A simple tour of the complex

Basic Solid Mechanics

November 7, 1997

Solid mechanics is a subject that forms the very foundation of most mechanically orientated engineering courses. Virtually all engineers will have sat through classes on equilibrium, stress and strain and bending theory. Many will remember this experience with mixed emotions and will, no doubt, have subsequently referred to various texts for some elucidation.

The concepts of solid mechanics are not easy. In fact understanding normally comes from the completion of many worked examples and exercises. Engineering is a practical discipline that cannot be "boned up" the night before an exam.

Many teachers tend to move too quickly, relying on learning by rote rather than an understanding of the subject. Many texts used in the past have incorporated material from basic, through intermediate to advanced, encouraging some teachers to expand the curriculum and compress it into inappropriate time periods.

David Rees has clearly identified these aspects in Basic Solid Mechanics. It could be called WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) and the material is suitable only for first or first and second-year cohorts on any of the mechanically-orientated engineering degrees. But it is not just the restriction of material to a basic level that is refreshing. It is the huge numbers of worked examples and exercises included.

The format is simple and follows the author's lecture notes developed over 20 years of teaching. There are 11 major chapters each dealing with a specific area and these include equilibrium, stress and strain, beam bending, torsion, buckling of bars and an introduction to finite element analysis. For each aspect covered there is a brief description, one or more worked examples and several exercises at the end of the chapter. The book cannot be used as a stand-alone teaching aid. The initial explanation of each aspect has a rather "clipped" style and is a little difficult to follow in parts. A further minor gripe is that many of the worked examples and exercises often seemed contrived. It is difficult to find real-life problems that are current but still solvable using the basic techniques. I would also have liked to see the use of historical references continued throughout rather than being restricted to the first overview chapter.

The book deserves wide attention, although it is being added to a very crowded market.

Howard Wright is professor of civil engineering, University of Strathclyde.

Basic Solid Mechanics

Author - D. W. A. Rees
ISBN - 0333 66609 7
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £16.99
Pages - 396

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