The CNN anchor is bowled over by evocative memoirs—diaries of sobriety and war, not to mention two gorgeous reminiscences from his own parents—plus a pair of classic modern novels.
Some people grow up in homes where sports are important; I grew up in a home where reading and writing had great value. As a child, I had a problem reading. I had a mild form of dyslexia where I would see some letters backward, and I had to go to a special reading instructor. One way she helped was to encourage me to find books that I was really passionate about.

I feel very lucky for her coaching. I remember reading a biography of Helen Keller and a book about people who chose to live in the woods. Eventually, I read Heart of Darkness . That novel, in particular, sparked an interest in seeing what happens to society when everything is stripped away, when you're living without the niceties of modern culture.

I don't think it's an accident that I became a war correspondent. I'm interested in stories of survival: how some people make it through desperate times and others don't. If you go to a conflict zone, you find there's never a complete vacuum. There's always some form of authority. It may not make sense, and it's terrifying. You learn that people are capable of horrific brutality but also great kindness. You see things straight out of Conrad—and how a novel from the 1890s still resonates today.

Anderson Cooper 360° airs 7 p.m. ET Monday–Friday on CNN. Check local listings or visit

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