A debut work combines a detailed history of the catastrophic collapse of the Quebec Bridge in 1907 and an account of the official ethical pledge taken by Canadian engineers.

The plan to construct the Quebec Bridge extending over the St. Lawrence River was a monumental one, unprecedented at the time for its scope and complexity. Levert impressively chronicles every facet of its yearslong design and construction, including the political and financial context of the project. Tragically, that bridge collapsed in 1907, killing dozens of men, a disaster that was the subject of an official inquiry conducted by a Royal Commission. The author furnishes a magisterially thorough and incisive discussion of the investigation and concludes that it neglected to consider the whole “organizational context” of the debacle, including the Canadian government’s inexcusable lack of oversight. Levert also tells the story of the genesis of the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, an oath taken by new engineers. The brainchild of Herbert E.T. Haultain, a famed engineer, the pledge was composed by Rudyard Kipling. Haultain meant for that oath to not only function as a binding statement of moral obligation, but also a tableau of the engineering community’s “tribal soul.” The author intelligently and thematically connects the two tales by the fact that the pledge is ultimately a call for humility and the bridge disaster was the consequence of breathtaking hubris, especially on the part of the chief engineer, Theodore Cooper. Levert’s research is impeccable and his prose unfailingly lucid, making for an informative and compelling read. But this is a book written by an engineer for engineers—the microscopic attention to technical details is unlikely to sustain the attention of a layperson.

A remarkably rigorous account of a bridge calamity that should be of interest to engineers.