by Frank Strong
Hello, and welcome to your life as a blind person. I suspect that you have encountered many situations and challenges since you experienced vision loss. You are not alone.
The following is a list of books which I have compiled to help you become familiar with blind people who have preceded us in the blindness community. The books describe the lives of people who have at least one thing in common with you and me: they are blind. Their life experiences can serve as a beacon or a benchmark as you assess the challenges and opportunities in your life.
I am writing this article as I am a blind person and because I want you to learn from the lives and achievements of blind people. The sheer determination of our predecessors is awe-inspiring and often daunting.
The list reflects my tendency to follow blind musicians, but many of the books are about non-musicians as well. All book titles listed below are accessible in audio format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. The titles include the Library of Congress BARD Express book number for your convenience. You may find some of these books to be more helpful than others. Additionally, you may ask your library reader assistant to place these titles on a cartridge for your reading convenience.
The list is offered as a guide for your support and encouragement as you make your way through life as a blind person. Remember that a house is only as good as its foundation. These biographies can help you build or bolster the foundation of your adjustment to blindness.
Keep in mind that you bring abilities, resources, and perspectives not available to those described in these biographies. You have experiences and abilities unlike anyone else’s. The goal of this article is to help you identify goals you may wish to pursue.
I have included a few words regarding my thoughts on each of these titles. My reviews are identified as “Frank’s comments.”
Louis Braille: Windows for the Blind, by J. Alvin Kugelmass
This is a biography of the inventor of the system of reading that opened the world of books to the blind. Though Braille’s revolutionary innovation remained unrecognized during his lifetime, it is now used in every language and in every country throughout the world. For high school and adult readers.
Frank’s comments: A terrific book about Louis Braille. This biography describes how a poor farm boy created a communication system which has opened doors of opportunity to blind people everywhere. This is a must read.
The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story: A Biography, by Rosalind Perlman
Biography of Chicago-born Jacob Bolotin (1888-1924), blind from birth. The author, whose husband was related to Bolotin, discusses Bolotin’s determination to become a physician and describes the hard-won training that enabled him to practice medicine as a respected heart and lung specialist. Some strong language. 2007.
Frank’s comments: A life-changing book for me. Bolotin overcame poverty and isolation to reach goals never previously attained by a blind person. In addition, the narrator does a terrific job of reading this exciting book.
Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell, by Michael Gray
Author Michael Gray recounts his odyssey through the Deep South to research this biography of Georgia blues singer and twelve-string guitarist William Samuel McTell (1903-1959), who was born blind. Portrays Willie’s travels and performances during the segregation era and the way his reputation grew after his death. 2009.
Frank’s comments: This book is extremely well researched. The author, Michael Gray, is a great fan of McTell and does an outstanding job of describing the hardships McTell faced as a blind Black man during the Jim Crow years in the deep south. This is a compelling and engaging book.
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler, by Jason Roberts
Biography of Englishman James Holman (1786-1857), who was blinded at 25 after serving in the Napoleonic wars and who then achieved fame as a world traveler. Quoting from Holman’s memoirs, describes how he fought slavery in Africa, survived captivity in Siberia, charted the Australian outback, and published three books. 2006.
Frank’s comments: This book describes the captivating story of Holman who was able to travel around the world, despite his meager resources and total blindness. Holman’s story has inspired many and has resulted in the Holman Prize. The Holman Prize is awarded annually to blind people who aspire to achieve remarkable goals. The Holman Prize is facilitated by the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind, https://lighthouse-sf.org/.
Almost Like a Song, by Ronnie Milsap
Taken in by dirt-poor but loving grandparents after his mother rejected him, Ronnie was soon sent off to a school for the blind. There, among other things, he learned discipline, determination, and classical music — acquirements that shaped his boyhood, his career, and his success as a country music superstar. His inspiring story reveals little-known aspects of the music industry where he rose to the top.
Frank’s comments: This book describes how Milsap encountered many obstacles resulting from his blindness. The book tells how Milsap’s stubborn determination and grit as well as his intellect helped him succeed despite the odds against him.
Helen Keller: A Life, by Dorothy Herrmann
A chronological account of Keller’s long, eventful life, written from a woman’s perspective. Herrmann explores Keller’s world, perceived without sight or sound; her ability to remain cheerful about her disabilities; and her relationship with teacher Anne Sullivan.
Frank’s comments: This is an in-depth look at the remarkable life of Helen Keller, a deaf-blind woman who happened to be taught by another severely visually impaired teacher, Ann Sullivan. This book describes how Keller traveled the world promoting education and opportunities for blind and deaf-blind people. Keller was truly a one-of-a-kind person who made a huge difference for those of us who followed in her footsteps.
Blind But Now I See: The Biography of Music Legend Doc Watson, by Kent Gustavson
Biography of blind Grammy Award-winning guitarist, songwriter, and singer Arthel “Doc” Watson (1923-2012) from Appalachian North Carolina. Explores his training at the Raleigh School for the Blind, rise during the 1960s folk revival, partnership with his son Merle, and the development of his flatpicking style of guitar playing. 2010.
Frank’s comments: Watson started life out in poverty in the hardscrabble rural mountains of North Carolina. He overcame his hardships by developing his outstanding music skills. This biography describes how Watson led his life with humility and love for his family, friends, and music.
Whistling in the Dark, by Fred Lowery and John R. McDowell
The talented blind whistler tells of his life from his early days of poverty to his rise as a featured musician with the big show bands. He includes accounts of his early radio career, his tours with the big bands, his hit recordings, and his acquaintances among famous show business personalities.
Frank’s comments: This biography describes how Lowery was able to make a successful career in a truly unusual manner. Imagine choosing your music career to be a professional whistler… and succeeding! This is a remarkable story about a talented and resourceful musician.
Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story, by Ray Charles and David Ritz
Candid autobiography of the musician who was born Black and poor in the Deep South, became blind as a small boy and was orphaned as a teenager. At 32 he was acclaimed as a musical genius. Strong language and explicit descriptions of sex.
Frank’s comments: This moving biography describes one of America’s great musical giants. This blunt description of Charles and his career conveys how he wrote, performed and published great music for decades despite his early life of poverty and deprivation.
Undaunted by Blindness: Concise Biographies of 400 People Who Refused to Let Visual Impairment Define Them, by Clifford E. Olstrom
Director of the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind presents 400 capsule biographies of notable blind people in various occupations and from different historical periods. Includes profiles of Irish composer Torlogh Carolan (1670-1738), American publisher Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911), and Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso (b. 1921). 2010.
Frank’s comments: This collection of concise biographies describes a wide array of people from all occupations and how they overcame their blindness to make a difference. The variety of people, places and span of history offer a different and engaging set of stories about blind people worldwide.
And There Was Light: The Autobiography of a Blind Hero of the French Resistance
Lusseyran describes his life up to the age of 20. Blinded at seven, he was a teenager when the Nazis invaded France. After he joined the Resistance, his group was turned in by informers and imprisoned. He tells of surviving in a German concentration camp until the war's end.
Frank’s comments: This is a must-read about a blind teenager who was a leader in the French Resistance against the occupying Nazi army. I cannot say enough how important this book is for learning about patriotism, ingenuity, and fighting for the freedom of his people. This is a great story.
I hope that these 10 book titles will help you in your life experience as a blind person. They certainly have helped me. What will be your life story?