Review from
Against the Grain
"Linking Publishers, Vendors and Librarians"
TestDriving CD-ROMS: June 1998


Reviewed by Martha S. Felts, (Catalog Librarian, College of Charleston, SC) and Michael W. Colgan, (Associate Professor, Geology, College of Charleston, SC)


Librarian: Lightbinders’ second edition of "Darwin," their CD-ROM product, is a jewel. On one compact disc compatible with Macintosh, Unix and Windows computers may be found all of Charles Darwin’s major works, including The Origin of the Species, The Descent of Man, and The Voyage of the Beagle. To these works Lightbinders added five less well-known books by Darwin, including The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, on the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects, and 23 short papers. To this compilation is then added The Triumph of the Darwinian Method by Michael Ghiselin along with a biographical dictionary, a chronology, and an extensive Darwin bibliography. "Darwin" is comprehensive and thoughtfully compiled.


Professor: The complete Monograph on the Sub-Class Cirripedia, the important but not widely read study of barnacles, is included on the Darwin disc. Most helpful is M. T. Ghiselin’s introduction to this work that places the formidable, 1200 page monograph in its historic and scientific context. Also included is The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs, which reveals Darwin’s observational and deductive gifts. This work contradicted the widely held theories of his friend Charles Lyell on reef formation and atoll development. Modern methods have since verified Darwin’s ideas on atoll formation. This work, presented in its entirety on the compact disc, is still a valuable reference for those studying reefs today. Ghiselin provides useful introductory material for the coral reef book.


The short papers give insight into Darwin’s methods and thoughts. Included are works such as Darwin’s correspondence with his mentor, the Rev. Henslow, which sheds light on how Darwin’s contemporaries reacted to his findings. The paper that forced Darwin to write the Origin of the Species is included on the CD. The paper "On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties; and On the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection," written by Darwin and Wallace and presented to the Linnean Society by Lyell and Hooker, is also included. An early obscure paper of 1837 entitled "On the Formation of Mould" connects Darwin’s early work to his final book of 1881 entitled The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits. These are only 3 of the 23 short papers that Darwin researchers will enjoy reading. Most missed from the collection is Darwin’s autobiography.


I have used the first edition of this compact disc many times, but the interface was awkward. In the five years since the release of the first edition of "Darwin," the editors have improved the design and expanded the contents.


Librarian: "Darwin" is seamlessly put together. Tables of contents run along the left frame of each screen, making it easy to move within the text of each work. The browser function enables the user to find the occurrences of terms or names in a single text or within the scope of the entire compact disc. One can then move through the selected text from occurrence to occurrence of the specified term. Hypertext links to the biographical dictionary enable the user to quickly identify people if importance in Darwin’s life. The numerous illustrations, maps, drawings, and photographs (later additions) may be enlarged for better viewing. I was particularly fond of the buttons located under some illustrations enabling the listener to hear the calls of the Galapagos birds.


Professor: I found the design of the compact disc enabled me to quickly research Darwin-related questions. Recently I used the disc to construct several lectures on Darwin and the Galapagos, and I liked the ease with which I could search the Origin and the Voyage. I found the CD especially useful as it provided me with materials I had not read previously. In addition, the hyperlinks enabled easy exploration of new topics that arose in the course of researching the main topic.


Librarian: Having all of Charles Darwin’s works so accessible on one disc is convenient, and the whole product is strengthened by the several additions. The Darwin bibliography lists 177 references to Darwin’s works and 1335 references to secondary works. The biographical dictionary identifies the important people in Darwin’s life and research and does so in a succinct and approachable format. Many of the biographical clips are enhanced by the addition of portraits of the subjects. The short video of Down Home, Darwin’s home in England, is quite appealing, as it makes immediate the setting where Darwin lived and worked and did so much of his writing.


Professor: I would not hesitate to suggest to my students that they use this CD to research a wide variety of subjects. The disk is an important reference for those interested in the study of the history of the philosophy of science as well as those studying topics in biology and geology. "Darwin" is a valuable reference tool that should be in every college library.


Librarian: "Darwin" would be a useful tool both for the beginning Darwin student and for the experienced Darwin researcher. Its well done and attractive format, its comprehensiveness, and its reasonable price make it a best buy for an academic library or for a large public library.