Review: The Circle

The Circle
The Circle by Dave Eggers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay, so Hermione Granger is one of my heroes/heroines in literature, and I’ve clearly allowed my brain to transfer her characteristics to Emma Watson. In my defense, Emma has not done too poorly for herself, speaking at the United Nations and carrying forth her crusade for human rights for women.

But I digress.


I will admit that my interest in the Circle began with a movie trailer featuring Ms. Watson, but that led quickly to my picking up this book.

So, the Circle is clearly a thinly veiled attack on our current technological culture of over-sharing, criticism well documented in The Filter Bubble and The Shallows and others; the pointy end of the author’s critique clearly aimed at Google and Facebook and Apple and Amazon, four of the “Frightful Five” so well described by Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times.

Read this as a novel and you’ll be disappointed. What begins as an interesting premise: the hiring of a new technologist into the Circle (read: Google) parlays into an over-the-top description of a sharing economy, taken to the extreme. I found myself falling out of my “willing suspension of disbelief” that I’m really good at, especially with sci-fi novels. So, not great as novels go.

However, read as a muck-raking, Silent-Spring-like commentary on our uncritical acceptance that “sharing is good,” it is quite sobering. For this, it is worth getting a copy and reading this book. (As an aside, PBS’s recent show on Rachel Carson is great).

CMIO’s take: Yes, this book is pointed at me too. Electronic Health Records open up an entirely new world of sharing, of pattern matching, of machine learning, of revealing behaviors among physicians. These discovered behaviors in the short run, could lead to helpful and/or nuisance reminders to improve patient treatment and care; in the medium term, it could lead to redesign of healthcare organizations to better serve patients; in the long run, it could lead to incredible utopias or dystopias, depending on your point of view. Watch out world…

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Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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