This is one of Shute's best novels from Australia and is a biography of a WW I pilot who spent the rest of life flying planes. The tale is told using flashbacks from an air smash in the 1950s Australian outback. This is not a device I usually like, since it often kills the pace of a novel. However, here the tension created by the initial crash is very skillfully held to the last few pages, by a series of ingenious plot developments. I had a few problems believing the actions of some of the characters, but here Shute is in the estimable company of Dickens - it doesn't spoil the story-telling. In the course of the novel, Shute gives a highly credible history of the development of aviation which I found utterly compelling. But then, I'm 65, had a childhood passion for anything to do with aircraft and am familiar with all the planes Shute talks about - my Dad was in the RAF. I was a little concerned that younger readers might find this element boring. However, this does not seem to be the case, partly because it is interleaved with a couple of hugely compassionate and essential love stories. I can't go into the detail of the 'crucial insights' I refer to in the title without giving too much away. So, you'll have to take it on trust; this book will make you think about some of your attitudes and examines some very important moral issues that will always be relevant.
It would be easy to dismiss this book as the self-indulgent reminiscing of an author close to his own death. Some of it may be autobiographical, much of it will certainly be based on the stories of people Shute knew, but it is so much more than that. Almost anyone would find something to enjoy in this book, most would read it again!