The Circle

The Circle

3.7 102
by Dave Eggers

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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,

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

When we first meet Mae Holland, the naïve — or is it gullible? — protagonist of Dave Eggers's The Circle, she's agog at the campus of The Circle, the social networking giant where she's just landed a job. It's 400 acres of perfection, all rolling hills and meandering paths, with picnic groves and tennis courts and employee perks like free gourmet meals and daycare for dogs. Even the sky above is a flawless blue.

Mae thinks she's landed in heaven, but Eggers has plotted a swift trip to in the opposite direction. With a tour guide's zeal, he ushers us into the very near future, where a company that resembles the search-engine giant Google has absorbed Facebook and, as digital palate cleansers, gobbled up Twitter, Instagram, and Paypal as well.

Though The Circle's just four years old, 90 percent of all searches on earth go through it. The company owns 92 percent of all text messaging and controls 88 percent of the world's free-mail (think Gmail) market. But the killer app that secured The Circle's fortunes is TruYou, the online identity that is required of everyone who wants to use any of The Circle's array of indispensable Internet tools. Give just a smidgen of personal information — your real name, which is then tied to your bank accounts, your credit cards, your email accounts, and all of your social media profiles — and "anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable?"

To Mae, it all makes sense. She comes to The Circle fresh from an eighteen-month stint as a cubicle drone at her hometown utility company, a job that offended her sense of self-worth. In the near- future of Eggers's tale, the deprivations of the Great Recession have ossified into a new normal. Jobs are scarce. A health care plan is a holy grail. For Mae, just twenty-four years old and carrying $250,000 of college debt, working within The Circle's utopia is the ultimate prize, a rescue she is desperate to deserve.

To that end, Mae quickly adapts to the company culture. She gives up all of her private information and, soon enough, all of her private time. It turns out that the Circle's 10,000 employees are judged not solely by their work but also by how much they participate in The Circle's internal culture. They're tracked by cameras, by GPS locators, and by their multiple social media feeds. Mae is pressured to attend the numerous after-hours events held on The Circle's campus, and unless she posts numerous photos and comments and tweets (here called "zings"), it's as though she wasn't there.

Social activism isn't volunteering with Habitat for Humanity — it's sending "smiles" (think Facebook "likes") to posts written about Habitat for Humanity. In one particularly lacerating scene, Mae and fellow Circlers take comfort in having sent thousands of smiles to the cell phone of a woman being held hostage by rebels in South America.

Soon, leaving The Circle's idyllic campus for even an hour becomes an unbearable ordeal: "There were homeless people, and there were the attendant and assaulting smells, and there were machines that didn't work, and floors and seats that hadn't been cleaned, and there was, everywhere, the chaos of an orderless world."

When one of Mae's few private pleasures, kayaking on the bay, gets her into trouble with the law, her Circle superiors are upset not with the fact that she lifted someone else's kayak but that the things she saw and thought and felt during the excursion remained known only to herself. This leads to a series of chillingly logical conversations, after which Mae coins two of The Circle's new truths: "Secrets are lies" and "Privacy is theft." Beyond the critique of a new corporate culture that leans on its users and employees to turn every lived moment into social capital, the overtly Orwellian echoes in those phrases hint at recent revelations about the NSA's incursion into citizens' digital lives.

The Circle is billed as a thriller, and Eggers has some secrets and suspense up his sleeve. The three men in Mae's life — an old boyfriend, a geeky colleague she takes up with, and a mysterious man she becomes obsessed with and who well may be quite dangerous — all star in subplots that are strange and disturbing. But Eggers, a 2012 National Book Award finalist for his novel A Hologram for the King, is too invested in his gleeful send-up of Internet culture to take the time to flesh out either his characters or the story. The broad strokes and broad wit plant The Circle firmly in the world of social satire. But in Eggers's accomplished hands, that turns out to be a good thing.


Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles–based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

Reviewer: Veronique de Turenne

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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6.56(w) x 8.74(h) x 1.52(d)

Read an Excerpt

My god, Mae thought. It’s heaven.

The campus was vast and rambling, wild with Pacific color, and yet the smallest detail had been carefully considered, shaped by the most eloquent hands. On land that had once been a shipyard, then a ­drive-­in movie theater, then a flea market, then blight, there were now soft green hills and a Calatrava fountain. And a picnic area, with tables arranged in concentric circles. And tennis courts, clay and grass. And a volleyball court, where tiny children from the company’s daycare center were running, squealing, weaving like water. Amid all this was a workplace, too, four hundred acres of brushed steel and glass on the headquarters of the most influential company in the world. The sky above was spotless and blue.

Mae was making her way through all of this, walking from the parking lot to the main hall, trying to look as if she belonged. The walkway wound around lemon and orange trees and its quiet red cobblestones were replaced, occasionally, by tiles with imploring messages of inspiration. “Dream,” one said, the word ­laser-­cut into the red stone. “Participate,” said another. There were dozens: “Find Community.” “Innovate.” “Imagine.” She just missed stepping on the hand of a young man in a grey jumpsuit; he was installing a new stone that said “Breathe.”

On a sunny Monday in June, Mae stopped in front of the main door, standing below the logo etched into the glass above. Though the company was less than six years old, its name and ­logo—­a circle surrounding a knitted grid, with a small ‘c’ in the ­center—­were already among the ­best-­known in the world. There were more than ten thousand employees on this, the main campus, but the Circle had offices all over the globe, and was hiring hundreds of gifted young minds every week. It had been voted the world’s most admired company four years running.

Mae ­wouldn’t have thought she had a chance to work at such a place, but for Annie. Annie was two years older and they’d roomed together for three semesters in college, in an ugly building made habitable through their extraordinary bond, something like friends, something like sisters or cousins who wished they were siblings and would have reason never to be apart. Their first month living together, Mae had broken her jaw one twilight, after fainting, ­flu-­ridden and underfed, during finals. Annie had told her to stay in bed, but Mae had gone to the ­7-­Eleven for caffeine and woke up on the sidewalk, under a tree. Annie took her to the hospital, and waited as they wired her jaw, and then stayed with Mae, sleeping next to her, in a wooden chair, all night, and then at home, for days, had fed Mae through a straw. It was a fierce level of commitment and competence that Mae had never seen from someone her age or near her age, and Mae was thereafter loyal in a way she’d never known she could be.

While Mae was still at Carleton, meandering between majors, from art history to marketing to ­psychology—­getting her degree in psych with no plans to go further in the ­field—­Annie had graduated, gotten her MBA from Stanford and was recruited everywhere, but particularly at the Circle, and had landed here days after graduation. Now she had some lofty ­title—­Director of Ensuring the Future, Annie ­joked—­and had urged Mae to apply for a job. Mae did so, and though Annie insisted she pulled no strings, Mae was sure that Annie had, and she felt indebted beyond all measure. A million people, a billion, wanted to be where Mae was at this moment, entering this atrium, thirty feet high and shot through with California light, on her first day working for the only company that ­really mattered at all.

She pushed open the heavy door. The front hall was as long as a parade, as tall as a cathedral. There were offices everywhere above, four floors high on either side, every wall made of glass. Briefly dizzy, she looked downward, and in the immaculate glossy floor, she saw her own face reflected, looking worried. She shaped her mouth into a smile, feeling a presence behind her.

“You must be Mae.”

Mae turned to find a beautiful young head floating atop a scarlet scarf and white silk blouse.

“I’m Renata,” she said.

“Hi Renata. I’m looking ­for—­”

“Annie. I know. She’s on her way.” A sound, a digital droplet, came from Renata’s ear. “She’s actually...” Renata was looking at Mae but was seeing something else. Retinal interface, Mae assumed. Another innovation born here.

“She’s in the Old West,” Renata said, focusing on Mae again, “but she’ll be here soon.”

Mae smiled. “I hope she’s got some hardtack and a sturdy horse.”

Renata smiled politely but did not laugh. Mae knew the company’s practice of naming each portion of the campus after a historical era; it was a way to make an enormous place less impersonal, less corporate. It beat Building ­3B-­East, where Mae had last worked. Her final day at the public utility in her hometown had been only three weeks ­ago—­they’d been stupefied when she gave ­notice—­but already it seemed impossible she’d wasted so much of her life there. Good riddance, Mae thought, to that gulag and all it represented.

Renata was still getting signals from her earpiece. “Oh wait,” she said, “now she’s saying she’s still tied up over there.” Renata looked at Mae with a radiant smile. “Why don’t I take you to your desk? She says she’ll meet you there in an hour or so.”

Mae thrilled a bit at those words, your desk, and immediately she thought of her dad. He was proud. So proud, he’d said on her voicemail; he must have left the message at four a.m. She’d gotten it when she’d woken up. So very proud, he’d said, choking up. Mae was two years out of college and here she was, gainfully employed by the Circle, with her own health insurance, her own apartment in the city, being no burden to her parents, who had plenty else to worry about.

Mae followed Renata out of the atrium. On the lawn, under dappled light, a pair of young people were sitting on a manmade hill, holding some kind of clear tablet, talking with great intensity.

“You’ll be in the Renaissance, over here,” Renata said, pointing across the lawn, to a building of glass and oxidized copper. “This is where all the Customer Experience people are. You’ve visited before?”

Mae nodded. “I have. A few times, but not this building.”

“So you’ve seen the pool, the sports area.” Renata waved her hand off ­toward a blue parallelogram and an angular building, the gym, rising behind it. “Over there there’s the yoga studio, crossfit, Pilates, massages, spinning. I heard you spin? Behind that there’s the bocce courts, and the new tetherball setup. The cafeteria’s just across the grass...” Renata pointed to the lush rolling green, with a handful of young people, dressed professionally and splayed about like sunbathers. “And here we are.”

They stood before the Renaissance, another building with a ­forty-­foot atrium, a Calder mobile turning slowly above.

“Oh, I love Calder,” Mae said.

Renata smiled. “I know you do.” They looked up at it together. “This one used to hang in the French parliament. Something like that.”

The wind that had followed them in now turned the mobile such that an arm pointed to Mae, as if welcoming her personally. Renata took her elbow. “Ready? Up this way.”

They entered an elevator of glass, tinted faintly orange. Lights flickered on and Mae saw her name appear on the walls, along with her high school yearbook photo. Welcome Mae Holland. A sound, something like a gasp, left Mae’s throat. She ­hadn’t seen that photo in years, and had been happy for its absence. This must have been Annie’s doing, assaulting her with it again. The picture was indeed ­Mae—­her wide mouth, her thin lips, her olive skin, her black hair, but in this photo, more so than in life, her high cheekbones gave her a look of severity, her brown eyes not smiling, only small and cold, ready for war. Since the ­photo—­she was eighteen then, angry and ­unsure—­Mae had gained ­much-­needed weight, her face had softened and curves appeared, curves that brought the attention of men of myriad ages and motives. She’d tried, since high school, to be more open, more accepting, and seeing it here, this document of a ­long-­ago era when she assumed the worst of the world, rattled her. Just when she ­couldn’t stand it anymore, the photo disappeared.

“Yeah, everything’s on sensors,” Renata said. “The elevator reads your ID, and then says hello. Annie gave us that photo. You guys must be tight if she’s got high school pictures of you. Anyway, hope you don’t mind. We do that for visitors, mostly. They’re usually impressed.”

As the elevator rose, the day’s featured activities appeared on every elevator wall, the images and text traveling from one panel to the next. With each announcement, there was video, photos, animation, music. There was a screening of ­Koyaanisqatsi at noon, a ­self-­massage demonstration at one, core strengthening at three. A congressman Mae ­hadn’t heard of, ­grey-­haired but young, was holding a town hall at six thirty. On the elevator door, he was talking at a podium, somewhere else, flags rippling behind him, his shirtsleeves rolled up and his hands shaped into earnest fists.

The doors opened, splitting the congressman in two.

“Here we are,” Renata said, stepping out to a narrow catwalk of steel grating. Mae looked down and felt her stomach cinch. She could see all the way to the ground floor, four stories below.

Mae attempted levity: “I guess you don’t put anyone with vertigo up here.”

Renata stopped and turned to Mae, looking gravely concerned. “Of course not. But your profile ­said—­”

“No, no,” Mae said. “I’m fine.”

“Seriously. We can put you lower ­if—­”

“No, no. ­Really. It’s perfect. Sorry. I was making a joke.”

Renata was visibly shaken. “Okay. Just let me know if anything’s not right.”

“I will.”

“You will? Because Annie would want me to make sure.”

“I will. I promise,” Mae said, and smiled at Renata, who recovered and moved on.

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The Circle 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 102 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the concept of this book: technology is wonderful... up to a point. But the execution is ham-fisted at best. Everything is on the nose and predictable while at the same time, nothing is truly fleshed out enough to feel like a good story. We don't really get to know most of the characters and in many instances pivotal moments are skipped over only to be recounted in the past tense. Show don't tell, Mr. Eggers. I really expected more from this book. Again, very interesting concept, definitely thought-provoking. But ultimately disappointing as a novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With all the discussions on privacy today, this book makes you squirm. It would be easy to dismiss the complications presented in the disguise of the story line but you would be doing a disservice to the intent of the novel. Every self rightous person thinks they understand privacy but it is too easy to ignore the complications. Mr.Eggers does not let you glibbly profess to be serious about the meaning of privacy. He keeps throwing fast balls directly at your biases, hitting you often as you scream foul. In fact, one should probably review Kant's discussions and definations of privacy pertaining to people and things. So if you read a review of this book which harps on shallowness of characters, remember the author knows what he is doing, it is a sophticated writing device. I give this book 5 stars because it makes you think , rethink, reposition, and review your view of privacy. A must read, but it is not a book you will walk away from saying you love it. rather you will admit we need it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Think George Orwell too frumpy or old? Then read this current and hip look at one possible reality. Excellent read that will challange you to carefully think about technology, the ethics around technology, and why- when we have so much evidence to the contrary - humans believe they can be God. Excellent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book tedious but I was still impressed with the technological concepts. All I can say is God help us if any part of this comes to fruition. The characters for the most part were poorly developed depriving you of really getting into the feel of the book.. Even the main character, Mae, was poorly developed preventing you from having any feelings or care about the character. The character of Annie, was just totally null and void, one dimensional.. The book rambled on page after page until you got to the point that if they added one more screen to Mae's desk you wanted to throw the book against the wall. For me its was a complete waste of my time. And yours too!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you want to get an idea of what sites like Google and Facebook could _really_ do if they tried, this is the book to read. Eggers does a good job pointing out the dangers in carrying too far the Google philosophy of transparency (e.g. the "must use real name" aspect of Google+).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book makes you think about just where all the social media stuff today will eventually lead us. Kind of scary! Enjoyed reading it though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A rare gem. Dave Eggers manages to spin a cautionary tale of technological dystopia and yet make it engagingly charming and even funny. And like all great parables set in the future, he is really commenting on the word today. And it will make you think twice about that next social media post you make.
Anonymous 9 months ago
If I were to summarize in bullet points the plot of this book, it wouldn't sound like a great book. But I would literally read a grocery list from this author! I was so compelled to continue reading even during the slower parts. Really poignant on today and our technology, great for anybody into tech, that works in silicon valley, or is just generally really into things online! Easy read too :)
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The Circle is a must read for those of us who have become comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, sharing our lives on social media. I'm left to reevaluate the extent to which I wish to participate in this global community. I love when a book challenges me and really make me think.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Imagine numerous billion dollar companies with incredible amounts of influence such as Facebook, Twitter, Google or Apple. Now imagine all those companies combined as one gargantuan monopoly with influence every means of social media, technology, moral decisions, and even the government and legislation itself and you have The Circle. In a generation with everything being instantaneous, and at the ready, it is hard to imagine anything that was not worth tweeting, or posting upon impulse. In a dystopia centered around a satirical conformation, Dave Eggers  presents his novel The Circle in which the world is unaware of its conformity into its technological dystopia. Throughout the novel, the reader sees the descent of conformity the main character undergoes which in more than one instance, seems far too radical to only the reader. The Circle develops devices such as tracking devices in children, applications on phones that can tell you the location and personal details of every person upon a search query, and portable cameras that can be placed anywhere and on anybody that can be viewed by the world ensuring every action is made viral. To name a few devices, the characters within the story see them as completely rational and normal for the best interests of people. Privacy is no longer a concept as privacy is seen as stealing information away from people who feel it is their God given right to know it.  SECRETS ARE LIES. SHARING IS CARING. PRIVACY IS THEFT. This is the central theme throughout the book. Now should a single company have so much influence to the point where not sharing every single piece of your financial and personal information to the world is considered criminal? Should a person be ranked solely as a number based on their participation to the technological age instead of their individuality alone? Hell no.  Although many have claimed the novel to be an extreme exaggeration of our technological fate, that is the point of a fiction novel; And after reading The Circle, many people forget that in order to present a radical situation or concept, fiction writers will go as over the top as necessary in order to get that message across to the audience. Dave Eggers executes this idea of a technologically dependent world in a way that seems like an almost plausible outcome to our digital downfall. Despite it's similar sounding dystopian themes, the book is by no means on par with 1984, however it still is able to present a modern problem we face and still present it in an extreme and at times, humorous fashion.
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Really basic writing style, flat characters. The story was promising, but the author butchered it with slooooooow plots.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No plot line.
awise1 More than 1 year ago
A very quick read but not likable characters. Ending rather abrupt. Very thought provoking topics - was a great book club choice though all readers were luke warm on actual book!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author raises alot of really great issues with the evolution of social media but, the characters are rather shallow and the ending felt very abrupt or rushed. Still, a fun read up to the end. A great book for the beach.