Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is both a pioneer of aviation and a well-known French writer. He was born in Lyon, France, in 1900. At an early age, he dreamed of a life of adventure and wanted to become a naval officer. Unfortunately, he failed the exam to qualify him for naval officer training school. As a result, he turned his attention to the field of aviation. Even though flying was dangerous and risky in Saint-Exupéry’s time, he joined the military and trained to be a pilot. After his military service, he presented himself to the director of an airline company and expressed his desire to become a commercial pilot. The director told him he must first become an airplane mechanic. Finally, in 1927, after serving as a mechanic, Saint-Exupéry became a pilot, opening up new air routes over the Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, and the Sahara Desert. Because of the danger of flying, he had a number of accidents, but he escaped any major injuries. Later Saint-Exupéry became the director of his own aviation company in South America, where he often flew dangerous routes over the Andes Mountains.
For Saint-Exupéry, flying was not just piloting an airplane; it was a time for meditation and reflection. While in the air, Saint-Exupéry would think deeply about solitude, friendship, the meaning of life, the human condition, and liberty. He decided to publish his reflections into a book, which was successful. When his aviation company failed, Saint-Exupéry decided to pursue writing as a career. He first became a journalist, traveling to Spain, Russia, and Germany. He also wrote two philosophical books based on aviation: Night Flight (1932) and Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939). Still in love with piloting an airplane, Saint-Exupéry continued to fly whenever he had the opportunity.
In 1939, when France went to war with Germany, Saint-Exupéry immediately enlisted in the army, hoping to become a military pilot in the war effort. France, however, was soon defeated and occupied by Hitler's troops. Saint-Exupéry decided to leave his homeland, settle in the United States, and pursue his writing career. It was in New York that he published The Little Prince, his most celebrated book, in 1943. Since its first publication, more than 25 million copies have been sold in 75 different countries.
In 1942, when American troops landed in North Africa, Saint-Exupéry decided to join the U.S. Army as a pilot. Since he was 42 years of age, he was initially considered too old to be a pilot and was not allowed to fly; however, Saint-Exupéry persisted and was finally given an airplane. He accomplished many missions over occupied France. On July 31, 1944, Saint-Exupéry left for his last mission. His plane was destroyed by the Germans over the Mediterranean.
Though it is not simply a book for young people, The Little Prince ranks number five in the world on the list of bestselling children's books of all time. Wind, Sand, and Stars and Night Flight also remain among the top ten best-selling French language books of all time.
The Little Prince is a profound and deeply moving book written in riddles and laced with philosophy and poetic metaphors. The Little Prince’s philosophy, “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” is well-known throughout the world. The book is, in part, autobiographical. Saint-Exupéry did, indeed, crash his airplane in the Sahara Desert, and like the narrator, he knew how to repair it. More importantly, the book gives the author’s innermost thoughts on life and love.