The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Second Edition, Emmett Fields, ed. (Louisville, Kentucky: Bank of Wisdom, 2004, ISBN 1-929–4708-13-0) CD-ROM $24.95 + $3.00 S/H. Available at www.bank-of-wisdom.com.
In its wholly revamped second edition, Emmett Fields’s CD-ROM The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll fulfills its potential as a powerful research tool and a digital compendium of Ingersoll’s works for readers who are not deep-pocketed antiquarian book collectors. Ingersoll, the “Great Agnostic,” was the most popular orator of Gilded Age America. Between the Civil War and his death in 1899, he was seen and heard by more Americans than any other human being—yet he was outspokenly critical of Christianity. Never were freethought tenets more respectfully listened to, if still seldom accepted, by so many Americans. Ingersoll largely carries the nineteenth century’s Golden Age of Freethought on his shoulders.
Several years ago, Bank of Wisdom issued the first Ingersoll CD-ROM. On the plus side, it contained actual page scans of the entire “Dresden Edition” of Ingersoll’s collected works. Researchers could be confident that the classic passages they examined would be paginated faithfully to the original work because they were dealing with scans of the original work. On the minus side, page turns were slow; searches were glacial. Unable to search the Ingersoll corpus for a target word or phrase, users could only search the Dresden Edition’s twelve volumes one at a time. This seriously eroded the disk’s usefulness.
The second edition remedies all these problems, and I heartily recommend it. The disk includes the entire Dresden edition, as well as the rare five-volume Burdick Edition of Ingersoll’s works and almost a dozen other book-length bonus features, plus a good selection of pamphlets—more than 10,000 pages in all. Some are obscure gems all but unavailable on the used market, like the full-color, illustrated version of Ingersoll’s classic speech “A Vision of War” and An Intimate View of Robert G. Ingersoll by his longtime secretary, Newton I. Baker. All contents are selectable from a busy but serviceable main menu screen.
The new edition runs far faster than its predecessor. Page turns are instantaneous in all-text works and satisfactorily rapid in graphics-heavy works like the “Vision of War.” Best of all, the entire disk can be searched for any word or phrase. The search function is almost instantaneous, so long as one has set up Adobe Acrobat 3.0 or higher (reader or full version) to recognize the index file on the CD. Acrobat’s help file tells you how to do it, but basic instructions accompanying the CD-ROM would have been welcome. I understand Fields plans to correct this in future pressings of the disk.
Anyone doing Ingersoll scholarship or simply eager to avoid the increasingly high prices of Dresden Editions on the antiquarian market should leap to acquire this excellent CD-ROM.
Tom Flynn is the editor of Free Inquiry and the director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum.