The past on a disk, real and imagined

h i s t o r y
The Eyewitness History of the World, pounds 59. CD-Rom (Windows/Mac). Dorling-Kindersley. 0171-753 3488

Everyone knows CD-Roms hold a lot of information, but putting the entire history of the world on one is surely pushing technology a bit too far?

Well, no and yes. This disk really does a take world view, which means that adults brought up on 1066 And All That will be able to fill in their gaps on Indonesian traders in Madagascar and the Zapotecs of South America. The world is divided into four regions and a dozen eras, and there is a handful of subjects in each time/ region segment.

But the detail is limited. The Battle of Trafalgar gets 50 words, for example, so I doubt whether this would be much good as a school crib.

The disk is most successful as a place to surf around time and place, picking up enough titbits to give you at least one cheese in a Trivial Pursuit game. There are any number of ways to get at the information: go into the "culture" section, for example, and have a look at the enticing entry on "elaborate underclothes".

When you are there you will find yourself offered a link to "suffragettes". So a natural curiosity about underclothes could end up telling you about serious politics. A clever way of getting the Just William tendency a bit of "eddication".

This is a slick production, typical of Dorling-Kindersley, and has a good selection of pictures, film clips and audio. If you went through the whole lot you would probably have an impressively rounded knowledge of world history.

My main query is why so much of the text is accompanied by an American narrator. Could not the disk space gobbled up by this superfluous commentary have been used to provide more text instead?