1book140's November Read: In The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Join us on Twitter as we read and discuss an uncensored tale of Russian espionage.

"If we live in a constant state of fear, can we remain human?"

This question, asked by a Russian diplomat before leaking information about Russian nuclear espionage to the Americans, runs throughout In The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The novel tells the story of a mathematician imprisoned under Stalin who is forced to develop voice recognition technology to identify the source of the leak.

This month's vote on surveillance and spy books was close at 1book140The Atlantic's Twitter book club. Solzhenitsyn's novel just narrowly beat out books by Timothy Garton Ash and John le Carré.

Solzhenitsyn himself was a prisoner in one of the Sharaskas, R&D labs within the gulag system that put scientists and engineers to work on Russian military and espionage technologies. Others imprisoned under this system included electronic music pioneer Theremin, the aircraft designer Tupolev, and the rocket scientist Korolev.

Hoping to publish in Russia, Solzhenitsyn adjusted the novel substantially, changing the leak from information about nuclear espionage to information about a medical invention. When it wasn't published in Russia, Solzhenitsyn published the modified version with Harper Collins in 1968. Harper Collins published a full, "uncensored" version in 2009, the version our book club will read. Robert Kaiser has published an excellent review of this new edition in the Washington Post.

In The First Circle has been televised twice, first as a 1992 Canadian television film, and as a gripping 2006 Russian television miniseries starring Yevgeny Mironov.

In 1970, Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Four years later, he was deported from Russia after a partial draft of The Gulag Archipelago was discovered by the KGB.

Reading Schedule
Joining our Twitter book club is easy. Find a full, uncensored version of In The First Circle, follow us at @1book140, and tweet to join the conversation so we know that you're reading along. To avoid spoilers, we spread the conversation across one hashtag per week. Follow each week's hashtag to see the conversation at that point in the book.

  • Week One: Chapters 1-23, using #1b140_1 as a hashtag for your tweets
  • Week Two: Chapters 24-48, using #1b140_2
  • Week Three: Chapters 49-72, using #1b140_3
  • Week Four: Chapters 73-96, using #1b140_4
Presented by

J. Nathan Matias develops technologies for civic participation, media analytics, and creative learning at the MIT Media Lab and Center for Civic Media. He also helps run @1book140, The Atlantic's Twitter book club.

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