Kate Losse, the author of last year's Boy Kings, which outlined the early culture at Facebook from her experiences as employee #51, has accused Dave Eggers of stealing her book idea for his forthcoming novel The Circle. "Dave Eggers decided to rewrite my book as his own novel about a young woman working her way up through Facebook," she writes on Medium today. "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)," she adds. Losse, in an email to The Atlantic Wire, admits she has not read his book. "But if you look at the description/plot arc/main character name it is disturbingly similar," she said.
Both books center around the the life of a woman working at a tech company. Losse's book is about her experience at Facebook, where she worked for five years; Eggers's is about the fictional experiences of Mae Holland, who works for a fictional tech company called The Circle, which The Wall Street Journal's Dennis K. Berman describes as a "mashup of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and PayPal." The names aren't exactly the same, but Losse argues: "If you say 'Mae Holland; out loud it sounds like the same phonetic structure as my name," she told The Atlantic Wire. "Just similar enough to echo my name without using the same letters."
While that's not enough to make a convincing case, she does have a point about the plot. Here's The Circle's description from Amazon:
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.
That does, frankly, sound a lot like Losse's book. She chronicles her journey from "early early days at the company were characterized by a sense of camaraderie, promise, and ambition" to an increasingly cultish and intense environment, as the Amazon write-up of the book explains:
Over time, this sense of mission became so intense that working for Facebook felt like more than just a job; it implied a wholehearted dedication to “the cause.” Employees were incentivized to live within one mile of the office, summers were spent carousing at the company pool house, and female employees were told to wear T-shirts with founder Mark Zuckerberg’s profile picture on his birthday. Losse started to wonder what this new medium meant for real-life relationships: Would Facebook improve our social interactions? Or would we all just adapt our behavior to the habits and rules of these brilliant but socially awkward Internet savants who have become today’s youngest power players?
Within the experiences of the female leads, both books contemplate what sharing facilitated by Facebook (or companies like it) has done to society. Though, from the sounds of The Journal review, Eggers's is a satirical take on the modern tech company. We've reached out to Eggers's publisher and have yet to hear back.
In addition to the frustrations of seeing her book ripped off, Losse also thinks Eggers is getting preferential treatment for being "a famous man," as she writes on Medium. "When I published THE BOY KINGS about working at Facebook for five years and the impact Facebook has on society, the media made the sexist assumption (without reading the book, because that would be giving a young woman author too much credit) that this book was not important," she says. Indeed many dismissed it as "trashy gossip." Looks like that gossip may have travelled quite well.