When Katherine Losse heard about Dave Eggers's new novel, The Circle, she felt ripped off. Losse hadn't read The Circle, but the description of the book—a young woman starts working at a huge social network—sounded awfully close to her memoir The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network, about her experience as one of the few women to work at a new startup called The Facebook. Losse wrote a blog post accusing Eggers of plagiarism: "From all appearances, it is the same book, and I wrote it first (and I imagine mine is more authentic and better written, because I actually lived in this world and am also a good writer)." Eggers claims not to have read The Boy Kings. Losse later deleted the post, but not before the text of it churned around on the usual literary blogs.
Now that The Circle has been released, the truth is clear. Anyone who reads both books knows they bear no more relation than a chunk of basalt does to a hummingbird. Losse is at best a competent writer. The language of The Boy Kings does nothing more than lurch along the page. Her best observations are on the subject of Facebook's brogrammer culture. In 2006, for Mark Zuckerberg's birthday, male employees were asked to wear Zuckerberg's trademark Adidas sandals to work, while women were asked to wear T-shirts with his face printed on them. "The gender coding was clear," Losse writes. "Women were to declare allegiance to Mark, and men were to become Mark, or at least to dress like him."
But aside from a few interesting anecdotes, The Boy Kings is vapid. One of Losse's recurring insights is that Facebook is like the Eagles song "Hotel California." If that strikes you as deep, you may have found your next favorite book. The story goes nowhere; Losse decides to write a book about Facebook, so she quits Facebook. The end.
Outside of the fact that the protagonist, Mae Holland, is a woman starting work in customer support for a tech company, The Circle bears no resemblance to The Boy Kings. Unlike Losse, who was at Facebook from nearly the start, Holland is a cog in a galaxy-sized machine. The Circle is an internet goliath that seems to have eaten nearly every other online service you can think of, from PayPal to Twitter to YouTube. The corporate culture combines the zaniness of Google's extravagant sense of play with Facebook's intense, almost religious fervor for transparency. The employees barely want for anything; the company provides free clothes and shelter and food. All it asks of them in return is their continuous and unwavering devotion...