Anderson Cooper is no stranger to tragedy. When he was 10, his father died during heart surgery. While he was finishing college at Yale University, his older brother Carter, who was 23 at the time, committed suicide. The CNN anchor, 39, writes about his personal heartbreak and harrowing professional experiences in his new book, Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival, including his decision early on to become a war correspondent. “I found it in some ways comforting to be in places where people understood grief and were able to talk about it,” says Cooper. PEOPLE recently chatted with the single newsman about traveling the world, how Hurricane Katrina changed him and his penchant for cheesy reality TV.
How difficult was it to open up about your own life in your book?
It’s a difficult thing to do. But for me it’s really a memoir about loss. It’s really about a story of loss both personal and professional. I started going to wars in some ways to deal with losses I had experienced and to learn from those who had been through loss themselves.
I know you had the tragedy of your brother’s suicide.
Certainly my brother’s death in many ways motivated me. I was questioning what had happened to him. I was really interested in the issues of survival and why some people survive and others don’t.
How did reporting on Hurricane Katrina change you personally?
I decided to start writing the book really two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, when the flood waters had receded and the convention center and Superdome were getting cleaned up. I just worried that the memory of what happened there would be forgotten. I think it’s important to keep the memory of what happened there alive. I’d spent a lot of time in Africa, and in wars in Rwanda, Somalia and Sarajevo. I’d seen similar images of disaster but never in the United States.
What makes you laugh?
I like watching cheesy TV shows for relaxation. I watch a lot of MTV, like My Super Sweet 16.
What about the show is funny to you?
Because the people seem moronic on it and are embarrassing.
So, what’s it like dating when you’re such a recognizable face?
I really don’t talk about my personal life.
I had to at least give it a try.