Will a blind person be improved by gaining eyesight, or will an already-complete person become impaired in unexpected ways?
With his first book, “Shadow Divers,” Robert Kurson told the endlessly interesting
story of how divers discovered a mysterious sunken submarine off the coast of New Jersey. “Shadow Divers” also had the human-interest elements of the divers’ bravado and the sub disaster’s casualties to explore. Mr. Kurson set a very high bar for his next nonfiction endeavor.
UGH! No word on who is in it yet!
A True Story of Risk, Adventure and the Man Who Dared to See
By Robert Kurson
Illustrated. 306 pages. Random House. $25.95.
“Crashing Through,” a book about much more personal and interior adventures. Mr. Kurson writes about Mike May, who was surely one of the world’s most enterprising blind people even before he embarked on a risky series of procedures to restore his vision. Mr. May lost his eyesight in a chemical explosion at the age of 3. He had gone on, among other things, to set the world’s speed record for a blind skier, climb a 175-foot ham-radio tower to make repairs and travel 85 miles by train, bus and taxi to take his future wife on their first date.
So Mr. May’s life was a can-do success story even before the idea of repaired eyesight became an option. “Crashing Through,” which takes its title from the May style of dealing with any obstacle, describes the many innovative ways devised by Mr. May for moving through the world more vigorously than many sighted people do.
He lived in a remote Ghanaian village. He earned a graduate degree in international relations. He worked for the C.I.A. until it was decided that he could not be an inconspicuous spy. And he studied electrical engineering. “Blind electrical engineers were rare, which was one of the reasons he wanted to do it,” Mr. Kurson explains.
He worried about every risk that eye surgery would entail, including the impermanence of new vision and the use of a possible carcinogen to keep his body from rejecting corneal transplants. As he explained to his wife at the moment of decision, there was every good reason to refrain from taking this chance. The only reason to do it was curiosity.
“Crashing Through” becomes most interesting when the flaws in Mr. May’s new eyesight become apparent. He makes wondrous discoveries of things blind people never hear about — shadows, freckles, the movement and transparency of running water — but has more difficulty with the cognitive aspects of pattern recognition. He can see facial features but cannot decipher facial expressions.
Eventually the joy of sight fades for him and the investigatory challenges begin. Ingenious as ever, he finds ways to meld everything he has learned with everything new he can see, and to navigate the world imaginatively.
Michael May (center) was blinded at age three. Forty-two years later, a revolutionary stem cell transplant surgery gave him his sight back. Above, on his first day of vision since childhood, May sees his sons for the first time.