The Circle

by Dave Eggers

Hardcover, 2013

Call number




Knopf (2013), Edition: First Edition, 504 pages


"The Circle is the exhilarating new novel from Dave Eggers, best-selling author of A Hologram for the King, a finalist for the National Book Award. When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world's most powerful internet company, she feels she's been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users' personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company's modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can't believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world--even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman's ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge"--… (more)

Media reviews

Van alle romans die ik dit jaar las, is De Cirkel van Dave Eggers het meest blijven na-ijlen. Niet omdat het literair het beste boek is, maar vanwege de verontrustende beelden die het oproept, beelden die na de laatste bladzijde niet langzaam wegebben, maar hinderlijk blijven doorspoken. De Cirkel
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is het 1984 van het internettijdperk genoemd, maar beschrijft een werkelijkheid die veel nabijer lijkt en daardoor dreigender voelt dan Orwells tijdloze boek.
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Even as satire, The Circle is disappointing as a novel: the plot is too easy, the prose simple, the characters flat and undistinguishable. Due to these same qualities, however, The Circle succeeds as commentary on the era of big data and transparency. The scary part is that the Silicon Valley of
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The Circle barely seems like a caricature. The easiest comparison of the Circle is to Google — whose Mountain View campus keeps its employees fed, fit, massaged, and, well, kept. The Circle’s mottos and mantras are the same buzzwords already posted on billboards and batted around in cafes and bars.
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Some will call The Circle a “dystopia,” but there’s no sadistic slave-whipping tyranny on view in this imaginary America: indeed, much energy is expended on world betterment by its earnest denizens. Plagues are not raging, nor is the planet blowing up or even warming noticeably. Instead we
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are in the green and pleasant land of a satirical utopia for our times, where recycling and organics abound, people keep saying how much they like each another, and the brave new world of virtual sharing and caring breeds monsters.
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Het onrecht dat in The Circle bestreden wordt, is de expansiedrift van Silicon Valley, zoveel is vanaf de eerste pagina duidelijk. En Eggers gebruikt daarvoor de meest absurde metaforen: drones uitgerust met camera’s die mensen zonder Circle-account achtervolgen en ‘ik wil gewoon vrienden
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worden’ scanderen, of een transparante haai die een heel aquarium leegeet. Het punt is gemaakt, Dave Eggers. Toch verdient Eggers een like. Zijn versie van de wereld is bewust extreem: hoe het wordt als we allemaal zulke schapen worden als Mae Holland, die kritiekloos Silicon Valley achternalopen. Hij verzint een wereld die – veel maar net niet helemaal – op de onze lijkt, waarin mensen hun vrijheid inleveren, betoverd door quasifilosofische toespraken, moderne bedrijfsvoering en onbeperkt aandacht van een miljoenenpubliek. Eggers vraagt zich niet af welke wereld er is, maar welke kan komen. En zoals in The Circle heeft hij het duidelijk liever niet.
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This potential dystopia should sound familiar. Books and tweets and blogs are already debating the issues Eggers raises: the tyranny of transparency, personhood defined as perpetual presence in social networks, our strange drive to display ourselves, the voracious information appetites of Google
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and Facebook, our lives under the constant surveillance of our own government. “The Circle” adds little of substance to the debate. Eggers reframes the discussion as a fable, a tale meant to be instructive. His instructors include a Gang of 40, a Transparent Man, a shadowy figure who may be a hero or a villain, a Wise Man with a secret chamber and a smiling legion of true-believing company employees. The novel has the flavor of a comic book: light, entertaining, undemanding.
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The Circle is een didactisch boek en in literair opzicht heeft dat consequenties. Gedreven door zijn omineuze boodschap besteedt Eggers weinig aandacht aan karakterisering, waardoor waarlijk interessante personages ontbreken en ook hoofdpersoon Mae een flat character blijft. Maar aan de hand van de
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beschreven gebeurtenissen schetst hij wel een intrigerend en in veel opzichten geloofwaardig beeld van een nabije toekomst. De apotheose van de roman is spannend en beklemmend, niet in de laatste plaats omdat letterlijk alle dreigende elementen, veel concreter dan bij Brave New World en 1984, reeds in onze directe omgeving aanwezig zijn. Misschien wordt de term 'een verontrustend boek' soms wat lichtvaardig gebruikt. In het geval van The Circle lijkt het haast een understatement.
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"In his desire to create a world where The Circle rules all, Eggers creates so many extremely unlikely or outright impossible scenarios that happen simply because he needs them to happen. As they stack up through the course of the book, it gets harder and harder to take it seriously even as satire
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until finally it becomes outright fantasy, with only a tenuous connection to reality as we know it."
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What makes The Circle interesting is that the critiques it piles on the digital era have so much obvious merit. ... But a great novel requires more nuance and complexity than Eggers delivers in The Circle. ... The Circle doesn’t read like a novel whose author immersed himself in the nitty-gritty
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of day-to-day life in Silicon Valley. It reads like a novel whose author deeply dislikes current modes of online social interaction, and constructed a narrative to deliver that antipathy as harshly as possible.
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Because it is a fast-moving conspiracy potboiler, The Circle is far more entertaining than, and not nearly as maddening as, say, Jonathan Franzen’s apocalyptic rants about “the infernal machine of technoconsumerism,” even though Eggers seems just as appalled by the liking-and-sharing economy.
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From its opening lines—“My God, Mae thought. It’s heaven”—The Circle sends out a familiar distress signal about a cultlike movement, a Silicon Valley revival meeting, a utopia breeding a totalitarian nightmare. Mae, the protagonist, takes an entry-level position in “Customer Experience” at the sprawling, city-on-a-hill campus of the Circle, which is busy leveraging its stranglehold on the search and ad-serving markets and its deep reach into the psyches and pockets of the global populace to manufacture a total-surveillance society. Cameras for everyone, everywhere! Not 70 pages in, Mae attends an all-hands meeting starring Eamon, one of the Circle’s “wise men,” who delivers the Circle’s Nineteen Eighty-Four–style mission statement: “ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN.”
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Will Mae wake up to the dangers of the company in time — before “the Circle closes,” and everyone, everywhere “will be tracked, cradle to grave, with no possibility of escape”? Or will her success there and her celebrity around the world keep her on the reservation? Will her romance with
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a mysterious and possibly sinister man who calls himself Kalden change her view of the company? Will her parents’ detestation of the Circle’s surveillance policies and her growing estrangement from them affect the big decisions she needs to make? Such questions drive this lumpy novel toward its not terribly unexpected conclusion. It’s not Mr. Eggers’s best work, but it draws upon enough of his prodigious talents to make for a fun and inventive read.
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It’s safe to say that The Circle is neither as eye-opening, nor as criminal as they would have you believe. Eggers does manage to serve up some piercing satire, particularly when he zeroes in on privacy-eroding features couched as a benevolent acts of information-sharing, or cloistered campuses
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and bountiful perks designed to destroy any distinction between work and life. But mostly the plot is pulpy and digestible, with evil executives so power-hungry, corporate self-interest so malevolent, and menacing products so improbable that it’s hard to see any kind of reform—or even instructive discussion—rising from his hazy warning signals. Without much editing, Eggers could turn all 491 pages into an blockbuster screenplay and I’d happily plunk down $14 to be entertained on opening night. Ultimately The Circle is just an edge-of-your-seats sci-fi thriller that only intermittently offers a telling critique of Silicon Valley culture—less The Jungle 2.0 than a pivoted relaunch of The Firm.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member labwriter
Well, here I go again, I guess, but I haven't read a novel this bad since. . .oh, probably [The Execution of Noa P. Singleton]. That was another "Best Book of the Month" by Amazon. The Eggers book was the best book (or novel, or whatever) for Oct. 2013. I chose this book because of a discussion
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group here at LT, and that's the only reason I finished the thing.

This is supposedly a [1984]-type book (don't get me started on the positive comparisons people have made between Eggers and Orwell) about social media and how it could affect our lives, if pushed to the extreme.

There are so many places where Eggers fails to deliver. To mention a few: The main premise of the book is absurd: that we will be better people if we are constantly being watched. If that's satire, then he could work with that, but Eggers never makes clear whether this is satire, camp, or what? The characters are cardboard cutouts; the protagonist is too wooden, shallow, and insipid even to dislike. The writing is juvenile. The sex scenes ditto (and laughable--and cringeworthy).

I think Eggers meant this for satire, but Eggers brags in an interview about having done no research for the book, and what he offers is too thin and facile for satire. Dystopian? How about just dopian? To add insult to injury, this thing is so long, tedious, preachy, and repetitious that it was simply painful to read.

Rated at half a star because I couldn't figure out how to give it less.

Eggers is supposedly thought of quite highly as a writer in some of his previous works: [A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius], for example, or [Zeitoun]. But this book was my first impression of Eggers, and you only get one chance at a first impression. I'd have to be stranded on a 12-hour flight with nothing else to read for me to be induced to pick up one of his other books.
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LibraryThing member Wolfseule
Oh dear.... A shark representing the greedy Internet-Companies? An actual fucking SHARK? I love you, Dave Eggers, but this book is pointless.
LibraryThing member gbill
I have to admit that Eggers’ latest book takes a little getting used to; right out of the chute he hits you in what seems to be an over the top manner with high technology gone wild. It’s all been developed by a cutting edge Silicon Valley company, the Circle, ostensibly with altruistic
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intentions. The technology consolidates online information flow to a high degree, and allows one’s life to constantly be recorded and streamed. The Circle treats its employees to all sorts of benefits, but it becomes apparent early on that it also expects a lot out of them, not just work-wise, but in participation in events and social networking.

The theory behind why it’s a good thing is explained by the executives: it greatly simplifies the Internet, allows equal access to a tremendous amount of information, opens up a broad range of new possibilities, and perhaps most interestingly, shows in a very public way all of our behavior, even ‘private’ behavior, never barring or deleting it, such that we see it’s either common to all of us, thereby demystifying it, or revealing bad behavior and thereby curtailing it.

The price, of course, is a severe loss of privacy, and while I suppose anyone will cringe at the degree to which this becomes true, if you’re a private person to begin with, I’m sure you’ll cringe more, and possibly uncomfortably so. The consolidation of information flow also places incredible power in the hands of those who control it which is always dangerous.

Is the book over the top in a bad way? I don’t think so. It clearly has overtones of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World; the Circle’s tenets - Secrets Are Lies, Sharing is Caring, and Privacy is Theft - are certainly reminiscent of Big Brother’s – War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.

And think about where we are today. Our private lives are often captured by those around us or by cameras which are becoming far more pervasive in public. There is a certain company espousing ‘Do No Evil’ and providing its workers all sorts of perks, while at the same time electronically snooping through emails. The government listens to our phone calls and our digital footprints are tracked. Technology is progressing at an exponential pace per Moore’s Law and what seemed absurd a few decades ago is now reality, in the hands of everyone, and taken for granted. We cannot begin to imagine what will be possible for our grandchildren.

In creating this story Eggers provides commentary on both the trends of the modern world as well as on those who are living more and more in a virtual world, as opposed to experiencing it firsthand.

On the latter, those seeking constant feedback, attention, and connection in their ever expanding online worlds are shown to be immature and impatient to say the least. And there is an egotism to it all, an underlying attempt to magnify one’s significance by recording activity, expanding one’s circle of online contacts, and providing commentary on anything and everything. The reality is that we’re all just individuals in a vast world, and the most meaningful experiences to be had are “real” - in person, authentic, and reflected upon, oftentimes alone, in less frenetic downtime, and offline of the Internet. And this is the point that Eggers is making: let’s not lose sight of that while technology progresses. It’s a great book for the times.

On calm, and the ocean:
“She was calm and felt strong, but instead of reaching the red buoy, which she no longer had any interest in, she sat, her paddle on her lap, letting the waves tilt her gently, feeling the warm sun dry her hands and feet. She often did this when she was far from any shore – she just sat still, feeling the vast volume of the ocean beneath her. There were leopard sharks in this part of the bay, and bat rays, and jellyfish, and the occasional harbor porpoise, but she could see none of them. They were hidden in the dark water, in their black parallel world, and knowing they were there, but not knowing where, or really anything else, felt, at that moment, strangely right. Far beyond, she could see where the mouth of the bay led to the ocean and there, making its way through a band of light fog, she saw an enormous container ship heading into open water. She thought about moving, but saw no point. There seemed no reason to go anywhere. Being here, in the middle of the bay, nothing to do or see, was plenty.”

Similarly this one, which I love the end of. How very different and natural these feelings of calm wonder are to the online, constantly connected world of information flow, where all information is desired, as opposed to the comfort of not knowing much at all:
“She sat down, facing south, where she could see the lights, the bridges, the black empty hills dividing the bay from the Pacific. All this had been underwater some millions of years ago, she’d been told. All these headlands and islands had been so far under they would have barely registered as ridges on the ocean floor. Across the silver bay she saw a pair of birds, egrets or herons, gliding low, heading north, and she sat for a time, her mind drifting toward blank. She thought of the foxes that might be underneath her, the crabs that might be hiding under the stones on the shore, the people in the cars that might be passing overhead, the men and women in the tugs and tankers, arriving to port or leaving, sighing, everyone having seen everything. She guessed it all, what might live, moving purposefully or drifting aimlessly, under the deep water around her, but she didn’t think too much about any of it. It was enough to be aware of the million permutations possible around her, and take comfort in knowing she would not, and really could not, know much at all.”

On death, and wanting to be remembered:
“Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know – they’d trade it all to know they’ve been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know we die. We all know the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.”

On online information, and profiles:
“So what had so mortified her during Gus’s presentation? She couldn’t put her finger on it. Was it only the surprise of it? Was it the pinpoint accuracy of the algorithms? Maybe. But then again, it wasn’t entirely accurate, so was that the problem? Having a matrix of preferences presented as your essence, as the whole you? Maybe that was it. It was some kind of mirror, but it was incomplete, distorted.”

On online ‘life’:
“’You know what I think, Mae? I think you think that sitting at your desk, frowning and smiling somehow makes you think you’re actually living some fascinating life. You comment on things, and that substitutes for doing them. You look at pictures of Nepal, push a smile button, and you think that’s the same as going there.”

On online messaging:
“It’s actually very stressful. And we’ve already had many people get angry when they don’t hear back from us in a given amount of time. They send one message, then they send ten more in the same day. ‘Did I say something wrong?’ ‘Sorry.’ ‘I was only trying to help.’ ‘Up yours.’ They have these neurotic conversations with themselves. So I don’t want to imply the kind of immediate message turnaround that most of your friends seem to require.”

On trust, I loved the feeling of this passage:
“And then Mae, who intended to say ‘I shit you not,’ instead decided to innovate, but something got garbled during her verbal innovation, and she uttered the words ‘I fuck you not,’ knowing almost instantly that she would remember these words, and hate herself for them, for decades to come.
‘You fuck me not?’ he asked, deadpan. ‘That sounds very conclusive. You’ve made a decision with very little information. You fuck me not. Wow.’
Mae tried to explain what she meant to say, how she thought, or some department of her brain thought, that she would turn the phrase around a bit…But it didn’t matter. He was laughing now, and he knew she had a sense of humor, and she knew he did, too, and somehow it made her feel safe, made her trust that he would never bring it up again, that this terrible thing she said would remain between them, that they both understood mistakes are made by all and that they should, if everyone is acknowledging our common humanity, our common frailty and propensity for sounding and looking ridiculous a thousand times a day, that these mistakes should be allowed to be forgotten.”

On women, and how desire in one may fuel desire in another:
“Mae knew the easy trick that had been played upon her. He was thin, and without any muscle tone, his eyes were weak, and he had a pronounced problem with premature ejaculation, yet simply because she’d seen the lust in Jackie’s eyes, Mae found herself wanting to be alone with him again. She wanted to bring him into her room that night. The thought was demented.”
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LibraryThing member AnneWK
Oh dear. I'm a big fan of Eggers' [Zeitoun] and enjoyed [A Hologram for the King] -- but this novel fails.
Unbelievably naive Mae, in her mid-20s, signs on with the most wonderful company existing and buys every one of the demands and perks of her employment. The goal of The Circle is to make
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everyone on the planet "transparent" -- because why would you do anything that you have to hide? Anything that's hidden, secret, must be bad, immoral, illegal. Mae is immediately seduced and never questions any of it, despite her parents and former boyfriend's instant distaste for the whole business. But the parents are old, out of touch, and the ex-boyfriend makes chandeliers out of deer antlers -- so they can't be taken seriously. Mae's dear college friend, high up in the company hierarchy, gets Mae the job and Mae follows her mentoring blindly, hardly thinking -- altho there really is no time to think when one is keeping up with the exhausting work and social demands of the The Circle.
The description of The Circle's social activities are the most fun parts of the book -- food and drink and dancing, concerts and art in abundance -- who would turn that down? And besides that, the employees are required to join in -- they might be fired if they don't and no one would ever wanna leave this idyllic job.. Mae might like to take a kayak ride by herself -- but that's discouraged -- why would she wanna go off alone, not sharing?
In the beginning Mae happily, eagerly, jumps into sex, even in the employee bathroom with a mysterious stranger who has irresistible hands (I guessed his real identity from the start). That activity is curtailed when she proudly accepts the camera around her neck (cute) which records absolutely everything she sees, does, and says -- except when removed while asleep and for 3 minutes allowed in the toilet. (It turns out a lot can be accomplished in 3 minutes.) Mae has one instant of doubt when she recalls a happy house-boating couple, living completely off the grid, whom she met while kayaking. But the doubt doesn't penetrate. Even two startling, tragic events are spun into further conviction that The Circle is the future of the world.
The message of this novel is so heavy handed it is tedious. A little subtlety would have been welcome.
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LibraryThing member Romis78
The Circle is a dystopian novel that concentrates on the dangers of computing evolution.
It starts off well enough, with our heroine Mae starting to work at a place similar to Google, where she becomes enraptured by the work environment and benefits. However, she extremely quickly gets sucked in to
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a group think situation of cultish and religious intensity. Once we see her enthralled, the novel becomes more and more hyper, tossing out possibilities so quickly that the characterization becomes cartoonish.
The lack of privacy and time for reflection is perhaps featured to make the point, but it all escalates so quickly as to become, I would hope, unrealistic. The US experience of the NSA and Homeland Security makes this more plausible, and the ignorance of the public should not be underestimated, but having it all so baldy presented doesn't really make for a great novel, though it was readable enough to finish.
Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds said it in the 1840s, and maybe it needs to be restated for the computer-speak public of today. Technology has perhaps made it more urgent to be aware of and take stronger steps to protect the privacy of the individual, and perhaps this is even the language that people understand today, but the elitist and simplistic attitudes tend to undercut what is a very complex, serious danger.
But I'm not an early adopter,, nor a social media user, so what do I know? Just that this might be a good novel for people starting in the glamorous computer business, and a reminder to the rest of us as well to keep our heads on straight and our minds alert.
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LibraryThing member Neftzger
I view this book as a modernized variation on Brave New World. It even incorporates the elements of creating a better world and the theme of deep sea exploration that was prevalent in Brave New World, and it works well here.

Set inside a fast growing tech company that’s viewed as a desirable
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employer, The Circle is about what happens when organizational culture gets out of control. The groupthink mindset happens every day in organizations, but it sometimes manifests in different ways. I this case the groupthink is disguised as a positive influence. Regardless, individual opinions are silenced when these differ from the prevailing viewpoint and statements that agree with the current climate are celebrated. Those individuals who challenge the prevailing thought processes and goals are eliminated or labeled as not being a team player. This book highlights the dangers of these actions, albeit in an extreme situation.

The protagonist Mae is a one dimensional character, and while some reviewers criticize the work for this, I view the message of the book as an explanation of the dangers of being one dimensional. People who don’t think for themselves or change their minds as they learn new things can be dangerous in this type of situation. The Circle demonstrates this perfectly.
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LibraryThing member alwright1
It's possible I would have enjoyed this as a short story. It's very important that we discus the repercussions of selling our privacy, but this just seemed the least subtle way possible to take it to its conclusions. The absurdity would have been a jarring reminder in shorter form, but over the
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length of this book, I got tired. And the ending...nope.
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LibraryThing member ozzer
I wanted to enjoy this novel because of my positive experiences with other novels by Eggers. However, there was a lot about this book that I did not enjoy. Eggers clearly is pessimistic about the future of technology and definitely has an agenda with this book. He recognizes that technology has the
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potential to provide many benefits to mankind but at the cost of our privacy and humanity. Most of his characters are young employees of a tech company—The Circle—that seems to be an amalgam of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple. All these characters are cartoonish readily accepting the beneficence of the company’s schemes while failing to ever question them, despite obvious flaws and threats. The narrator—Mae Holland—is not easy to like. She is a striver who readily accepts all of the manipulation at The Circle. She serves as a foil for the leaders, who give her credit for creating three aphorisms that represent the soul of the company: “secrets are lies”, “sharing is caring” and “ privacy is theft.” Few of the characters in this novel make a cogent case for controling technology. Ty/Kalden comes and goes urging Mae to speak out about the danger but never really convinces her or this reader. Mae’s parents and former boyfriend see problems but never confront them. Instead they withdraw. The metaphor of a shark attacking everything in its environment seems extreme and heavy handed. The Circle just blithely proceeds with one scheme after another that escalate control over people and threaten individualism culminating in a bizarre chase that is too unrealistic to be believed. Eggers does a good job of illustrating the potential for evil that technology may have, but offers little about how we should learn to live with it and control it to preserve our humanity. The reader is left with the impression that we may have passed a tipping point and there is little future for societal control of these enticing new toys and capabilities.
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LibraryThing member jpporter
Would you want to live in a society where everything you do and say, in public or in private, was accessible to the general public?

Dave Eggers raises this issue in The Circle, a story about an information-technology company that is developing software and hardware designed to provide general
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access to information.

Initially, the work is projected as a means of enhancing the security of people - cameras on the street to help fight crime, putting computer chips in children to enable them to be tracked (as in the case of kidnapping), allowing access to information about criminals living in one's neighborhood, and monitoring one's health. These cases are clearly instances where one might be reasonably willing to sacrifice a modicum of privacy for an added sense of security.

What if, however, your insurance company required that you have video cameras placed throughout your house (ostensibly, so they would be able to determine if you were ill, or had an accident)?

What if your lover filmed the two of you (or however many of you are involved) in the act of sex, and stored that data in the "cloud," where anyone could - in principle - see it?

What if data about you was collected and made accessible to anyone wanting access to it (for marketing purposes, or just out of curiosity)?

What if you were required to vote, and it was known how you voted?

What if you were expected to wear a video camera to record all of your activities through the day (words and actions), all of which data would be available openly - to everyone?

What if you weren't given a choice to engage in all of the above activities, but essentially had to share all your information and make yourself available to, and accessible to, everyone?

These are meaty issues, and Eggers deftly provides a "slippery slope" account of how these things could snowball. He also shows what would be left for people who did not want to be part of such a society.

He also shows that the desire to be secure does not stop with having access to the words and deeds of everyone else, but would lead to the next barrier: ... ah, but that would be a spoiler.

A lot of concern has been expressed about artificial intelligence, and what the status of being human would mean in a world that had intelligent machines. Eggers gives us a more piercing look at a more practical - and impending - future: one where there is no privacy.
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LibraryThing member LovingLit
I considered reading this book when it was an OLTOB selection but it took until now (4 days ago, actually) to grab it on impulse from the library shelf where I had found myself without any of my current reads at hand. I started it at the library and was taken by its ease, the story flowed quickly
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and I was hooked in. I read it quickly for its 491 pages.
But. I sensed that I was reading what would be an ultimately unsatisfying book, because there was no work required of me, for anything. There was little concentration needed to let the sentences and dialogue flow over me- if that is the style of writing that I liked, then I could easily rate this book highly, but I don't. I prefer to be wowed by sentence constructions, or, to have to figure out characters and why they do what they do. The lead role in this book just came over as a bit....meh. And there were a lot of times when I thought to myself, now wait a minute, why would she do that?? It wasn't just her who wasn't plausible either, a lot of scenarios seemed far-fetched to me.
So, although this book raised some really interesting thinking points about the future of technology, and the importance of connectivity, I will happily more on to something more solid.
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LibraryThing member Vermilious
The best thing about dystopian fiction is that it tends to drop you into completed worlds, with no explanation as to how we got from now into there. We are told that the world of 1984 has always been this way, that Huxley's Brave New World developed from the ideas of Henry Ford, but not how, and
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that there was a war, and a rebellion, but now Panem must submit its children to a Hunger Game every year. And this tendency is absolutely the worst aspect of The Circle.

The novel revolves around a company (guess what it's called) which was created by a relatively inadept genius, a compassionate technologist, and a standard California business type. The company's first product managed to draw on valid government documents to remove anonymity online, making the internet a much safer and civil place (no more ways for trolls to hide). But we do not come to the company in this phase. We follow a new worker, Mae, in the door on her first day, brought in by a friend from college. We watch as Mae is given responsibility, in Customer Experience, made to use the company social network and recommend products so that she sells things. We watch her clash with her older parents, and the various men in her life (cute coworkers, ex boyfriends, mysterious old man who shows up at company parties) over the role of The Circle, and the products they offer. Mae, via all these people, is exposed to the joys of open information, and this informs her worldview. I don't want to say what that is, but Eggars makes it fairly clear about halfway through the book. This is a novel about a kind of dystopia, but one that is still in process, one that we are watching arise as we turn every page. And, as a result, it completely fails.

It fails for several reasons, but the most offensive is that no arguments are actually had. The typical structure that the book uses to introduce an awful technological idea is as follows:
Circle member A: We are doing this new thing to solve a simple problem.
Everyone else: Fantastic, it sounds like that problem will then disappear the world will be perfect. You are so smart.
No idea is thoughtfully interrogated. As soon as a program to prevent child kidnapping is introduced, every single person is on board with it, for nearly 400 pages, before someone makes an obvious counterargument, but does so in the worst way possible. The most frequent mouthpiece for these obvious criticisms is Mae's ex-boyfriend, who is an asshole, and thus immediately dismissed by most characters, and in many ways, the audience. There is no person in the plot who raises reasonable challenge. Most of the characters have one or two traits, and no depth, caricatures of people who would exist in the worst possible version of Google and Facebook combined into one.

This is not a subtle novel. This is a book afraid to fully interrogate its own ideas, preferring to only show a terrible potential future but not make any claims about why or how it should be prevented. It's a book of one incredibly obvious metaphor, rendered in beautiful language. It's a book that you will read quickly, and enjoy parts of, if you can control the simmering rage that you feel at each character's ignorance or deliberately oblivious choices. I, for the most part, could not control that, and thus, this book was a hate-read. My first in a long time.
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LibraryThing member norabelle414
Young Professional Mae gets a dream job at The Circle, a Google-/Macintosh-/Microsoft-like tech firm with lofty aims. She struggles a bit to fit in at first but quickly realizes that she can rise to the upper echelons of the company if she cuts some of the dead weight from her life, such as family,
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non-Circle friends, and spending time away from her computer. Meanwhile, The Circle is working hard to make the world a better and more transparent place – for those who agree with them.

Initially, I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would. The technology The Circle uses both internally and externally is interesting and imaginative. Watching Mae’s descent into the cult of The Circle was seriously entertaining, like an imaginary car crash. Also my expectations were very low, because I am not in any way a fan of Dave Eggers. I've seen him speak twice and he was unbelievably rude to both groups of college students who were fans of his work and eager to meet him. There's really no excuse for that. But unlike his other books I have attempted to read, The Circle shows little direct evidence of its author's hubris, so I set my personal feelings aside. There were many logical issues with the story itself, however, and I could only suspend my disbelief for so long. My mind raised some major questions about how The Circle functioned which were never answered and cast a shadow on my enthusiasm. It felt as if the ending (which is good, don’t get me wrong) was written first, and the rest of the story was half-heartedly filled in to get there. Combine that with beating the reader over the head with the message and a vast cast of unlikable characters (the only one less likeable than Mae is her crazy anti-technology ex-boyfriend), and an ambitious novel becomes just okay.
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LibraryThing member bohemiangirl35
When Mae Holland gets a job with The Circle, she's elated to join the high profile company. Finally, her career is taking off! While she loves the status working for the Circle gives her, she doesn't expect it to become her whole life. But it does. The Circle's campus has everything anyone could
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need - housing, restaurants, entertainment, shopping, medical services. And the only thing any employee must do to have access to it all is remain on campus, be social, document their actions on social media, comment on their peers posts, and share their opinions on everything. Sounds like a lot all at once, but when it sneaks up on you a little at a time, it might not seem like so much.

As Mae rises in The Circle, her friends and family ask her not to include them in her increasingly exposed lifestyle, but she doesn't respect their privacy. She eventually goes "transparent," wearing a camera to allow the world to see her every action, including sleep and bathroom time (but she can turn off the audio in the bathroom for 3 minutes at a time). She ignores her discomfort with being "on" all the time and trades her privacy and independent thought for public approval.

The Circle is Brave New World updated for the millennium. What if instead of totalitarianism being forced on the country, we ask for it in exchange for social acceptance? How many of us would trade independent thinking and privacy to gain "smiles" and avoid "frowns" on social media?

The Google and Facebook references in the novel aren't even slightly disguised. Anyone who has been on any social media will recognize them.

The premise is a good one and it was scary to think that this could happen, but the plot dragged in places and the writing was pretty soft. Some of the character's actions took some noticeable leaps of logic. But overall, it was worth the read.
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
Spending a little too much time on Facebook, tweeting what you had for lunch, not wondering how much info Google really has about you? Maybe it's time you read this book.

The concept is not new and has been written in other novels. Tracking people, knowing what they are doing, validating them and
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being validated through them. Social control and more.

Eggers does this especially well, though. Don't get bogged down in the technical aspects, don't dismiss the novel because it doesn't fit into your world view, just enjoy it. This requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but for the most part, I could go with it. (I especially didn't like the deep sea animal part, both because of lack of accuracy that wasn't explained away as new technology, and of the imagery it brought to mind.)

I thought one short bit was a little on the preachy side. The characters for the most part are not likable and become less so, quite a natural progression and important to the story. The story has no great surprises. Still, it captured and kept my interest throughout. Yes, it is a cautionary tale, but entirely entertaining.
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LibraryThing member bibliovermis
This book was entertaining in a "Soylent Green" kind of way, but also a bit dumb. As someone who actually uses the internet on a regular basis, I rolled my eyes pretty frequently at all the hare-brained scaremongering.
LibraryThing member richard.thurman
The Circle is a Silicon Valley tech company. Think Google on steroids. Mae Holland thanks her lucky stars that she has landed a job in such a corporate utopia. But a totalitarian dark side lays just beyond plain sight. I give this book 3 stars because it raises important questions about privacy,
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and the possibility that corporations are surpassing the government in taking control over our lives. But the book was overly naive and completely lacking in subtlety. I wish it was better, because I'd really like to recommend it.
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LibraryThing member meghanas
This was a weird book. I'm...just going to get that out there.

The reason it was weird was not the subject material! I found parts of it a little predictable (like the Kalden-Ty reveal? Saw that coming a mile off). It was mostly weird because of the characterization, which I found to be a little
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The strangest thing for me was Mae's transformation. She was the most unsettled and private person from the beginning. Suddenly, after a talk with one of the Wise Men (in which she basically never really agreed with him?), she's converted? She's now so religiously devoted to the Circle and Completion-with-a-capital-C that she has no sense of privacy at all? She wants to read Annie's thoughts? Yes that's creepy, but also...completely out of left field?

Also, what's with Ty's misgivings? His argument basically seems to be "There's nothing wrong with the Circle RIGHT NOW, but we're taking over everything, so it would be REALLY EASY for a dictator to take charge." That's true, but it also doesn't gel with the story's message, which is basically that the Circle is ALREADY TERRIBLE. Like the heavy-handed shark metaphor, what's with that?

Final question, maybe (I have a lot of questions): What about the Wise Men's secrets? The one genial one (whose name I can't remember) had the secret compartment in his office that was basically never addressed? But according to Ty, that guy is the only one who ~truly believes~ in Completion and the Circle and all it stands for...and yet he has a secret fireman's pole behind a bookshelf. And it was never addressed, even though it could prove Dave Egger's point much more realistically than whatever happened with Mae at the end there.

(That wasn't my final question.)

What was the point? Was it that the Circle was a dictatorship? Was it that people are really needy now? What was with the whole ratings-system thing that Mae's boyfriend had going on? For real, what was with the shark?

This is one of those novels that inspires more questions the more you think about it, and it's not because it's really well-crafted. Not that it's a bad novel (I kind of enjoyed it, despite my review). It's because a lot of the character turns and *gasp* moments are purely designed for shock value. That last scene with Annie and Mae in the hospital? PURE SHOCK VALUE. It did not match up at ALL with Mae's former characterization. Including things that don't make sense doesn't make a story complex. It just makes it confusing.

Final note: There were so many men in this novel. Mae was the main character, and Annie was her best friend, but almost all the important characters were men. The Wise Men? Male. Ty/Kalden aka Voice of Reason? Male. New boyfriend who represents the Circle mentality? Male. Old boyfriend who represents the anti-Circle mentality? Male. The only female with close to the same level of importance to Mae was Annie, and what happened to her? She got jealous of Mae's fame, and then she couldn't handle the pressure. Hm.
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LibraryThing member katylit
David Eggers has written a story about Mae, a young woman just starting out at a new job with The Circle, a tech company along the lines of Apple or Google. The Circle is a dynamic company, growing rampantly, attracting the brightest and the best from all walks of life. To work there is to be part
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of a close-knit community, always connected, always growing and developing. Mae rises quickly and fanatically embraces the creed of the company, that "secrets are lies" and "sharing is caring". Soon the ramifications of this philosophy affect Mae's family and friends in insidious ways beyond their control.

The Circle is a terrifying story. Every time I turned away from reading to answer a text, an e-mail or Google something, it was with a different perspective and understanding. Similar to swimming in the ocean after reading (or watching) Jaws. Fascinating.
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LibraryThing member JonArnold
I read The Circle on a Kindle, occasionally breaking off to go online, tweet and have a glance around Facebook. And after finishing it I felt a tad guilty. Somehow the most inappropriate thing to do after reading The Circle is to come online, review and rate and tweet about it. Or at least to
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review, rate and tweet without thinking about it. This is a satire on the utopian totalitarianism of the Californian tech sites and their alliance between the lightning advance of technology, capitalism and a libertarian ideology. It’s deliberately more interested in caricature and polemic than realism – anyone dismissing the unlikelihood of a company such as The Circle is entirely missing the point. This is a deliberately hyper-real extension of current life. The company and every character are all there to make a point in the debate, from lead character Mae to those who only get a one scene cameo. There are plenty of pointed, clearly allegorical scenes which aren’t particularly subtle but which do raise a grim smile.

Eggers theme is one of the oldest ones, the corruption of innocence. Mae is the most obvious avatar but it’s there in the titular company and just about every character involved in it. None of the company’s technology is designed with anything but the best intentions but with the corrupting lust for the power of knowledge behind them they’re merely the paving stones of good intentions on the Hades highway. Eggers appears to be making a compelling argument that technology is simply the tool, but sooner or later the tool will be put to less idealistic uses than its creators intended. Slow, logical and pleasant steps to a totalitarian dystopia. And like Orwell’s literary warnings about totalitarian regimes from the 1940s Eggers doesn’t shy away from some fairly grim conclusions. Our ancestors battled totalitarianism by force, we have to battle against incremental technological and capitalist forces. The weapons and the battles are more subtle in modern times, lulling and persuading rather than forcing, pushing for you to engage with them and agree. As with Orwell’s best known works the writer’s exploring the ultimate logic of a situation, meaning he finds a fitting ending. Mae’s ultimate choice comes down to life with all its glories and pleasures unmoderated by technology or acquiescing to technology taking over…

Eggers masterstroke is the sterile, enclosed world of the modern corporation. The Circle is an extreme example, looking to almost literally own employees and their time, rewarding them well for it but gradually taking them over body and soul. It makes insidious use of groupthink and the need to belong, something Eggers make clear is tough to resist. Every plan is sold to the public as beneficial, even if there’s pressure put on politicians behind the scenes. We’re back to corruption of the initial dream here – whilst preaching that politicians should be squeaky clean the Circle exerts moral pressure on them to achieve its aims, a form of doublethink.

The ultimate question for the reader is how much we prize our privacy, how much it’s worth to us. It’s good to see Eggers make such an eloquent case for the value of privacy in many spheres of experience – do we really want to share everything? Shouldn’t we be able to control it? Eggers takes this to an absurd degree here, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that far-fetched, but a possible if extreme extrapolation.

It’s a pleasure to read a novel with some big ideas and plenty to say about the modern world. Not precisely techno-luddism but at least a plea to think before we sleepwalk off a precipice.
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LibraryThing member AmaliaGavea
"...what if we all behaved as if we were being watched? It would lead to a more moral way of life. Who would do something unethical or immoral or illegal if they were being watched?"

A significant majority of our planet's residents has access to the Web. This has been the way for decades now. We
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were provided with a great instrument in the everlasting search for knowledge. Everything is there for us to grasp. By pushing a button, a key in the keyboard, by touching a screen, knowledge that would fill millions of pages lies before our fingers and eyes. We use it for entertainment. Films, TV series, books, photos, name it. We use it to establish, sustain and, perhaps, reheat relationships. That beloved friend from school is found via Facebook and a friendship of the past is rekindled. Our other half travels to the USA, to Russia, to China and we can still see him and talk to him because Skype is there for us and suddenly, the distance becomes less painful. (True personal story…) Online dating, dubious and dangerous as it is, provides a solution for a large number of lonely hearts.

The police forces worldwide can prevent crime (or so they claim...) by tracking a terrorist or a pedophile in the Net. We constantly let glimpses of ourselves be shown to people far and wide. We share our lives and others allow us to have a glimpse of their own. But we do it out of our own free will, we are responsible and ought to be aware of the traps that are spread in the vastness of the Web. So what happens when we're watched against our choice? Or eerily enough, when we are brainwashed to accept this as a virtue, a holy obligation, a twisted notion of belonging, of service to the welfare of the global community? What happens when everyone's lives become transparent and everyone can interfere to a citizen's life and choices in the four corners of the world?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Circle, the Orwellian future that isn't so distant anymore....

"All That Happens Must Be Known"

Mae is an aspiring graduate who has just found the job of her dreams. She is required to reply to people's questions in an efficient but personal manner. She's constantly evaluated and watched by fellow workers and by supervisors alike. Soon, she finds out that her participation in social media is mandatory. She HAS to attend parties, activities, she HAS to have friends, followers, likes. She HAS to post photos, comments. Nothing should remain hidden, because this is a service to the global community. Mae falls victim to brainwashing and succumbs. The thought that she plays a significant role to the alteration of the world is firmly rooted in her brain. And from then on, an avalanche follows....

"To Heal We Must Know. To Know We Must Share"

In our society, few things are sacred anymore. One of those things that are truly our own is medical record. In Mae's world though, there is no such thing. Every health issue, past and present, must be known. Every ailment of theirs and their family members’ must be shared, because how is an illness going to be defeated if there is no information available? In this nightmare, pain becomes a spectacle, discrimination over health condition is tangible.

"Privacy Is Theft"

Why keep everything private if you have nothing to hide? For the Circle, privacy means lies. It signifies that you have a tendency for isolation and depression. It means that you have the potential to become a criminal. And society must persuade you to join in by every means possible. You're not allowed to keep secrets, you need to become everyone's friend whether you like it or not.

As you can see, this novel is terrifying. It offers so much to think on in relation to our present and future societies. I admit I felt uncomfortable while reading it, noticing that much of what it describes can be traced in our daily lives. First of all, Eggers knows how to create anticipation. From the very start, despite the happy, humane, welcoming atmosphere, you can feel that something's amiss. The mellow voices of Mae's supervisors cannot hide the patronizing tone, the smooth way in which they offer threats covered with honey to attract the naive victim. There are obviously traces of Orwell's 1984 in the story. The creation of new words (TruYu, SeeChange), Eamon's political references, the tiny cameras located everywhere, the workers that cheer and clap in unison as if hypnotized.

Having said that, I feel that this was the major disadvantage of the book. I think that Eggers tried too hard to create a 1984 version for the new millennium so the effort was too obvious and the result of lower quality since it cannot be compared to Orwell's masterpiece. The similarities seemed forced because after all, Eggers may be a talented author but Orwell he is not.

The writing itself is quite good, but the dialogue is a really weak point. In my opinion, the language used by the Circle members is almost soulless, cold. Perhaps in the particular environment it is to be expected, but there were conversations between Mae and her parents or her friends that were cringe worthy. The second half of the book quickly becomes redundant, repetitive. The chapters towards the end, however, are harrowing. The mob's lust for blood, Mae's naivety that turns into malice create a kind of darkness worthy of a true dystopian universe.

The characters won't be up for any awards. Mae receives a lot of hatred and at first, I was thinking that she may be naive and frustrating but perhaps we judge her too harshly. We all want to satisfy our employers, especially in a new job and whoever claims the opposite is a big liar. At least, she seems kind and caring. These were my initial thoughts. But during the second half of the story, her behavior reached a whole new level of stupidity. I just couldn't stomach how blind and dumb she was. Frankly, it seemed implausible. Her parents, Mercer, Frances and Kalden were equally flat and annoying. Anne had some potential but for me, the most fascinating character was Bailey. He almost persuaded me, you know...That is how you create an effective villain.

The debate over the presence of cameras in every street all over the world after the 9/11 attacks, Security Vs Privacy is an ongoing debate, discussed again and again with the two sides having equally strong arguments. How we are brainwashed to think that a number of "frowns" and "smiles" would influence the actions of a democratically elected government, not to mention a regime...It's what I call (and it may sound too harsh and cynical) "The Keyboard Rebels".

So this would be a 4-star read, but the similarity to 1984 made it less original and influential, in my opinion. And naturally, the writing -although mostly satisfying- lacked power and magnetism. However, I urge you to read it and think. Think where our world is heading. Think why it seems as if we're all aboard a train that moves in an incredible speed without brakes....
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LibraryThing member bikesandbooks
Eggers comments on social circles in general was as interesting or more so than the general thread of current day digital "social networking." I wish a bit of the middle could have been condensed, edited out, chopped about 100 pages, or some-such, but I like Eggers fiction writing (The Wild Things,
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YSKOV, HWOSG); this dipped just slightly below my expectations and I looked forward to seeing Eggers tie off the story.
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LibraryThing member teunduynstee
So I finished this just before it turns 2014. I had a suspicion that The Circle is the kind of novel you have to read while it's still up-to-date with current affairs. And the subject being big internet companies and privacy, that might not be so long.
The Circle is a classic dystopian novel in the
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line of '1984', 'Brave New World', 'Make room, make room', etc. It's even a kind of hommage to 1984. The inversion of values (SECRETS ARE LIES, PRIVACY IS THEFT), the story line, everything echoes Orwell. But where 1984 forced the loss of privacy on the main character, in The Circle the privacy is cheerfully given away.

I love 1984 and clearly, so does Dave Eggers. He is not afraid of making the message of the book very clear. He goes on and on, making the obscene loss of privacy more and more appalling. He also puts the philosophical aspects of privacy, transparency, secrets and lies before the reader from many angles. It really made me think again about these issues.

So, is it a great novel? I must say that I was a little bit disappointed. Eggers' style is fluent and makes for an easy and enjoyable read. The narrative is a bit predictable for the thriller it pretends to be; most readers will see certain plot turns coming miles ahead. The main character, Mae, is unbelievably naive and gives hardly any counter arguments to the Circle-logic. Especially the final scenes, involving the sea creatures pulled up from the Marianas trench, seem like a weak part. I feel that the author was rushed to complete the novel before the subject lost its relevance and acuteness. The work could have been much stronger and shorter with a few months of extra work.

Then again, I enjoyed the read and the subject is important enough. If you are into pessimistic future visions or passionate about privacy, The Circle is a must read.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
This book shook me up - by the fact that the proposed scenario is quite plausible. We are already headed in that direction: the invasion of privacy through Internet, the totalitarian application of Internet's many uses. It seems immensely hard to keep on the positive side of it all (and, of course,
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the positive side of Internet is obvious) , not to cross over to "info-communism", "tracking everyone from cradle to grave with no possible escape" - what the author rightly calls "totalitarian nightmare"...The real shocker was the bizarre, if not idiotic, "transparency" notion - I had no choice but to think that the author included it just to shock us into quick assessing of the things to come if we don't "wake up" and have a say in this. My favorite quote (and there were quite a few excellent ones) is when the author characterizes one of the sides of the dangerous movement: "Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent".

The optimist in me expected a different ending: I thought Mae would "awaken" to the horror of it all and side with Ty, and it also surprised me that Ty was "allowed" to stay on the campus after his failed attempt to stop the dangerous tendency (I would have thought, he would just leave in disgust; but maybe, he stayed to somehow try and try again to subvert the movement...). And quite symbolically, Book Three of the novel is just a couple of pages long - as if there is nothing left to say after all the hope for reversing this dystopia is crushed. All in all, Dave Eggers makes an excellent point (I was not looking here for literary perfection). A good lesson.
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LibraryThing member SlonBaton
The book left a mixed impression. Reading it easy and fun, despite the abundance of detailed descriptions : interiors, locations - sometimes it seems that you read not a novel but the script of the movie. Sometimes it seems that all these detailed descriptions of places, things, and technological
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innovation are at the expense of describing the novel's characters - major and minor, which are represented simplified and schematic. The main idea of ​​the book , which can be briefly expressed as the danger of excessive globalization and openness of information, presented in a straight line and also too simplistic. Undoubtedly the book worth reading . Undoubtedly, it will be translated into other languages ​​, and probably it will be put on film. But ... it is unlikely I will stand it on the shelf, where there are books to which I will refer again and again ...
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LibraryThing member palmaceae
Greatest book ever? No. But did it grab my attention and keep it there? Most certainly yes. Eggers paints a disturbing picture of a world where the Internet has essentially taken over, eliminated all privacy, and under the guise of safety and security, created a frightening place where no one is
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truly safe and secure. It really freaked me out, and I note the irony of writing a review stating this on LibraryThing, which according the book would be just one of the many precursors to the future it predicts.
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