yorkers, the idea of going anywhere near Times Square on New Year's Eve is inconceivable. It's like eating at Tavern On The Green; the food may be tasty, but it's best left to out-of-towners.
I've always thought that New Year's Eve is proof that human beings are essentially optimistic creatures. Despite hundreds of years of pathetic parties and hellish hangovers, we continue to cling to the notion that it's possible to have fun on that night. It's not. There's too much pressure, too many expectations, too few bathrooms.
The truth is, I began volunteering to work on New Year's Eve as a way to avoid having to do something social. This is my second time covering the Times Square festivities, and I've actually begun to enjoy it. There aren't many opportunities in this city to feel part of a community. We scuttle about the streets each day, individual atoms occasionally running into one another but rarely coalescing to form a whole. In Times Square, however, as the ball descends and the crowd cheers, New York becomes a very different place, a place of pure feeling.
When midnight arrives, the air explodes into a solid mass, a swirl of colored confetti that seems to hang suspended in space. For several minutes I am not expected to say anything. The pictures take over. The cameras pan the streets, wide shots and close-ups; people sing and shout. I take the headphones out of my ears and am surrounded by the waves of sound. The air seems to shake, and for . . .
Excerpted from Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper Copyright © 2006 by Anderson Cooper. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Anderson Cooper is the anchor of Anderson Cooper 360° on CNN and a correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes. He has won numerous journalism awards and nine Emmys, and his first book, Dispatches from the Edge, was a number one New York Times bestseller. He lives in New York City.
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