It’s not uncommon for strangers, friends, and family to ask me the question: if you had the opportunity to see, would you? My friend Meagan has written a concise answer to the question (an opinion that I share). Science has not addressed curing the causes of my blindness, so at this moment, for me the question is moot. But I can’t deny my own sense of curiosity about the uncommon transition from blindness to sight; the reverse has been chronicled extensively, including a woman who allegedly blinded herself.

 

Crashing Through: A true Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man who Dared to See
By: Robert Kurson

 

Blinded at age three, Mike May defied expectations by breaking world records in downhill speed skiing, joining the CIA, and becoming a successful inventor, entrepreneur, and family man. He had never yearned for vision.
Then, in 1999, a chance encounter brought startling news: a revolutionary stem-cell transplant surgery could restore May’s vision. The procedure was filled with risks, some of them deadly, others beyond May’s wildest dreams. There were countless reasons for May to pass on vision. He could think of only a single reason to go forward. Whatever his decision, he knew it would change his life.
Beautifully written and thrillingly told, Crashing Through is a journey of suspense, daring, romance, and insight into the mysteries of vision and the brain. Robert Kurson gives us a fascinating account of one man’s choice to explore what it means to see – and to truly live.

 

Touching All the bases

 

This book is a combination of autobiography and scientific exploration of vision. Kurson’s look into Mike May’s life – both pre- and post-surgery – is effectively drawn. With a journalist’s precision, he details the chemical reaction that caused Mike’s blindness, the uphill battle his mother fought to admit him into a public school, and Mike’s struggles and successes in his personal and professional life. When Mike begins to become accustomed to his vision, it’s not all sunshine and roses; sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating to go along that journey with May and Kurson. Much of the latter third of the book details the scientific research that helped explain what he could see and why other visual input was so challenging.

 

Mike May: A Blind Man who can See

 

Kurson shies away from characterizing Mike as an angel or hero or otherwise “super blind man.” Sure, he did a lot of exciting and great stuff with his life, but it’s not framed as “despite his blindness, he…”. Mike May’s curiosity of the world in his childhood and early adulthood set the stage for him to embrace the challenge of vision, and the author draws this out with particularly nuanced emphasis. Mike May now has good vision, but it is clear that he cannot process what he is seeing the way a fully sighted person can; he is, effectively, a blind man who can see. It is clear that Mike May was intimately involved in the creation of this book, something that’s quite rare for blind subjects of biographies written by sighted authors.

 

Some Drawbacks

 

I personally found it incredibly disconcerting that during the entirety of the book, Mike May was referred to as “May”. The reason for this is unclear to me, but even in incredibly moving descriptions of discovering new things he could see, or describing some of the challenges he faced, having him referred to as “May” made it almost seem clinical and removed.
Some of the scientific data, while fascinating, could have been included in smaller portions throughout the book, rather than all in one chunk (though I do realize that much of the scientific data Mike May discovered at a particular time in his “vision journey”). I don’t know if there’s any way to make both biography and science lovers happy, but this review is my own.

 

Conclusion

 

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to receive vision after nearly a lifetime of blindness, this book chronicles one man’s journey well. It’s not always necessarily a happy story, but it’s an important one. After reading this book, I still hold the same opinion on restoring or improving my vision given the chance, but that opinion is still my own. If surgery is the answer for some, that’s terrific; if not, that’s OK, too. But Robert Kurson and Mike May have given me much food for thought.
4/5 stars.

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