This memoir by one of France's most important writers recounts a series of disjointed episodes from his life as an aviator. Flying mail across the Andes and the Sahara, he discusses comradeship, fear and excitement and ruminates on what makes us human.
It's a beautiful poetic work. Pick it up at random and there will be the most elegant description or piece of philosophical prose. Here's a paragraph that jumped out at me for instance
"To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to know shame at the sight of poverty which is not of our making. It is to be proud of a victory won by our comrades. It is to feel, as we place our stone, that we are contributing to the building of the world."
The climax of the book, is the story of a plane crash that he and his co-pilot survive in the Sahara and their miraculous escape. It's mirrored by an earlier story of the crash in the Andes of one of his closest friends. In both stories, indeed, running through the whole work is the concept of comradeship. Clearly for this writer, as demonstrated in the quote above, what makes us human is our bonds with others.
Antoine de Saint Exupéry was writing at a time when to be a pilot was to be an adventurer. When aeroplanes still made people stand and stare. When the opening up of mail routes transformed continents.
To fly then was to rely utterly on a few close comrades and your own internal strength. This experience wasn't just an adventure for the author, it was a life-affirming action, something that shaped his life. The book reflects this passion, making it a powerful and emotional read.