Mark Zuckerberg’s global book club is off to a roaring start: it reportedly has more than 90,000 members and his first book selection is burning up the Amazon charts. Now, if only Mr. Zuckerberg would assure us this is more than a marketing exercise for Facebook.
So far, there’s hope that it is. The inaugural book selected by Zuckerberg, The End of Power, is a serious title that talks about how power is slipping away from traditional institutions, and is being accrued instead by what the author describes as “Insurgents, fringe political parties, innovative start-ups, hackers, loosely organized activists, upstart citizen media, leaderless young people in city squares.”
It sounds like a worthy read. Still, if the CEO of Facebook is serious about using his book club to promote ideas, he should include authors who have different ideas about power, and who show how it is used to crush individual freedom. Such writers describe how authoritarian governments and corporations manipulate media and access to technology so as to control the social lives of millions.
To that end, here are five ideas for what some are calling the “Zuckerbook Club”:
1) The Circle by David Eggers (2011)
This novel takes place in a future time when Google, Facebook and Twitter have merged into an always-on surveillance realm where “privacy is theft” and individual success is determined by sharing and status updates. While many in the tech press mocked Eggers’ book for a lack of startup savoir faire, The Circle got a better reception from literary heavyweights like Margaret Atwood, who praised it for revealing how “code-owners have the keys to the kingdom.”
2) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
In Huxley’s vision of the future, the World State exercises rigid control over the people not with coercion and force, but by entertaining and gratifying them into a stupor. Dissent, history and
individualism are obliterated in bouts of orgies and over-sharing.
3) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
The central character is a fireman whose job is to set fire to books. The book burning, which takes place in an American city of the future, began with certain titles that were found to be offensive to certain groups, until the practice spread to all books. In Zuckerberg’s book club, readers could explore if there are parallels between the way that governments control books and the way that Facebook algorithms choose which stories readers can see.
4) Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (1940)
A dark allegory of Soviet Russia, the novel shows how governments use confessions and the crime of treason to utterly break individuals. The book club could explore if Koestler’s work is useful for understanding contemporary governments like the Communist Party in China, where Facebook recently suspended the account of a dissident.
5) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
The novel (and movie of the same name) provides another example of how institutions — this time the medical system — can be used to suppress individuals. Book club members could discuss how the nurses encourage sharing as a means to exercise control and enforce conformity.