The Canal du Midi, which threads through southwestern France and links the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, was an astonishing feat of 17th-century engineering — in fact, it was technically impossible according to the standards of its day. Impossible Engineering takes an insightful and entertaining look at the mystery of its success as well as the canal’s surprising political significance.
The waterway was a marvel that connected modern state power to human control of nature just as surely as it linked the ocean to the sea.
The Canal du Midi is typically characterized as the achievement of Pierre-Paul Riquet, a tax farmer and entrepreneur for the canal. Yet Chandra Mukerji argues that it was a product of collective intelligence, depending on peasant women and artisans — unrecognized heirs to Roman traditions of engineering — who came to labor on the waterway in collaboration with military and academic supervisors.