Hugh John watches as the 20th century is chronicled on CD-Rom
Encyclopedias, poetry anthologies, telephone directories - they're all grist to the digital mill. Multi-volume traditional encyclopedias such as Britannica, World Book, Colliers and Funk and Wagnall (Encarta) have long since been devoured by the CD-Rom industry. Now it's the turn of the tabloidesque Chronicle of the Twentieth Century, which, in printed form, has sold more than 6 million copies.
As one might expect, Dorling Kindersley has made an inspired choice. The formula which has made all the Chronicle books so successful - strong headlines, clear layout, simple format - transfers well into the digital domain.
The home page is a virtual, interactive newsroom where most of the objects are hot-linked to topics in the Chronicle. By clicking on a newspaper, for example, viewers are taken to a screen where they can enter their date of birth (assuming they're not aged 96 or older!) and read what was in the news on that day.
The filing cabinets open to reveal biographical sketches of 100 of the century's most famous people and the bakelite television on the desk offers a selection of video clips.
And for serious hard-core tabloid readers there's even a collection of 20th-century scandals, ranging from the trial of Fatty Arbuckle to the abdication of King Edward VIII.
The main navigation device, neatly enough, is a compass icon which is ever present at the top left of the screen, and clicking on this leads the viewer to the seven main sections: Newsroom; News Screen Selector; Biographies; Searches (a fairly sophisticated search mechanism); Twentieth Century in Focus, which contains eight multimedia features on some of the most important events of the century, including the Russian Revolution and the two world wars; Calendar; and Chronicle OnLine which, with a suitable modem and communications software, will take you to the Chronicle Web site on the Internet.
Chronicle does not have the depth and scope of the better multimedia encyclopedias, but the racy presentation and attractive balance between picture, text, sound and video clips give it an attractive immediacy.
If there is any criticism to be made it is that, perhaps for reasons of copyright, the print option is extremely limited. Given the many stunning images available, this is a great disappointment. Students and teachers who might have wanted to print up any of the pictures for wall displays will find that the software only allows them to print the entire page, text and image.
That said, Chronicle remains an exciting and stimulating multimedia account of our turbulent century and is a CD which many children and parents are sure to enjoy.