Book Review: The Circle

This book came with some serious hype.

One reading friend said “The Circle is the book that got me in to reading.”

Another, who I normally agree with said, “I LOVED The Circle” (high praise)

On Goodreads, six friends read it, and four of them gave it five stars, including one review stating simply, “scary good.”

Then two weekends ago when I was describing my old job in New York, I was told “You really need to read The Circle”

So last weekend, I was in an airport bookshop, allowing myself ONE book that made me think, ‘Oh I’ve been wanting to read that’, and I saw The Circle. So of course I had to buy it and quickly got to reading it.

And I kept reading it, and I kept reading it, and I kept thinking ‘I wonder where this is going.’ Semi-spoiler: It never really went anywhere. It kind of beat the point in to the ground (I’m horrible at metaphors) until you figured out that the point was dangerous. But despite all the directions it could have gone, the drama never came to a head.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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 America – 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

What I liked:

The pace was nice. It was a fast read. Probably the first 500 pager I’ve finished in under a week. It also made me think. It took some things that I’ve personally said (i.e. that i wished my job had more transparency) to the extreme and made me consider why things are under wraps in the world. This book really focuses on transparency and the danger of secrets and it was kind of interesting to see what would happen if everyone was “transparent”.

What I didn’t like: A lot of things to be real with you.

I didn’t like that there were no chapters. There was also no table of contents, but basically Book One is Pages 1-300, Book Two is Pages 301-495. And Book Three is Pages 495 – 500. There really is no other structure to this book.

I didn’t like listening to all the pitches of products. I think this day in age (which is four years after the book came out), the world is saturated with ‘startup bro ideas’. This book had a lot of fully formed ideas that I explained over the course of 5-10 pages as a pitch. It was a bit much for me, and I often found myself thinking ‘the person pitching this is really annoying’ or ‘i don’t care about this fake pitch’. Those sections just really got to me. It slowed the action down way too much for very little advancement in plot.

(Interestingly, I liked the book Startup by Dorree Shafrir because even though it is all about startup bro ideas, it takes them lightly and explores a lot of other issues around startup culture — definitely recommend!)

I really didn’t like the lack of personal repercussions for the Mae – her family kind of drops off the radar and you don’t see her react to that fact, or see their opinion of anything. I guess how they feel is ultimately implied in their lack of presence in the book, but regardless, I would have liked that to be more of a focus.

Conclusions (but really discussion):

I think that the book brings up a lot of issues. About secrets and transparency and about the option to opt out.

The secrets and transparency one is interesting.  I am definitely a fan of keeping classified information classified. I know there has been a lot debate in recent years – when Snowden leaked documents from Booze Allen Hamilton, and when Trump handed over classified information to the Russians (and trust me I know there are several things to debate in between.) The book does a good job in showing how nuts too much transparency is. Even Mae who was totally in to it, took three-minute audio-free breaks in the bathroom to talk to people. I think we would all like to strive for transparency, and to know that we’re getting the whole story, but this book definitely sheds light on why some things should remain secret.

And in regards to the option to opt out, a lot of this book reminded me of Facebook or Google. I obviously enjoy social media, and am ok, for the most part, with them collecting and selling out data, but one point that the book made is that before things went too far, there was the option to opt out. I thought that was really important in how things today are kind of kept in check. You don’t HAVE to have a facebook account. You don’t have to give them data. Sure it’s a huge part of life for many people today and you may feel forced in to it, but there are limits of how intrusive facebook or google can be.


What did you think about 1. The book and 2. The issues that it brought up? Agree, disagree, I welcome it all!



3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Circle

  1. I read this book when it came out so I don’t have a crystal clear memory of it, it I did enjoy it, and also thought it was a fast read. Like you, I think it’s important to remind people that they still have the autonomy to opt out of things. Don’t want people selling your personal data? Get off Facebook, etc great review!


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