The Longform Guide to Sight

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
June 8 2013 7:30 AM

What a Sight

The Longform guide to vision (or lack thereof)

A blind person reads a book written in braille.
A blind person reads a book written in braille.

Photo by Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images

Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from dozens of other magazines, including Slate.

Into the Light
Robert Kurson • Esquire • June 2005

After losing his sight at age 3, Michael May went on to become the first blind CIA agent, set a world record for downhill skiing, and start a successful Silicon Valley company. Then he got the chance to see again.

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“Weeks passed. When May mentioned the surgery to people, their responses were predictable and explosive: Sight means you get to see your wife and children; isn't that reason enough? But May didn't conceive of it that way. He felt so fully invested in his family, so in love with them, that he couldn't imagine anything—not even vision—deepening his connection to them. I already see my wife and kids, he would think to himself. And he felt that way about much of his life—that everything already seemed so wonderfully vivid.”

See No Evil
Skip Hollandsworth • Texas Monthly • May 1993

One killer's creepy obsession.

“Sitting around [Detective] Westphalen’s battleship-gray metal desk in the heart of the fluorescent-lit homicide office, detectives started throwing out theories. Maybe the killer had gotten AIDS from a prostitute and was out for revenge. Maybe he believed the old superstition that a murderer’s image always remains on the eyeballs of the person he kills. Maybe he believed a dead person’s eyes would follow him forever. Or maybe the killer took the eyeballs to fuel some sexual fantasy. Maybe he wanted to eat them—or cook them. The only thing Westphalen knew for sure was that the killer came out late at night, was strong enough to drag those girls in and out of a car, and had surgical skills. He also probably needed a well-lit room to do his surgery. Hell, somebody said, maybe this guy is a whacked-out doctor.

The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See
Michael Finkel • Men’s Journal • March 2011

Daniel Kish had his eyes removed at age 1 because he was born with retinoblastoma, a cancer that attacks the retinas. But many people would never guess that he is blind.

“The first thing Daniel Kish does, when I pull up to his tidy gray bungalow in Long Beach, California, is make fun of my driving. ‘You're going to leave it that far from the curb?’ he asks. He's standing on his stoop, a good 10 paces from my car. I glance behind me as I walk up to him. I am, indeed, parked about a foot and a half from the curb.

“The second thing Kish does, in his living room a few minutes later, is remove his prosthetic eyeballs. He does this casually, like a person taking off a smudged pair of glasses. The prosthetics are thin convex shells, made of acrylic plastic, with light brown irises. A couple of times a day they need to be cleaned. ‘They get gummy,’ he explains. Behind them is mostly scar tissue. He wipes them gently with a white cloth and places them back in.”