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Published 21 December 2019
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Professor A.W .Bishop – Two Major New Books 

The Bishop Method – Laurie Wesley
Whittles Publishing, Caithness, Scotland, 2019.  £35.
ISBN 978-184995-439-6

A very interesting and wonderfully readable book, subtitled: The life and achievements of Professor Alan W Bishop, soil mechanics pioneer.

The book is in three parts: Bishop’s life story; Bishop, Soil Mechanics Pioneer; and Memories of Bishop: anecdotes, stories and tributes. 

First, information about Bishop’s life, which covers his early years and schooling, time at Cambridge University as an undergraduate, early work at the London Metropolitan Water Board (where Bishop developed his first triaxial apparatus), and the Soil Mechanics group at the Building Research Station, and from there, in 1946, to Imperial College. There is a brief outline of Bishop’s work at Imperial and also the travels he undertook to international conferences. The later stages of his life are recounted: his retirement in 1980 and his marriage, for the first time, in 1981. Bishop died in 1988. Given that many of the important players in Bishop’s career were deceased when Laurie started work on this biography it is quite an achievement, the fruit of Laurie’s careful detective work, to piece together so much information about Bishop’s life. The writing is so engaging and a joy to read. Reading this account one realises just how far soil mechanics has come since the early days of the Building Research Station in the 1940s and what a significant role Professor Bishop played in this development.  

Second, Bishops contributions to soil mechanics are reviewed and discussed in some detail; particularly Bishop’s fascination with the principle of effective stress. On reading this section it occurred to me that the 90 or so pages are so well written they could form the basis of a graduate seminar on the principles of soil behavior. Bishop’s great talent as a designer of laboratory equipment is also covered in this section. The Bishop and Bjerrum paper “On the relevance of the triaxial test to the solution of stability problems” (regarded by many as Bishop’s most important paper), presented at the 1960 ASCE conference on the Shear Strength of Cohesive soils is discussed. Another paper, that must also rank high in the list of his most important papers, is that of Bishop and Skinner: “The influence of high pore pressure on the strength of cohesionless soil” published in 1977 in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.  This is a particularly important paper which, unfortunately, is comparatively unknown because of the obscure place of publication. Not only does it provide high quality data verifying the principle of effective stress but also demonstrates very sophisticated skills in the conception and design of highly complex soil testing apparatus.

Third, the book is rounded out with a collection of anecdotes about Professor Bishop and some of his eccentric ways. All most interesting and some even quite amusing.

If you have even the slightest interest in the history of soil mechanics and the life of one of its pioneers, this is a book you will delight in reading.

Professor A W Bishop’s Finest Papers – compiled by Laurie Wesley
Whittles Publishing, Caithness, Scotland, 2019. £40
ISBN 978-184995-442-6

This volume collects many of Bishop’s papers. It includes the 1960 Bishop and Bjerrum paper and two papers from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, one of which is the Bishop and Skinner paper on effective stress, as well as some of Bishop’s Geotechnique papers, and several conference papers.  The volume also contains a paper by Laurie and his friend Richard Pugh. They were the last two PhD students fully supervised by Bishop. Both were to have written papers co-authored by Bishop but because of Bishop’s illness and early death the papers were never written. With a research grant Bishop had employed Laurie and Richard to investigate the properties of the soft clay along the north coast of the Thames Estuary. Laurie did the laboratory work and Richard the field work. Their paper shows how comprehensive their testing was and how clearly Bishop was behind it all. Laurie’s contribution is impressive because he both co-designed the Bishop-Wesley triaxial apparatus and carried out a large number of various types of triaxial and other tests. This is a valuable collection bringing together in one place documentation of a number of significant steps in the development of soil mechanics.

Reviewed by: Mick Pender

We occasionally receive or learn of new books of interest. If you would like to review new books for us, please contact the Editors.


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ISSN 01116851