There are many reasons why Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “Wind, Sand and Stars” ranks No. 3 on National Geographic’s “The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time,” and comes in No. 1 on Outside magazine’s “25 Essential Books for the Well-Read Explorer.” Saint-Exupéry’s piloting skills in the early days of aviation, flying from France to North Africa to deliver the mail when maps were sketchy and the likes of electronic navigation non-existent, are exceeded only by his gift for conveying what he and his comrades endured.
Think you’ve had a great adventure? Ever had your engine conk out flying over the Pyrenees or landed in hostile country where the locals had killed two pilots a year before? “Wind, Sand and Stars” is filled with such adventures, adventures that would forever ground the vast majority of us. For Saint-Exupéry and his peers it was just another day at the office.
It’s the motivation of Saint-Exupéry and his kind that fascinates us. Early in “Wind”, he offers a glimpse that most of us can relate to, an explanation of why the risk was worthwhile. It comes as he rides an early morning shuttle to the airport with the office clerks and other desk-bound workers who know all too well the outcome of their workday — and the rest of their lives.
“Old bureaucrat, my comrade, it is not you who are to blame. No one ever helped you to escape. You, like a termite, built your peace by blocking up with cement every chink and cranny through which the light might pierce. You rolled yourself up into a ball in your genteel security, in routine, in the stifling conventions of provincial life, raising a modest rampart against the winds and the tides and the stars. You have chosen not to be perturbed by the great problems, having trouble enough to forget your own fate as a man. You are not the dweller upon an errant planet and do not ask yourself questions to which there are no answers. You are a petty bourgeois of Toulouse. Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.”
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