Book Review

November 24th, 2013  |  Published in November 2013  |  1 Comment

Book Review by Daniel Brown

Dave Eggers is one of the world’s most fascinating contemporary writers, as he is also a political activist of the most noble sort.  His many activities which enhance the literary arts are all based out of Northern California, and includes a series of books about oral history violations of human rights abuses, particularly in Africa.  He also publishes books and magazines under the McSweeney name/label.  Eggers is a man who intends to make the world a better place, partly by giving voice to the powerless: there are few more admirable people in the world, in my book.

Eggers’ newest novel, The Circle, is a must -read, a go-out-now and get it necessity. In it, he proposes the existence of a seemingly benevolent , nearly Utopian corporation in the Bay Area, where thousands of young “best and brightest” come to work mainly on convoluted projects involving the integration of various social media sites into one huge behemoth.  Employees of The Circle spend nearly all their time pleasing customers, giving surveys on customer satisfaction, and, in turn, turning their employees and business contacts into social media friends/contacts, in a world gone mad with marketing and narcisism.

The “campus” of The Circle, of course, consists of hundreds of pristine acres of land, on which various entertainments are held, singer-songwriters appear (free) just for the audience exposure; restaurants and grocery stores are filled with vegan goodies (or baddies, depending upon one’s point of view—and Eggers is no stranger to satire , here).  Dorms exist for those too busy to go home (and more and more employees of The Circle live “on campus”).  Health care is free, as long as you don’t mind that all your records are posted on your Social Media site(s): nothing about your life is considered private, and private is considered to be selfish and morally aberrant.  Employees are wired throughout their days with all sorts of “indicators” and “numbers” proclaiming what they have done, whom they have seen, and with whom they have interacted.  These employees are in no way dumb or entirely conforming.  Original ideas pour forth from The Circle, whose original three founders, of course, come from very modest backgrounds and who speak to the employees constantly about new ideas .

Eggers’ utopian novel is truly dystopian, though, and, through just a few key characters, he describes a world  full of pleasantries, but one of such absolutism that The Circle’s potential towards totalitarianism is clear from the beginning (though, presumably, with the best of intentions….).  We get some sense of how dictatorships in, say, fascist Europe took over with relative ease, by reading The Circle.  And those who wish to maintain their privacy are hounded around the world, considered psychotic, and must be expelled from Paradise.  And so we watch the arrival of Mae at The Circle, and how she is “mentored”; her best friend and former roommate from college also works there, and is responsible for Mae’s upward trajectory–to a point.

When Mae begins to make increasingly appalling, although also increasingly creative, ideas for The Circle, we see how easily she is coopted, how her competitive nature and those of her peers, are so easily coopted by upper management.  It’s important to understand the total buy-in of The Circle and its worldviews; believing that they will save and restore democracy and voter interest by making voting mandatory by law, and putting your vote onto your Circle credit card/Social Media site for everyone to see, they will be undermining every premise of American democracy, particularly the right to privacy, which is made to seem perverted.

Eggers is not pretending to be some technical wizard, but he has a keen understanding of the pleasure driven Millennials, their obsessions with “life style” choices, food, exercise and the like, and their utter failure to see the underlying conceptual frameworks in which they are all pawns in one of what is really an old scheme to take over the country, if not the world:  Eggers’ novel must be seen in the context of old sci –fi novels, making his own contribution that much smarter and occasionally funny (so many of the people who work at The Circle are total nerds).  But Eggers understanding of how easily Social Media can become highly manipulative and frightening underly this novel, a novel whose timeliness cannot be overemphasized, and whose warnings are on every page: watch out, watch out, watch out.

And Eggers writes flawlessly, wonderful prose, clear as can be, excellent dialogue, and occasional moments of real elegance. The Circle is an obvious contender for one of the best novels of 2013, and I urge you to read it.

—————-Daniel Brown



  1. S. Edward Burns says:

    November 24th, 2013at 10:01 pm(#)

    Nice review; and I already have the book. I’m planning to begin reading it this week. Happy Thanksgiving, Daniel! –Edward