Review: Crashing Through, by Robert Kurson

Crashing Through: The Extraordinary True Story of the Man Who Dared to See, by Robert Kurson. New York: Random House, 2008. 320 pp. $16 (paperback).


On a sunny spring morning in 1957, three-year-old Mike May and his older sister decided to make mud pies. After finding a glass jar in the family’s garage, Mike took it to a cement horse trough nearby and plunged it underwater to wash away the hard, dried powder inside.

Soon after, the powder—calcium carbide—reacted with the water to produce the explosive gas acetylene. When Mike’s mother, Ori Jean, rushed into the backyard upon hearing a loud bang, she found him whimpering on the ground, drenched in blood, with shards of glass all around.

Ori Jean called for an ambulance and then followed it to the nearby hospital. In the emergency room, doctors swarmed around Mike. “He had lost massive amounts of blood from his face, neck, arms, stomach, everywhere. Critical veins in his wrists had been slashed” (p. 19). The doctors told Ori Jean that he was going to die.

But Mike was not dead yet, and his doctors kept working on him. They sent him to specialists in El Paso by helicopter, trailed—on the ground—by his mother, driving as fast as she could. When she reached the specialists, they told Ori Jean to expect the worst and say good-bye to her son, whom they pulled into the operating room.

Five hours later, Ori Jean learned that it took five hundred stitches to quilt Mike together, but that the doctors had done the seemingly impossible. Although he was blind, Mike was still alive—which, to his mother, was all that mattered. Robert Kurson tells what happened next in Crashing Through: The Extraordinary True Story of the Man Who Dared to See, a book that follows Mike and his many adventures to the present day.

Kurson relays how Ori Jean did not prevent Mike from investigating the world, which he found fascinating even though this meant constantly crashing into obstacles. On Mike’s childhood, Kurson tells us:

The neighborhood children had no idea what to make of a blind kid. Diane [his sister] told them, “He’s really good at stuff,” but they still picked him last for their teams. He swung at baseballs and missed wildly. He ran into trees instead of second base. He fell down all the time. . . .

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